This is topical. This is front of the mind. And with a good not-for-profit cause attached - FoodBank South Africa, established last year and already in six cities here, with as many as 15 more to be added by next year. In its first year, Foodbank SA served up almost 20 million meals at a cost of about 10 cents each.
Just arrived: A petition to FIFA to introduce video technology to protect the integrity of the game:
Dear Mr Blatter
I am a football fan. I recognise that referees are human and that even the best ones make mistakes. I believe that referees need and deserve the support of technology such as video-replay whenever it can be afforded. The integrity of the sport of football depends on it.
Please ask the International Football Association Board to take my preference into account when it meets in July to reconsider this topic.
To add your name to the petition, go here. Pass it on. And thanks.
1. BILL CLINTON - USA's rooter-in-chief. Always keen to take on another charitable endeavour, Clinton came here to watch the American team jobbed again and again by referees. And, apparently, to drink beer. Didn't make any ridiculous pronouncements, or get scooped up on drug charges. Nor did he aim personal attacks at any of the nations playing the U.S.
On the other hand, he couldn't get the rest of the American pop entourage banned from the thing.
2. SHAKIRA - That song has grown on us like some sort of exotic fungus. The FIFA-branded video nearly brings us to tears every time we see it. We know it's wrong. But we can't stop.
3. KIMORA LEE SIMMONS - "I am very sad 2 b leaving the gorgeous S.Africa! Thank u 2 all 4 ur luv and kindness! We'll b back very, very soon! Team Fabulosity SA rocks," she Tweeted.
No, we don't know who she is either. But apparently she says things like 'Team Fabulosity'. Whatever. Good enough for third spot. It's been a thin tournament.
4. MICK JAGGER - From now on, when they talk about players "swinging handbags," they will instead talk about players "swinging Mick Jagger." Also of note, the Jagger Jinx.
Since he doesn't have to bother playing in the semi, Uruguay's Luis Suarez is now tasked with diverting Mick Jagger at the gates to the Green Point Stadium, and asking him, "Tell me more about what's wrong with Keith?"
That should occupy him for several days.
5. PARIS HILTON - Where's the Netherlands? What's the Netherlands? What's the problem with the pot? They didn't hassle us at airport security. Where am I? A court? Finally. Something familiar.
Dead Last - LISA-MARIE KOHRS - According to her profile, America's Miss World contestant is majoring in journalism. Um, you probably shouldn't use the F-word when broadcasting. And it's a bad idea to be drunk. And it's a worse idea to run down Slovenia, first, because it's not true, and second, because they are people with loooooong memories.
Both sides have played some of the most flowing football here, although each side's backline has looked shaky (Manuel Neuer, in goal for Germany, has been outstanding). They can score, each with nine goals in four matches, a tournament best (one of Argentina's 10 on the board was an own goal, by South Korea). Four years ago, Germany dumped a similarly attractive-looking Argentina out at this same stage, on penalties. Revenge time for the Albicelestes against a counter-attacking Mannschaft who with their youthful quality look well-set for the next two World Cups.
Chris's prediction: Argentina 3, Germany 2
Cathal's prediction: Argentina 3, Germany 3 aet (Argentina wins on penalties)
Paraguay vs Spain, 2:30 p.m. ET
Spain has arrived right on schedule. Fernando Torres, we're not so sure. Torres has been the one question mark this tournament, but it likely won't matter here against a Paraguay team into the quarterfinals for the first time. But they have scored just three goals in four games, lowest of any quarterfinalist, and that lack of production will hurt against a classy side that will play keep-away. Andres Iniesta is having an MVP-candidate tournament, and David Villa has been lethal. Advantage Spain.
Here's a look at the matchups for the first round of World Cup quarter-finals, which get underway Friday July 2.
Brazil vs. Netherlands, 10 a.m. ET, Port Elizabeth
Thus far, the most anticipated games here – Germany/England; Spain/Portugal – haven’t provided much pop. Two cagey and deeply accomplished world sides meet in what could easily be a final. Both sides have looked purposeful, rather than free-flowing, and they’ve reaped the benefits of that. Let’s hope that result-oriented football hits a wall today. What this one needs is a goal in the first 15 minutes to open things up. If that happens, we’re looking at a classic.
C.K.: Netherlands 3, Brazil 2 (after extra time) C.Y.: Brazil 1, Netherlands 0
Ghana vs. Uruguay, 2:30 p.m. ET, Johannesburg – Ellis Park
Africa’s team vs. South America’s new outsider crush. While many big names came here to stand around and not be counted, these two relative minnows arrived bursting with energy. Uruguay feature the tournament’s best strike pairing – Diego Forland and Luis Suarez. Ghana count on an all-action midfield to control the attack. Provided neither side seizes up under the pressure, there’s little to separate them. But Ghana now have a whole continent – and Nelson Mandela – willing them forward. That’s a formidable obstacle.
No one who's come near the 3-minute ad (which, it still has to be said, looks awesome) has emerged unscathed.
As Chris Young pointed out in his column today, all five 'featured' athletes are now dodging tomatoes in various parts of the world. But it's worse than that. Everyone loses (except the guys in the ads - they get paid a gajillion dollars).
Let's go through the victims, by order of appearance.
DIDIER DROGBA (Ivory Coast) - Japan's Tulio broke his arm in the lead-up (but not a very effective break, since Drogba played); Team was disappointingly average; At 32, the King of African football has almost assuredly played in his last World Cup.
FABIO CANNAVARO (Italy) - The best player at Germany 2006 looked himself, if himself was carrying around a 75-lb sack of grain on his back. Cannavaro was far too slow, just like the rest of his team. The team was jeered at the airport on the way home. No word on any 'Che Capitano' nightclub act, but Fabio probably won't be smiling if there is.
WAYNE ROONEY (England) - First he doesn't score a goal. Second, his team is humiliated by arch-rivals, Germany. Then the whole thing is blamed on his womanish grooming habits. Not a great three weeks. Maybe they kept that prop camper from the ad?
FRANCK RIBERY (France) - One of the ringleaders of the France team's work-to-rule day that Florent Malouda has now admitted was a "disaster." Reportedly said he cried when teammate Nicolas Anelka was sent home. Wait'll he hears about how much his value on the transfer market has dropped.
LANDON DONOVAN and TIM HOWARD (USA) - Shouldn't call it a disaster. Howard was exceptional at times and Donovan will always have that last-gasp spear against Algeria to cherish. But they still should have taken Ghana out. Next time, think Reebok.
THE QUEEN (U.K.) - For her summer holiday, she gets to ... tour Canada's top sites. God, it sounds like every nightmarish family vacation, to the power of 4.
GERARD PIQUE, CESC FABREGAS and ANDRES INIESTA (Spain) - The last men standing as far as playing in this thing goes. But Pique had his forehead cut open on that ridiculous tumbling play that gifted Switzerland a winning goal in the opener. Fabregas is nearly nailed to the bench (Have fun doing the same thing at Barcelona) and Iniesta is so pale, you could pick him out from space. Yeah, that's weak. But we have a theme.
BABIES NAMED WAYNE - Cursed, with or without Nike's help.
ROGER FEDERER - Bombed out of the French. Has to go through Rafael Nadal (whom everybody - but everybody - likes better) to claim his 7th Wimbledon. Would've called this one even odds, but then there's this ad, so .... (Update: Curse in full effect. Federer just got taken out in the quarters by Tomas Berdych)
RONALDINHO (Brazil) - Curious fact. Talking to a Brazilian fan a while back, and he told me that given Brazilian accenting, the proper way to say this name is "HO-nal-JIN-yo." Cool. How do you say, "Humiliated since he didn't even make the team"? In the mini-capsules they play now, the former world player of the year has been spiked. Robinho - who hasn't exactly lit this thing up either - takes his spot.
KOBE BRYANT (USA) - Already in league with the Devil, so no need to fear any sort of curse.
CRISTIANO RONALDO (Portugal) - One goal equals a pretty big bust on this stage. And it's unlikely ... hey. HEY! Stop spitting!
HOMER SIMPSON (Springfield) - Slumming. You were slumming, man.
GAEL GARCIA BERNAL (Mexico) - As an actor, it's not a good thing when your six seconds in a shoe company spot have a bigger cumulative audience than your last 10 movies. I'm giving you a pass because you were amazing in Amores Perros, but that was ten years ago. So sharpen up.
"Bora ... Bora ... Bora" - Milutinovic sure has a lot of friends.
Right on time, Bora Milutinovic showed up last night at Ellis Park wrapped in a blue parka and a South Africa scarf. He's very adaptable, having taken five different squads from three continents to five different World Cups.
His closet probably looks like the rack outside a Kensington Market vintage shop.
Here's the scene when Bora shows up (and he always shows up. The last World Cup he actually coached at was eight years ago). He draws a crowd. Four years ago outside Dortmund's stadium – still the best place I've ever seen a game in, an old-timey box with a stand right up on the backs of the players on the bench and oozing atmosphere – he stood at the ready, greeting old friends and answering questions in receiving-line style in almost any language.
Last night it was more like Bora at the eye of a little hurricane. He stood surrounded, trying to make an escape. But this is the thing about him – he really doesn't want to escape. He loves it. They came at him with microphones and video cameras. He smiled, pivoted to the next face, the next mike, the next country.
An Argentine women, in Spanish: “Bora, what do you think of Argentina?”
“Bueno,” he answers. “Muy bueno.”
A German guy, sprechen sie Deutsch: “How do you think the Germans will do against them?”
The steadycam lights up his face. He stops for a long answer in German. I think the rough Coles Notes translation reads “bueno.” The light goes off. A couple of Chinese shake his hand – yeah, he had a stint there. Some old friend from his native Serbia barges through the group and looks at him, opens his arms, and they embrace. Then it's back to it. I sense my opportunity.
“What are the chances of you ever coaching Canada?” I ask.
Momentary confusion on his face. Still hovering for her next bite, the Argentine reporter flashes me a smoldering how-dare-you look that's totally irresistible, and my knees buckle. Or maybe it's just the rickety media centre floor.
“Canada, Canada,” Bora mumbles. It's like I'm the teacher, and he forgot to study last night's lesson. He so wants to help, this Bora. “No, no.”
Sensing the vacuum, a French reporter asks Bora about Les Bleus' collapse. Bora is swallowed, the little storm inching away.
Till next time, Bora. Like, say, four years from now, in Brazil.
A pair of teams both looking to make the quarter-finals for
the first time in their respective histories, Paraguay and Japan both lay
legitimate claim to the title ‘surprise of the tournament’. The Japanese were
supposed to be all defence – and they’ve won with offence. Paraguay – exact
opposite scenario. Set pieces are the likely difference, with Keisuke Honda
looking like the man who’s mastered the Jabulani ball better than anyone else
Prediction: Japan 2, Paraguay 1
Spain vs. Portugal, 2:30 p.m. ET
It’s hard to reconcile the two Portugals at these finals –
the one who looked dreary against Ivory Coast, or the one who cruised against
North Korea. (Let’s forget the one that declared a truce against Brazil.)
They’ve been disappointed so often, and jittery Spain look primed for a fall.
Unlike England-Germany, this should be a battle of giants that shows acres of
skill on both sides of the park.
In Soccernomics, their Moneyball take on the footy, Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski debunk the oft-accepted notion that during the World Cup, the suicide rate increases. On the contrary, they say, “the game seems to be a lifesaver:”
“In Europe today, there may be nothing that brings a society together like a World Cup with your team in it. For once, almost everyone in the country is watching the same TV programs and talking about them at work the next day, just as people used to do before cable TV arrived. Part of the point of watching a World Cup is that almost everyone else is watching, too. Isolated types – the types at most risk of suicide – are suddenly welcomed into the national conversation. They are given social cohesion.”
SAY IT AIN’T SO ZURICH!
Was the Swiss exit from the World Cup more than our long-legged pal could take?
Well, hold it one vuvuzela-tootin' minute, bubs. Zurich, the house grasshopper, was found bobbiing carapace-up in the Casa Canada pool Sunday (in case you're wondering, it's way too cold to swim here, and the pool sits forlorn and unloved, waiting for October's warming sun). He was such a good guy to come home to, sunning himself on the filter ring, jumping up on the patio stones, a real ball of fire.
What happened? Only Zurich knows for sure. Maybe a half-full Transkei Dumpie left out there by mistake did him in, and he wandered too close to the water. Death by misadventure? This whole wonderful trip seems like a misadventure sometimes, with its razor wire and grassfires and Diego Maradona pressers.
I'm not buying it. The Swiss went out cruelly here, the promise of their opening-game upset of Spain's twinkletoesin' flamenco dancers gone wrong when they couldn't do much of anything else. Swiss exit and Zurich, a floater – the timing is too close to be anything but a sad grasshopper jumping into the eternal night. I'm lookin' right at you, Kuper and Szymanski. This was no lifesaver for our sweet Zurich.
How 'bout these Dutch? For a change, they appear under control, winning all three of their matches and looking like they barely put their foot on the accelerator. Slovakia woke up in their last, putting Italy to the sword then refusing to talk to their travelling media, which had ripped them for two uninspiring performances. They'll be missing key midfield stopper Zdeno Strba due to suspension, while Holland is likely to give Arjen Robben, who Strba would be all over, a full run. Got to go with the Dutch on a full tank here.
Prediction: Netherlands 3, Slovakia 1
Brazil vs Chile, 2:30 p.m. ET
This could really kick off. In qualifiers, Brazil won the South American group by one measly point over Chile, but dominated their series – a 3-0 win in Santiago that featured two red cards and a Luis Fabiano brace, and a 4-2 at home that included a Nilmar hat trick and two more ejections. For this one, Brazil gets three key players back and available – Kaka, Elano and Robinho – while Chile's hard-tackling trio of Gary Medel, Waldo Ponce and Marco Estrada are out suspended. History favours Brazil, and so does the oddsboard.
Half-time in England-Germany game, with Germany leading 2-1.
They were trying to smash chairs. And this is the media centre. At the Argentina-Mexico game.
Controversy ready to simmer over here after England's Frank Lampard rips a shot off the German crossbar that carromed off, landed at least two feet inside the goal and then bounced back up into the hands of the German keeper.
If England lose on this, goalline technology - the only reasonable solution to this problem - is guaranteed. It's probably guaranteed in any case. FIFA cannot defend this.
Replays showed that the Uruguayan linesman was standing flush at the 18-yard line when the shot happened.
The only other guarantee, if Germany win, is that his life is ruined. Poor sod.
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