Yes, it’s the one the world has been waiting for: Iran vs Bosnia-Hercegovina.
Not a fair fight, really, considering the Iran team has been under sanctions so long that they didn’t even have player photos up on the giant screens when they announced the teams before the match.
And they were playing against two countries.
I began the tournament presuming I was going to cheer for B-H for this one, (too lazy to write the name out in full each time, it’s late at night and I’ve been drinking since 1pm), but with them already eliminated, and Iran both playing some nice football and impressively supported by thousands of ex-pats at the stadium, we got some green, white and red stripes painted on our arms and joined the Middle Eastern party.
Salvador had a better than five-goal a game average to uphold, but we didn’t look like getting any as the game got off to a slow start. Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko finally made it 1-0 midway through the first half, but we didn’t expect what was to come, as Pjanic put them 2-0 ahead on hour before two goals in two minutes left us breathless and Bosnia-Hercegovina (I just remembered how to use cut and paste) worthy 3-1 winners, (although leaving both teams heading home).
And Salvador, with 21 goals in four games, remains the undisputed Goal Capital of the World Cup.
Some curious things occurred during the match:
-Iran’s Portuguese coach and former Manchester United assistant Carlos Quieroz almost had an embolism at how badly his team was playing.
-We managed to walk into the premium Category 1 seat area and watch the entire match from the halfway line, in possibly the best seats in the stadium. (Not literally from the halfway line, that would have got in the players’ way).
-At 2-0 down, an Iranian player was substituted…and walked off so slowly in disgust that I think it was the first time I had ever seen a player from a losing team time-wasting.
–Edin Dzeko managed to steal a goal from one of his team-mates in the single most selfish piece of play I think I have ever seen.
-Despite there being approximately 20,000 empty seats in the Arena Fonte Nova, (people were practically giving away tickets on the walk to the game), FIFA announced the official attendance as being over 48,000. I literally laughed out loud. Then booed out loud. I don’t know if this is a tax dodge, or just a way to convince sponsors that everything is going perfectly, but either way it is just another example of FIFA making me sick.
-There seemed to be a scuffle between Iranian fans and stewards at the end of the match, with lots of squaring up and goggling eyes, but nobody really seemed to know what it was all about. This was the first altercation I have seen of any kind concerning fans. My match buddy Richard’s theory was that they were fighting over the be-flagged Coca Cola cups, which proved as popular as ever at the stadium, (especially as there were no match-day beer cups for the first time, according to the beer seller possibly because they didn’t think Iranians would drink any beer!)
-On the way out of the stadium, I was stopped by someone doing a survey. I like a good survey me, so I offered two minutes of my life to the lady from Monash University to answer some questions about risk and gambling. She then gave me €10 cash. Which was nice.
In the game I was missing at this point, Lio Messi was busy scoring two goals, (including a stunning free-kick, the second to be scored in the competition so far), to keep Argentina technically perfect and send them through to a knock-out match with the Swiss, whilst Nigeria, whom they had beaten 3-2, slip through ahead of the Balkans and Iranians to play against France.
Not a bad way to celebrate your 27th birthday, and also helping me out with my (admittedly dreadful) Fantasy Football team, since ‘The Flea‘ is my team captain.
Later that evening Richard and I retired to our favourite pizzeria to ‘enjoy’ (and since he is Ecuadorian, I use the term loosely), Ecuador battling to a brave 0-0 draw against group leaders France, Manchester United’s recent re-signing Antonio Valencia getting himself sent off, and Ecuador being the only South American side not to progress to the next phase.
Their place was taken by the Swiss, who clinically disposed of Honduras 3-0 with a hat-trick from Shaqiri (Shaqiri).
(I can never say his name without saying it twice).
Thinking (and reading) back on the Suarez bite incident yesterday, opinion appears to be split: between people who think he is a very silly, troubled boy and in lots of trouble, and Uruguayans, who continue to defend him and insist it is all a media/Italian/English/Brazilian conspiracy/nothing happened.
Whilst it is true that biting somebody isn’t as serious as committing a leg-breaking, career-ending foul, (which rarely sees players retrospectively punished or banned for long), I wouldn’t want to play on a pitch with a guy I knew couldn’t keep his appetite off the field, and he’s certainly no role-model for kids.
I know footballers don’t have to be role models in their daily life, but whilst playing the game, if we let players get away with things like this the message we are essentially saying is: do what you want, as long as you are good at what you do and win, you can get away with it. That is literally the message coming from the Uruguay camp, who seem to know how screwed they are without their hungry, hungry striker.
Here is my favourite photo on the subject, anyway: how could I resist a Panini gag?
Also: it seems many people are claiming that they could see this coming, but one guy put his money where his mouth was, (and Suarez’s teeth), and cashed in on a bizarre bet that exactly this would happen!
A quiet night tonight, as the last few have been, with the rain pouring down and people seeming to be saving themselves for the party/mass suicide which will follow the Brazil vs Chile game on Saturday afternoon here. I am looking forward to a morning off, sticking in Panini stickers, doing some washing and cleaning, and generally not being busy.
But then it’s straight back to the bars and restaurants for the unbelievably tense clashes of Portugal vs Ghana, and USA vs Germany. All four teams can still qualify, although my money is on the Yanks and the Germans, (and incidentally, whoever comes second in the group will be visiting me here in Salvador next week for the Round of 16).
The entire first round ends with the slightly less exciting sounding Algeria vs Russia and Belgium vs South Korea, with all but the 2002 co-hosts also in with a shout of advancing, and the winners (hopefully Belgium, as I want to see them, and can’t imagine they can play so badly three games in a row), facing the runners up from the earlier group here on July 1st.
Nearly at the end of round one, people. Take a deep breath. And follow me…