Off the ball: Confessions of an England fan
In his irreverent World Cup column Off the Ball, Andy Goldberg looks at the lighter side of the football championship. This time he confesses to his embarrassment at England's terrible playing and mourns the death of Bruno the bear.
If the old football adage is true, that the sign of a great team is that they win even when they play badly, England must be the odds on favourite to waltz to victory in the World Cup final in two weeks' time.
It's hard to describe just how bad this team has played since getting to Germany. Suffice it to say that when David Beckham started vomiting all over the pitch England fans knew exactly how he felt.
Confronted by the turgid display of their national team, a group of Englishmen watching the game in Berlin switched their allegiance to Ecuador, and had only this to say when the referee's final whistle brought their embarrassment and boredom to an end.
"Oh God," said one as the implications of the victory sank in, "That means we have to watch them again."
"Well," said another, "that's two hours of my life I'll never get back."
The most telling comment however came from a perverted connoisseur of bad football. "That was easily the worst game of the tournament," he said. "England are even worse than Ukraine."
Lucky limeys favoured by fiasco
England may not have the skills but they certainly have the luck. They were drawn into a weak opening group, and then against what was probably the weakest team in the last 16. Now they face a Portugal that thanks to the ineptitude of the Russian ref will be missing its best player Deco and its centre half Costinha through red card suspensions, while inspiring winger Cristiano Ronaldo is doubtful following a horror tackle that can be blamed on the referee's lack of authority.
Portugal show the way
Portugal's victory over Holland may go down as the most violent game in World Cup history, at least if you look at the number of cards brandished: 16 yellows and an unprecedented 4 reds.
And though the referee himself was shown a yellow card by FIFA boss Joseph Blatter, there's no denying that it was great entertainment spectacle including goalmouth incidents galore, tons of tension, and enough violence to get most the players into the Ultimate Fighting Championships, and play-acting worthy of Hollywood superstars.
There was even a quote from Portugal coach Phillipe Scolari that could make it in to the 10 ten football statements of all time.
He was asked whether veteran captain Luis Figo was guilty of making a meal of a clumsy challenge which saw Dutch defender Khalid Boulahrouz get sent off.
"Jesus Christ said we should turn the other cheek," Scolari said. "Unfortunately, Luis Figo is not Jesus Christ."
Oh the agony
A British wit once said that rugby is a game of hooligans played by gentlemen while football is a game of gentlemen played by hooligans. Then in the 1990s the unbelievable started to happen and footballers began to play like gentlemen, kicking the ball into touch to enable injured players to get treatment. Etiquette required the ball to then be returned to the team that had possession.
Now this custom has become yet another tool of abuse for unethical players to waste time, as they destroy the rhythm of the game. These players routinely drop in heaps of agony under the slightest challenge and the opposition feels compelled to follow the etiquette, kick the ball out and allow the medics to run on to the pitch to administer life-saving treatment. The ball is then thrown in and booted all the way back to the goalkeeper of the team that had possession before this whole sequence started.
The old way was far superior. The referee would quickly check the condition of the "injured" player and would halt the game if there appeared to be a serious injury. Football players could once again learn from their rugby colleagues, how to have the courage and bravery to play through a little pain rather than cynically abuse a system of honour.
The bear is dead
The only non-football news that has interested Germany since the start of the World Cup has been the fate of Bruno, the first wild bear to have roamed the mountains of Bavaria in 170 years.
Sadly, on Monday morning Bruno was shot by hunters under a government permit granted out of fear that the 100-kilogram beast would graduate from feeding on chickens and sheep to feasting on humans.
Omen watchers will know that the bear is the official symbol of Berlin and may rue Bruno's untimely demise. "The shooting has happened," said Bavaria's government bear expert Manfred Woelfl. "The bear is dead."
Subject: World Cup 2006, German news