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World Cup Diary



Well, this is going to be someone's final song. Traditional prediction: England 2-1. Portugal is playing without Deco. And its tiredness was showing in its last outing. I've always loved England. But England have played the lousiest, dullest football of any of the great powers. They're lucky to have made it this far. They don't deserve it. Maybe this is the game where they show a bit of redemption and make good on pre-tournament promise.

5... England's Rooney is awake. Portugal's Figo is on his back. The ball is bouncing about at midfield, no threats, no attacks, no errors.

8... Hmmm. Spoke too soon about those errors. The two sides are trading turn-overs.

9... Rooney with the first strike: a pass to his chest, a quick set, a shot fro 20 yards out--right into the keeper's hands: Portugal reply with a counter-attacked capped by a Ronaldo shot styled after Rooney's, and a save by Paul Robinson styled after Portugal keeper Ricardo's. The temperature is inching up as the ball begins to find its way into the box's crannies.

13... Pathetic defense by England of a well-struck Portugal free kick into the box, a triple-skip before Portugal tapped it into the keeper's hands: not a good sign for England, if Portugal's battle-scarred forwards begin playing for set pieces. And another pathetic clear by Joe Cole that fed the ball right to a Portugal striker for a shot that found an English leg. My pre-game prediction looks as lame as England's play.

16... And now some pathetic back-field play by England, that back-and-forth passing behind their own line that elicits a wave of whistles. But they make it upfield all the way into the Portugal box and manage a half-hearted attempt at what by then was an empty goal, but Portugal are defending better than England.

19... Better coordination by England now, the attacking passes are connecting and the Portugal defense is being tested. But the Portugal attack isn;t slumbering either: Ronaldo again with a twisty entry into the box and a shot, but high above the crossbar. An even game so far.

20... Lampard with England's best chance, a slider at the six-yarder that the keeper beat de justesse. Don't be fooled by these American commentators' lutheran reserve: the pace of the game and the stadium's atmosphere is a lot more intense. Portugal on the ball... great steal by England in their half as they amble up, displaying better overall control than Portugal, more patience, less nervousness. But neither team yet nervy in the sort of way that produces heart-stopping action.

25... England now flirting with relegation to the kind of play we've seen from these guys in the first four games: more doubt and duds than scuds.

29... Tiago and Terry rise up for a head smash at midfield after two solid Portugal attacks, but both rejected by a more alert defense. Portugal with the more probing feet at this point, but two bright spots: the commentators are keeping their Rooney fetish in check, and the ref is keeping his yellow fetish in check as well. The game has flowed, or had up until now, even if without the kind of flourishing play we'd like to see in a quarterfinal.

Enfland's Ashley Cole just gave Peter O'Toole reason to smile deep in the England half, diving and winning a foul that stopped a Portugal assault.

But Cole, Cole and Gerard are still playing this game like it was a conference in a lawyer's office. We need more if the net is to have any ball-fondling.

39... "Nobody wants to take too big of a chance," says the Balboa Man on ABC: true enough, but that's what's given us a sub-par match so far. How do you win a quarterfinal world cup match without taking too big of a chance? Talk about a battle of second-raters. Cole and Rooney try an attack but get too cute with a pass slipped under Rooney's legs for... nobody at the top of the Portugal box, extept Portugal shirts.

Gone missing

Incidentally: where has girlie-Beckham been all this game? He's delivered one free kick into the box, but England needs more than a mailman and a bunch of attorneys on its pitch.

41... England's Robinson (the keeper) with a little-shop-of-horror save that batted the ball right back into the box, but fortunately for England Portugal was already on a ship back to Lisbon on that play.

44... Beckham with his second big chance free-kick outside the box... a spongy shot against the Portugal wall. England maintain possession, but it's a bwoling game where the pins barely budge.

45... Lampard finally gets a shot off from the 20, straight on, the keeper dives, makes the catch, and now we're expecting the first-half whistle. Not something to celebrate for either team so far.


Not the England she was promised


47... A Portugal player just glimpsed raising his palms to the sky. As are we all. No, this is no "methodical" game: this is just one more England match, and England side that has managed to do to every team it's played what kadzu does to southern forest: smother them.

52... Lennon subbed into the game now for England, a player who gives his side the sort of Eddie-Johnson-like buzz. meanwhile Lampard is this match's Peter Crouch: the perennial mis-hitter, like this last gift he got six, eight yards from goal, and he bounced it off the pitch like he had a miniature trampoline stuck on his toe.

Oh! How pathetic! How inexcusable! How English of them! Lennon manages a breathless slalom into the box around a run of Portugese players, passes to Rooney who shoots like a five-year-old boy, but still another chance for Joe Cole who... shoots a blank high above goal.

61... And Rooney now giving every England hooligan a chance to cheer... but not for long: he's just been red-carded, deservedly. Get the lout out of there. Rooney stomped on a Portugal player (and not just a player, but on his jewels), then shoved another.

65... My prediction could have been off target had it not been for a Portugal side that still refuses to play less conservatively, and more like Howard Dean after losing that famous primary. They're singing God save the Queen, in reference, of course, to Bekham.

Too much fun to be kept in the comment section: a little Housman, edited by our Ohio Correspondent, "since the English don't want to be known for football..."
THE moving sun-shapes on the spray,
The sparkles where the brook was flowing,
Pink faces, plightings, moonlit May,—
These were the things we wished would stay;
But they were going. 5

GAMES of blankness as of snow,
The silent bleed of a FOOTBALL TEAM decaying,
The moan of multitudes in woe,—
These were the things we wished would go;
But they were staying.

My color schemes leave something to be left disheveled.

74...Gerard with a nice run down the far wing, a good cross, but it's tea and crumpets time for the English team, which was elsewhere.

Lampard, lobbying for a self-crucifixion on the Cross of George

Portugal now in the 79th minute finally realizing that this is their game to win: England are losing it. Portugal with a good attack inside the box, a shot by the old grey eminence Figo barely tapped away by the keeper... and still Portugal on the ball. They must know that the onloy thing worse than this game, as punishment to us fan, would be 30 minutes of overtime.

Figo: "I'm not in assisted living in Florida yet"

82... England with a free kick from 30 yards, but Bekham is getting his massage and England are getting outplayed. Who's the shooter? Lampard. BARELY BLOCKED BY RICARDO, and Lennon with the rebound but he taps it instead of slamming it, and Ricardo saves again.

If the Germany-Argentina was a game that neither team deserved to lose, as the Bulbous Balboa says (I disagree: Germany earned their win, if barely, considering the openalty-shootout sham), this is a match neither team deserves to win. And one of these losers is going to be in the semi-final? Look, it's fair to say so at this point: this has not been the most stellar of World Cups, neither in quality nor in drama. Nor, by the way, in goal-scoring: it will end up being the second-lowest goal-per-game average in World Cup history, after the disaster of 1990 in Italy.

God save this game, goddammit. Or dumit. (That was our grocer back in Lebanon. His feet were more aromatic than Portugal's and England's put together, if its fertile flourishes on goal we want).

Three minutes of injury time... From the oracle at delfucked (ABC): " The time to do something for England." And the previous 90 minutes, I suppose, was the time to do something for who, Hamas?

We are however seeing more attacking action in these desperate three minutes than we've seen all match.


This is where the absence of Bekham and Rooney will make itself felt (although it somewhat balances out the absence of Figo and Deco for Portugal). One has to give the advantage to Portugal, especially if they play as they did in their last few minutes. Don't be surprised if two goals are scored here. Unlike yesterday, neither side is strategizing for penalty kicks.

8... "If you're England, you're trying to sonserve energy," says Bulbous Balboa, because this is not the time to score. No, better wait until the last three minutes of overtime, if at all. Then again, the notion that England is playing for penalties, being a man down, is not out of this world. But it's the bad way to go. Portugal have looked progressively stronger as the game has progressed.

9... Peter Crouch rose in the six-yard box for what looked like a tasty header for goal, but Portugal cleared it. England again making terrible mistakes in their backfield, as they did at the very beginning of the game. Different dynamics though: Portugal at the beginning of the game played like underdogs. Now they're playing like they're entitled a win.

12... This is not the match we've been watching at all. Thios overtime period has ticked up and ticked off, we're in orbit now, and thanful for it. This is football: England again with an attack that Portugal denied, and Portugal with its more deliberate counter-attacks, like now...


The eponynous Peter Crouch in Dog Day Afternoon

16... More good refereeing: England thought they were owed a penalty, but Portugal's tackle was for the ball fair and square, or round. ANF PORTUGAL WITH WHAT LOOKED LIKE A GOAL, A NICE HEADER FROM 7 YARDS OUT, but Postiga was so off side that even his half-blind grandmother raised her right eyebrow in reluctant agreement with the checkered flag.

21... Lennon with another terrific move from the wing, zipping into the box for a short cross that found the out-line first. Portugal on the ball...But England recover and again make it back into the box for a Portugal steal.

27... Fine attacks, fine defending: the wrestling carries on, and the only pain in the rear at the moment is Bulbous Balboa and his refrain about both teams being tired: this is the same commentaror, incidentally, who once said that past a certain point (he was referring to American players) tiredness is not the issue, it's all adrenaline, you don;t even think about being tired. Lennon is out. An odd move.

AND off we go to those terrible penalty kicks. Miguel missed a great chance at the last seconds to make a lunge for goal, but way over the crossbar.

What neither side managed.


But for the overtime segment, this match will not go down as one of those great 0-0 ties, but as another one in England's run of terrible, pathetic, dull games. At this point I have to be rooting for old and mangled Portugal: I just don't want to see this England side spoiling yet another match in this World Cup. England you'd think would have the slight advantage in penalty kicks, its Robinson being a pretty reliable keeper. But all these predictions are meaningless when we reach this stage.

  Portugal England
Sabrosa (port)
Lampard (eng)   SAVED!
Hugo Viana (Port)


Petit (Port)
Gerard (England)
Helder Postiga (Port)
J. Carragher (Eng.)   SAVED AGAIN!
C. Ronaldo (Port)


Portugal's savior, Ricardo


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