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Pierre's World Cup Diary

GAME 5, GROUP C, JUNE 10, 2006 --HAMBURG
ARGENTINA 2, COTE D'IVOIRE 1
FINAL

PREVIEW...If the sun is shining in Hamburg as it shone everywhere else a game was played so far this week, I'll convert to Lutheranism and sing Bach cantatas in Leipzig by next week: it would be that much of a miracle of German weather. Sunshine in Hamburg? Might as well have snow in the Ivory Coast, and an Argentine team that lives up to expectations. So the key to this match will be the sun. Fernando Fiore, the famous Univision sportscaster (and the guy who puts himself smack in the middle of every picture he uses to illustrate his World Cup book) picks Argentina to win the tournament. But he's an Argentine, and his mathematical certainty of an Argentine victory is based on the fact that the final in Berlin on July 9 falls on his birthday. I've never been much of an Argentine fan ever since they beat Holland 3-1 in overtime in the 1978 final, when I was a boy and my mother and I watched it live in Lebanon with our priest--who was Dutch, and who, I think, came close to losing his faith after that game. Also, I've never subscribed to the "Hand of God" theory of Maradona football. More like the hand of the devil, if it's styx and deities we're debating. Also, Argentine football has never struck me as possessing the free-flowing style of Latin American football so much as combining the worst of German dourness with borrowed flair from across the borders in Brazil and elsewhere on the continent. Heresy? Maybe so, but we are setting the record straight. So here's my wish: the first true upset of the tournament (not just by way of a tie, like the superb way the Trinidadians kept Sweden to 0-0) but with a win. These are the Ivory Coastians who, apres tout, squeaked by the old lions of African football, the Cameroonians, in qualifying. Barely. They're not a great team. They may not even be a good team. But they have surprises in their hearts and minds, and they have the great Didier Drogba, known to Chelsea fans as a great striker, and to Ivory Coast as the best player that West African nation has produced.

3... SO, Drogba starts things off with a scare for Argentina ... and what have we here, a Code d'Ivoire side dominating early play? Maybe wearing orange makes them think they're Holland!

14... An argentina goal denied? No, just your usual Argentinian claims sounding more furious than they deserve to be. Good call by the ref: an Argentine header into the goalkeeper's hands, the keeper was inside his line, but the ball didn't cross the line completely. Really.

20... an amazingly even game so far, entertaining too, and well played on both sides. Good attacking attitude, positive play from Ivory Coast, a bit of bemusement from Argentina, who do look more confident than they have the right to be. But that's nothing new for this overrated side. Argentina's tempers are going to start flaring if their goals don't... but...

GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL! Argentina, off a free kick... badly controlled by the keeper, and smooched on by Argentina's Hernan Crespo for the 1-0 lead... Javier Saviola, wonderful passing and shooting. How are Ivory Coast's Elephants responding? Not with panic so far. To the contrary. Two great attacks, the latest by Bonaventure Kalou, who took an adventurous missile of a shot from the far post, just wide of the post. Great show. If anything, the Elephants are playing better since the goal. Three straight attacks by Ivory!

33... It's been all Ivory since the goal, and all eb--(should I say it? naahh) for Argentina. Ivory's KEITA! IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN A GOAL, IT SHOULD HAVE BEENA GOAL! It should have been tied! Keita heads it right into the keeper's lap...Keep it up Elephants, and there's going to be some wonderful Argentina-trampling here for all to see. Wait... no...

38... GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL!

Argentina takes a 2-0 lead on a superb pass to Savciola running inside the box, and snapping the ball past the keeper. Some bad defending here, the Elephants tried to play the off-side trap and failed, but let's not take anything away from a wonderful goal.

And now the Elephants are just being disorganized despite careless play by Argentina as well. Maybe we can get back to that insurgent African spirit after half-time.

Strange to say: the Elephants have dominated play more than Argentina in the first half. Stranger still, Argentina has a 2-0 goal, but that's the way of football. It's not quite about control. It's about finish. It's not even about self-confidence, but about making the most of a few opportunities. And of course it's not about football. It's about the cliches. So enough of that, and back to the field. Excuse me while I reach for my barf bag (those ESPN commentators are hard to take at times. A little too much psychobabble, too much attention to things off the field.)

47 Argentina's Maxi Rodriguez just had himself a shot off goal from the far side...A yellow card for Argentina's Heinze, a free kick, a dribble right into the Argentine keeper's hands. The game has lost its torrid first-half pace. It's now a more controlled affair, controlled on Argentina's tempo. If the Elephants are going to make a go of this they need to score before the 60th minute. After that, they'll only be able to win if the Lady of Lourdes or some such ringer joins them on the field, miracles a-trailing. Argentina is inching toward clampdown. But it's still putting together the odd attack.

57... Hello? Anybody on the field for the Elephants? we put together the right passes, the right flow upfield, but once in the Argentine area, we switch off. The game is verging toward England-Paraguay quality now: a sharp contrast with the first free-flowing half. That's too bad, because now it's up to the commentators to start with their hyperbolic, ulcer-inducing comments: about Argentina: "There is no better team in the world with a 2-0 lead." If Rwanda was playing with a 2-0 lead, they probably would be saying the same thing. Here's another: "This was one of the most anticipated matches today." And there's been how many matches exactly? They're all wildly anticipated, you Americo-centric imbecile! Out goes Boka, in comes Bakary Kone. More idiotic comments: "The Ivory Coast, playing for the hopes and dreams of a nation... and the entire country putting all other interests aside to support this team." As opposed to Argentina of course, which is playing for the hopes and dreams of Nebraska.

67... More indifferent coasting from the elephants... OH ! He was taken down! The Elephant was traken down inside the box, and where was the ref? where was the ref? Reading People Magazine, the Argentine edition, that's where he was. For once I agree with the commentators. It should have been a penalty kick. Even then, the Elephants had a good chance to follow through with a goal ... they didn't. Free kick here, deflection, and a slight dribble just past the goal post. yet another missed chance for the Elephants. Their ivory has been poached. But there has been a slight uptic in the quality of play.

75... an Elephant free kick just outside the Argentina box. Well? Wall action. A few progenies on the Argentine side may be hurting now, but they'll probably settle for that rather than an Elephant goal.

80... Good outside try from Kone, a fiery shot wide of goal, but he's getting no support from his teammates. Hamburg humbug for the Elephants, I'm afraid.

GOOOOOOOOOOOOAL ELEPHANTS!...

And who else: Didier Drogba takes a through ball right in front of goal, and finishes it off, giving the keepr not even the chance to bat an eye in pennance. He took a pass from the great Kona.

87... THIS IS HOW THE ELEPHANTS SHOULD HAVE BEEN PLAYING ALL ALONG IN THIS HALF, THE WAY THEY PLAYED THE FIRST. Sorry about the caps. A little overexcitement here in our little corner of suburban Florida.

90... desperation time: they have 3 minutes of injury time. It's not out of the realm of credibility yet, but it's approaching it, especially with Argentina playing the time-wasting game.

Final score, final leap: 2-1. Too bad: it could have been a better result all around. The game had the making of a 3-2 score.

Not quite the best game of the tournament so far, but close enough.

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