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World Cup Diary

CROSS, CRESCENT AND CRUMPETS

GAMES 47, GROUP H, JUNE 23, 2006 --KAISERSLAUTERN
SAUDI ARABIA 0, SPAIN 1
FINAL
GAMES 48, GROUP H, JUNE 23, 2006 --BERLIN
UKRAINE 1, TUNISIA 0
FINAL

The Tunisians are already making goal-threatening mistakes in their backfield. The Spaniards have begun their third game, facing a dispirited Saudi Arabian side, with leisure, composure and an off-side thrown in for good measure. Difficult to imagine either of these matches reaching the intensity of sheer fun of yesterday's. Spain are guaranteed a spot in the second round. Ukraine can guarantee themselves a spot with a draw or a win.

8... The Saudis have themselves a free kick outside the Spain box, gifted to a Spanish boot for a clear.

12... Slow paces all around but for a rain of fouls in Ukraine-Tunisia and a series of set pieces for Spain. Shevchenko seduces the off-side flag. Tunisia respond with their first shot.

15... Any undercurrent to this Saudi-Spain game? Yes: The Spaniards keep this up and they're likely to end their streak of three goals or more at group-stage World Cup matches. Spain's Joaquin shuts me up with a swift shot just past the crossbar, after a series of short passes that show the Saudi defense to be almost as nonexistent as the snows of Jeddah.

18... Another yellow card against Ukraine, a Tunisia free kick head-on, outside the Ukraine box, an easy save, and 20 minutes of vacation football in Kaiserslautern--a small city in the southwest of the country where every fourth inhabitant is a member of the US military or its NATO acolytes.

Here's Kaiserslautern's Palatinate Gallery of Art, where watching dry paint on canvas is slightly more exciting than watching football today

25... Shevchenko wakes up in Berlin and joins his Ukranian attacks, which have been bitch-slapping the Tunisians around, but not yet convincingly enough.

28... Terrific save by the Saudi keeper, who keeps getting applause from his own players--who should be doing less with their hands and more with their feet.

29... And another wonderful run by Joaquin, he zips past one defender, and another, shoots just above the slow-rising thight of a third right on goal, forcing yet another fantastic save by the keeper. The Spanish coffee is kicking in.

THIS JUST IN: Davenport, Iowa, and Columbia, S.C., are Kaiserslautern's sister cities. That should get the Saudis and Spaniards beefed up for a few goals. Also, Saint Quentin (the French town, not the death-rowwed California prison) has sibling status with our slumbering town.

Shevchenko is still pounding away through the Tunisna defense...

The Saudis have to think that if they can keep Spain from scoring, going into half-time, they may have their second point of the tournament. The Spaniards have to think: fat chance. Meanwhile the Tunisians got some smelling salts on their boots; they've been stringing together the hint of an attack.....................

GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL SPAIN!

35... A Spain free kick from Jose Antonio Reyes on the left wing, to Juanito's head, who bangs it in past his diminished defender. 1-0.

40...43... Spain just put a hat-trick of shots at the beleaguered Saudi keeper, who beats them all.

Tunisia's Jaziri just got sent off to finish up that game's half; he had a yellow in the game already, he committed a conventional foul, the ref having snorted the same suspiciously rabid substance that all World Cup refs seem to be imbibing this year shoved out a second yellow on the poor guy and off he went, slamming shut the momentum Tunisia had been building against Ukraine. A calmer exit for the players in Kaiserslautern, who surely must be heading for that gallery at their half-time.

Half-time...

Raul is out for Spain, the second half is on, and Spain are looking to match their three-goal-per-game average.

GROUP H: AS THEY STAND

    P GD PTS
  Spain 3 7 9
  Ukraine 3 0 4
----------------------------------------
  Tunisia 3 -2 2
  Saudi A 3 -5 1

How group will end if scores stay as they are until full-time

48... Spain putting together some nice brisk passing attacks.

Twenty-nine fouls in Ukraine-Tuinisia, and a Ukranian side playing as if it wants to be eliminated. The Tunisians need the win to advance, and they could just pull it off at this rate despite being a man down. "This may be the quietest crowd we've seen so far at the 2006 World Cup," say the ESPN commentators. (Of the Tunisia-Uk game in berlin).

The Saudi keeper is down again, as he has been in every match this year.

53... Neither game has anything to offer in these second halves. Mistakes and flat-footedness for Ukraine, perprtual defensiveness for Saudi Arabia, sitting back by Spain. Until this slight left-wing attack that ends with a cross into the keeper's hands.

57... Joaquin just missed a chance to give Spain a 2-0 lead and the Spanish commentators, whose bellows are audible all the way to the ESPN booth, more reason to put a positive spin on Edvard Munch's masterpiece. We should note though that the Spanish keeper and his Hot-Lips-bleached hair did make a save, first of the game for Spain, two minutes ago, and that President Bush just asked whether the NSA was keeping tabs of half-time locker room conferences wherever two or more Arab players gather. The answer from Yorkshire: absolutely.

62... More attacks from Spain, but my daughter's report from Berlin: "This game is boring."

67... In Berlin the action has returned with Tunisia getting a free kick right outside the box and landing the ball on top of the net, then getting denied what should have been an obvious penalty: A Ukrainian in the wall raised his hand and bumped the ball above goal. It was just enopugh to keep the ball from finding net. The ref saw nothing. Ridiculous. AND THE UKRAINIANS GOT THEMSELVES A PENALTY? THE GUY TOOK A FUCKING DIVE!

and Shevchenko scores. 1-0. After taking that dive. Disgraceful. Bloody disgraceful.

We're getting some of the same blindness in the Spain-Saudi game, a missed call that would have favored Saudi Arabia. You;d think the cross-bearers have it in for the Crescent-bearers today.

They're even getting testy on both fields. Ugly ends to ugly matches. The Tunisians' heart has dropped out of Europe, and the Saudis' heart was never in it.

90... Approching the end of the Spain-Saudi game, the two sides settled down for eight minutes of fair football, and a terrific chance for the Saudis, who (can we say it?) blew it. They have four more minutes to try to do the impossible: equalize. And Spain's famous streak of three or more goals in a divisional world cup stage is over. For all the Spaniards' crushing play in the first two matches, this result has to be seen as a mild stunner. The Saudis, keeping the great Iberian scoring machine to one goal? But Spain's best was at rest... AND THE SAUDIS JUST HAD ANOTHER NEAR-GOAL! B'ism'illah.

Tunisia hit the crossbar: of course. Nothing went Tunisia's way.

Ukraine advance, Spain advance, the National Review can sit back and not fear a neo-Muslim rush.

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