Friday, June 30, 2006

The ghost of 1998

It's time to lay to rest the ghost of 1998. Wasn't it France who lifted the trophy in one of the most entertaining competitions ever?

Ronaldo's ghost. The final, in which France triumphed 3-0, was forever remembered by Zidane's goals as much as Ronaldo's supposed mystery illness that caused him to appear listless during the match. The world has not, and could not, give due credit to this French team, who, before the tournament, has been written off by all and sundry. They could not be blamed, for history has shown that France has been woefully inadequate when it comes to anything requiring some mental toughness and real fights. Wars and football matches are just beyond most Frenchmen it seems.

But this squad is special. Those who have witnessed only the French triumphs in 1998 and 2000 would not realise some distinct oddities about this squad. For it was the exact squad who contrived to almost draw with Andorra in 1999 Euro Qualifying Match, but for Franck LeBeouf's last min goal, and the same team who bored me to near death in a 0-0 draw with Czech Rep in Euro 96. The boredom was so intense that I thought it impossible to be upstaged again, mumbling professors in antiseptic lecture halls notwithstanding.

The same team brought as much grief as joy to the full-time supporters like me, beating the likes of Portugal, Spain, England, Italy, but they have their Senegals and Greeces. For lack of a better word in English, doppenganger, German for shadow or double, is the best thing to describe France. This France team has the knack of playing in fits and starts, but shadow copying what the opponents do. Play against a slick team, and France will be slick. Play against a team completely bereth of ideas, and France will be completely ruderless. Play against a samba team, and France will samba through the night.

So, come Sunday, show the world how these band of doppelgangers can beat Brazil in their own game and lay to rest the ghost of Ronaldo!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

It's all Park Ji Sung's fault

Following the English penchant for laying blame on everything from dry grasses, frivolous girlfriends, the scorching German heat for their less-than-stellar performances on the field, it's time now for the Spanish to look for a scapegoat for their demise in the World Cup 2nd round.

Spain have gone into the tournament looking like the regal conquistadors of medieval yore, boasting somewhat threatening names like Torres, Iniesta and Pernia. They conjured a majestic 4-0 win over Ukraine, followed it up with a gritty come-from-behind 3-1 win over Tunisia, and rounded up Round 1 by fielding a team of reserves against the luckless Saudi Arabians---for all their money in the world, their search for a replacement for the 37-year-old Ali Daei have so far been futile.

The stage was all set for Spain to impose their latin influence on the latter stages in the world cup. Such a young team, averaging 24 years of age, and such boundless talents like Fabregas and Torres, who run the fields like the wind, they are the neutral's favourite.

But for a quirky change of fate in the other group match. France was casually strolling to a victory against the Koreans, which would most probably give France the top table position, steering France and Spain well clear of each other's path. 83min--Park Ji Sung had no right to be there, but pop the goal he did into the French net. 1-1. Spain has no chance against France. It was written in the stars.

So was it youthful naviety? Was it Raul the not-so-golden boy of Spanish football? Was it Alonso who inadventently headed the ball back to his own goal? Did the Spanish backline play too far out? No, it's all Park Ji Sung's fault.

Anyway, what's a World Cup without some Spanish tears? Ahh....some things, comfortingly, never change.