Off the ball: World Cup predictions

28th June 2006, Comments 0 comments

In his irreverent World Cup column Off the Ball, Andy Goldberg looks at the lighter side of the football championship. This time he looks at the folly of making predictions about the World Cup--then goes ahead and makes some of his own anyway.

These words are coming to you from a man being slapped in the face by a soggy cold turkey. After 19 days of epic overdosing on football, soccer, fussball, futbol, calcio, futebol and whatever else they call the beautiful game in Japanese and Arabic (サッカー and كرة قدم, apparently - Ed.) and the various languages of the world, I now face two entire days without a game and its addictive rush of excitement.

This football withdrawal will leave me time to see some of the tourist sights of Germany. But as I observe the ancient wonders housed in the Pergamon Museum or take in the beauty of Frederick the Great's marvellous palace of Sanssouci I have little doubt that my eyes will be clouded by a green haze as my brain feverishly ponders the ultimate mystery of my universe: Who is going to win the World Cup?

Same old story - with a twist

The first game of the quarter finals could easily have been the final. But due either to the dark hand of fate or the ineptitude of the FIFA ranking system, Germany play Argentina Friday in Berlin looking for a place in the last four.

The German team is on an upward arch. Its rampant form in the four games so far has seen it transformed from a bunch of no-hopers managed by neophyte coach Jurgen Klinsmann (who has the gall to live not in the fatherland but in San Diego, California) into a swaggering team of swashbuckling adventurers whose spectacular style marries traditional Teutonic discipline with a new spirit and flair that many hope will redefine nothing less than a new national identity.

Argentina meanwhile started off strongly but stuttered against Mexico, and may find it hard to reproduce their best form in the pressure bowl of the Olympic stadium. The outcome is thus likely to reflect Gary Lineker's famous adage that "football is a simple game. You play for 120 minutes, and then the Germans win on penalties."

Night off for the fire brigade

Later Saturday night Italy take on Ukraine for the chance to meet the winner of the Germany Argentina game. Neither of these teams has exactly set the world on fire, and no one is predicting a towering inferno just because they happen to be in the last eight of the World Cup. In fact, if history is any indication, the magnitude of the event is likely to make this game even more boring that you would expect. Yet something tells me that Italy will sneak one past the resolute Ukrainian defence, and banish the scandals of match fixing that are the scourge of its domestic league. Let's pray however that the goalscorer won't be Franceso Totti. His patented celebration of sucking his thumb in an apparent tribute to his baby is the stupidest thing yet seen at the World Cup, and should be rewarded with a straight red card and disqualification of the goal.

English yobs can wait

Sunday sees England vs Portugal. The stylish footballers from the south of Europe have beaten the doughty Englanders in their last two meetings in the last World Cup and the 2004 European Championships. Both were close and classic games and this should be no exception. England have been dreadful so far but could come good against a Portugal team that is unlikely to pack 10 men behind the ball as all England's previous opponents have done. Portugal moreover will be missing its inspirational Brazilian-born playmaker Deco and its hard man Costinha through red cards, while tricky winger Cristiano Ronaldo is doubtful through injury.

So it could be bad news for the tens of thousands of English supporters who have made their way to Germany. They may have to wait till the semi finals to see their team lose and take out their long pent-up frustrations on towns and cities of their gracious hosts.

Brazilian stroll

The final quarter final is a replay of the 1998 final in which France beat Brazil 3-0. Back then the great French team was at the peak of its powers - and its hero from that game Zinedine Zidane is hoping to go out in one last blaze of glory. Les Bleus could pull off an upset - especially if talismanic striker Thierry Henry stops acting like he is too good for the rest of the team and starts playing like he actually is the world's best goalscorer. Brazil doubters will point to the numerous chances they allowed Ghana - but the star-studded team has been strolling through the tournament so far and should have enough to bypass the stellar heart of the French midfield Claude Makelele and Patrick Vieira.

Oozing egg on face

In theory it's possible to continue these predictions all the way to the final. But aficionados of the tournament know that by this stage predictions are a futile exercise - anyone can win, depending on the referee, the mood of the players, and most of all luck. That is why I rarely make predictions, and also because I don't particularly like the feeling of egg oozing down my face.

But today my judgement is clouded - not only by the above- mentioned withdrawal symptoms, but also by the tribulations of a sleepless night spent in Hanover after the Spain-France game. This saw me fearing for my sanitary well-being in an absurdly expensive hotel in which the tiny room dated from the 1950's and appeared not to have been cleaned since construction was completed. It was all the more traumatic precisely because the hospitality has been so good everywhere else in Germany.


Subject: German news

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