Finally, a final round of games which produced some excitement!
The late kick-offs were mildly tense, although sadly I was stuck watching the wrong match, The Red Devils of Belgium yet again proving to be horribly tedious, yet winning by a single goal, this time down to ten men against a South Korea side who proved to be even more dismal. Belgium next take on the USA, and will have to show a lot more devilry if they are to go any further in the tournament.
That meant I was missing the Russia vs Algeria game, which saw Algeria leave with a 1-1 draw, (possibly due partly to the fact that the Russian goalie had a laser-pen in his eyes shortly before the North African team’s equaliser), which sees them go on to face Germany on Monday.
(For those having trouble keeping up with all of the matches, you can still consult the gorgeous match tracker reported on in an earlier blog).
But it was the 1pm kick-offs which produced the first real excitement of the tournament when, with 20 minutes to play, there were still three teams with a realistic chance of advancing: the USA were a goal down to Germany, (in a match which threatened to be postponed or even cancelled amidst torrential floods in Recife), but Portugal and Ghana traded blows to a 2-1 Portugal victory which did neither team any good and sent the Yanks through to play Belgium, here in Salvador, next Tuesday.
Sitting at home in a torrential storm, for the first time I had the chance to watch two games at once, the USA vs Germany game on the TV whilst Portugal and Ghana battled it out on my laptop. Portugal started well, but generally looked dreadful, whilst Ghana couldn’t find the killer instinct until midway through the second-half, when they cancelled out an early own goal, (from the wonderfully named John Boye), with a nicely worked goal.
Suddenly, one more goal would see the Africans through, but that all fell apart when some terrible goalkeeping allowed ‘the best player in the world’ to fire in his first (and last) goal of the tournament, and the Ghanians seemed to give up at that point.
So the defeated Americans go through thanks to one moment of Pepe madness destroying Portugal’s goal difference, but given the way they played I wouldn’t have thought too many people are too distraught, (even my Portuguese friends seemed resigned to the trip home before the match).
Ghana played some nice football, but were lacking in firepower, and it’s a shame we don’t get to see their gorgeous jerseys here in Salvador, but of course it will be great to welcome my North American friends back to town!
Ghana proved itself before the match to be the team in the World Cup which traditionally melts down midway through: the competitive game against my adopted home country was even more impressive considering they had sent home two of their best players the day before, the combustible Kevin Prince Boateng and AC Milan’s Sulley Muntari, for allegedly verbally and physically attacking coaches.
And this was after they almost didn’t play at all after a dispute over appearance fees, with US$3m being flown over to Brazil to pay them to play.
And who says nobody plays for the love of the sport anymore?
On a similar note, it wasn’t one basket-case country this time, but two, fellow Africans Cameroon also coming close to forfeiting the entire tournament before it even began. The issue? A demand for higher win bonuses, which makes the fact that they go home after one elbow in the back, a head-butt later and three losses even more amusing.
The USA was showing the other side of the coin: a team which clearly loves to play, and a people growing more and more in love with what is clearly the world’s best sport, (sometimes).
Some incredible stats to emerge over the past few days (from the BBC):
The victory over Ghana attracted the biggest US television audience for a football match – 16m people. The draw with Portugal smashed that record with an average of 24.7m viewers.
The concluding game of the NBA Finals last week drew an audience of 18m as the San Antonio Spurs beat the Miami Heat, while Major League Baseball’s hallowed World Series averaged just short of 15m viewers.
This week Google searches for US Soccer outstripped NFL searches for only the second time in history, while Clint Dempsey’s goal against Portugal is the second most tweeted moment of the World Cup so far with 305,000 tweets per minute.
Other big football news today included:
–FIFA grew some testicles and actually banned Luis Suarez from ‘all football related activities,’ for nine matches for his country and four months for all club competitions. Whether this means he is allowed to play FIFA on his Playstation, or watch games on TV is unclear, but it is confirmed that even if Uruguay appeal, he will not be allowed to play again in this World Cup. It may not have been as long as most people wanted, but it’s action, which is rare enough from those idiots in Switzerland.
-In Argentina’s 3-2 win over Nigeria, one unlucky Nigerian, Michel Babatunda, had his arm horribly broken when hit by a shot…from his own player. The video of the incident is here, but I really don’t recommend watching it unless you love horror movies.
-At that same game, 100,000 Argentinians descended on Porto Alegre, most without tickets. Apparently they attempted to gain entry with fake tickets, old tickets, or simply by stealing them from people on their way to the match.
-Finally, I have had time to watch highlights of the games I couldn’t see this week, (thanks to the wonderful website Footyroom), and urge you to go and check out Shaqiri (Shaqiri)’s first in his hat-trick for Switzerland versus Honduras: it’s yet another entry for goal of the tournament.
That’s all for today: tomorrow is a glorious day off for everyone to relax, recover their voices, minds and broken arms, and get ready for the Round of 16, (or ‘oitavos,’ as the locals so succinctly put it).
Who is your money on?