Referee Yuichi Nishimura sends off Uruguay’s Nicolas Lodeiro (unseen) after he fouled France’s Bakary Sagna. AFP
Colombian singer Shakira performs during the official Kick-off celebration concert of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. AFP
THIS year’s World Cup might not turn out to be the most action packaged in the history of the competition but it certainly will be the nosiest. The droning cacophony of thousands of vuvuzela horns promises to be the stand out feature of Africa’s first finals. This deafening noise is only matched by that of last minute construction as the Rainbow Nation scrambles to get ready for its date with destiny.
At least the hosts turned up for the opening game, with Tshabalala’s stunning strike an early contender for the goal of the tournament. The Kaizer Chief’s winger clearly knew his script and will go down in South African folkore.
That is more than can be said for Shakira. The Colombian mistress of the hip wriggle, wearing a grass skirt as though she thought the finals were being held in Hawaii and sporting a mullet that would make Diego Forlan’s mum proud, could be seen cribbing from a sheet secreted on the stage during her pre-final concert. Understandable considering the demanding lyrics: “Waka waka, this time for … now wait a minute … Africa.”
Before the game with Uruguay the main question was which France would turn up to the party. Would it be the talented bunch of individuals led by Anelka, Ribery, Henry and Malouda, or the squabbling factional camp split into those who support the coach and those with a football brain? The answer was neither.
In a repeat of their encounter in South Korea eight years ago, the two former World Cup winners played out a boring scoreless draw that had only two moments of note.
In a reversal of that night in Busan it was Uruguay who were reduced to ten men, when Lodeiro took too close an interest in Sagna’s right ankle. The tackle deserved a straight red rather than just the second yellow it got, although arguably the French right back also deserved his marching order if only for his blond dreds. The only surprise was that it took 80 minutes before a Uruguayan was sent off. The country that holds the record for the fastest ever World Cup dismissal – Jose Batista failed to last a minute against the Scots in 1986 – has a track record for seeing red, only surpassed by their South American neighbours Argentina.
The only other point of fleeting interest occurred when Henry’s late shot struck a Uruguayan defender in the area. The man whose hand palmed the French past the Irish in the qualifiers had the temerity to appeal for a penalty despite the ball seeming to hit the Uruguayan somewhere around his hip. Clearly anatomy is not the Frenchman’s strong point.
Unless the French improve they look like crashing out without a goal the same as in Korea. However, if they carry on playing as they did against Uruguay the only people who will be cursing Les Bleus’ early bath will be insomniacs.
Meanwhile, the mounting pressure of a nation’s expectations exploded in one thunderbolt late Saturday night. A moment of madness and Robert Green joins the ranks of Rooney and Beckham in the annals of English World Cup fall-guys. Unless he emigrates to Outer Mongolia, the West Ham goalkeeper will likely forever be know by his new tabloid moniker “The Hand of Clod”.
Not since Ronaldhino lobbed Seaman in 2002 has an England keeper been the subject of so much abuse. This special treatment is normally dished out to the manager.
The Hand of Clod affair rather stole the thunder from what was supposed to be the Messi and Rooney show. The two main contenders for the player of the tournament shared star billing on Day 2 of the Finals.
While Messi’s silky skills mesmerised the Nigerian defenders, Rooney seemed mesmerised himself against the Americans. Maybe Green’s slippery hands had sent the United hitman into a catatonic state. Rooney was even upstaged by his latest international captain.
Four years on from his disappearance act in Germany, Gerrard was at the heart of all things good about England, including a lesson in finishing that Heskey and Wright-Phillips would do well to learn from. If he continues like this Mourinho might have to delve deeper into his pockets to get the Scouser’s autograph.
As Rooney’s England huffed and puffed their way to a draw, Messi’s Argentina looked every inch potential champions. Quite how the World Player of the Year failed to get his name on the score sheet is a mystery that Mulder and Scully would struggle to unravel. It came as no surprise that the Nigerian goalkeeper, Vincent Enyeama, was named Man of the Match. What would Capello give for him to be England’s number 1?
Not that it is all over for England yet – that comes in the traditional quarter-final penalty shoot-out heartbreak. Those in need of solace need only look back four years. Then another team drew 1-1 with USA in the group stage. The Italians rose from that setback to lift the World Cup less than a month later.
The World Cup is not lost by one moment of madness in the first match. Who knows, if Capello keeps faith with Green, he might just go from Clod to God even in the eyes of the most ruthless tabloid press in the world.