Five things from….Brazil 0 Netherlands 3


We all know this is the game that neither team really wants to play. I’m sure a lot of the Dutch team would want to be on a beach somewhere, enjoying a week or so of R & R before they all sign for Manchester United (well, apart from RVP of course).  For Brazil they can’t go anywhere – they have to live with the crushing disappointment for the rest of their careers.  But history has shown that this game tends to have some drama.  Hakan Suker’s 11 second goal in 2002 against South Korea, Sweden scoring four in the first half against Bulgaria in 1994 and five goals in South Africa four years ago.  Surely there was no drama left in this tournament?

1. Homer – 90 second in and you couldn’t have asked for a clearer professional foul as Thiago Silva brought Robben down, although of course he went down as if he had been shot. No doubt it was a foul yet there was still some hesitation from the referee.  That wasn’t in the plan, you could see him thinking.  Straight red for Silva?  Er no, a feeble yellow.  Good to see Brazil’s tournament will end as it started with dubious decisions given by referees about penalties.

photo (2)2. Side Show Bob – Nothing like being in the spotlight to really show your qualities.  I remember punching above my weight when I played for a number of sides in my youth.  You naturally raise your game.  But here is David Luiz, fresh from leading the Brazilian defence into the worst defeat in their history, perfectly setting up Blind for the second goal with the most ridiculous header.  The PSG owners must be trying ever trick in the book to get the €40 cheque stopped.

3. Big Phil – Why?  Why is he called that?  He is less than 6 feet tall.  Granted that is taller than your average man, but he is hardly a giant is he?  In terms of other Phil’s, he is smaller than Thompson, Windsor and Oakey.  Big head perhaps, or just a made up nickname by the media to give him some colour.

4. Premier League – Best Premier League player in the World Cup Finals?  My shout would be Tim Howard, who was outstanding for the US although when I asked Twitter, the hands-down answer was Ron Vlaar.  Can’t fault him for his solid defensive performance but can you give the award to someone who essentially has been an unmoveable object?

5. ITV v BBC – “Join us tomorrow night for the World Cup Final, with Andy Townsend”.  If there was ever five words to make you shudder in fear it is “World Cup Final” and “Andy Townsend”. Fortunately, BBC are also showing the game which means 75% of the watching British public will choose the advert-free, Chiles-free, “it’s going to be emotional”-free BBC.  I’d even welcome Robbie Savage on my screen over Townsend.  Sorry ITV but BBC have been the winners again in the footballing stakes.

 

Five things from….Netherlands 0 Costa Rica 0


The quarter-finals haven’t yet set the competition alight after such a barn-storming group stage.  So far the games have gone to form and there was little chance that the final game would throw up a surprise.  Whilst our hearts may have wanted Costa Rica, the 66/1 outsiders, to progress, it would take a super human effort for them to outwit the Dutch.  They’ve been what has been good and bad in the tournament so far.  Good – the domination over world champions Spain and THAT goal by Van Persie and then the Bad – Robben falling over whenever someone coughs in Brazil.  Say it like it is – irrespective of how talented he may be, he is a cheat.  Cheats never prosper is the saying….try explaining that one to your kids when Robben takes home millions of pounds every year.

1. The Dutch Bench – Surely smartest bench of the World Cup?  Immaculately turned out in their blue jackets and orange ties.  Looking like secret service agents on a dress-down Friday. Two hours after they walked out onto the pitch they still looked as “smart as the Man from Burtons” as my Mum would say. There is no dignity in a pensioner wearing a tracksuit.

2. “Intriguing” – When any commentator says the game is intriguing then it is time to go and make a cup of tea.  Why don’t they simply say it is a shocker – it is what we are all saying and thinking.   And then when it is still goal less with 10 minutes to go it changes to a game with a “Grandstand finish”…what on earth does that mean?  To mean that just conjures up images of Frank Bough and his misdemeanours.  In fairness, he was spot on (Mowbray not Bough) – it was a Grandstand finish to the game in normal time.

image (2)3. World Cup of keepers – The stars of the tournament so far have been the keepers.  Howard, Neuer, Ospina and Costa Rica’s Navas have all been outstanding. In fact every keeper could probably say they have performed on the world’s stage.  Well, Iker Casillas excepted.  Navas once again put in a fantastic shift, although probably felt that he would have had a busier two hours.  In fact for the first hour he could have sat in his goal and caught up on 24 without many problems.

4. Extra-time – Hard to believe that the final 15 minutes were being played by the same two teams that had contested the previous 105.  Absolutely top stuff – end to end, with the Costa Ricans suddenly realising that they could still win this game without penalties.

5. Tactical master stroke or balmy old cack – Van Gaal’s decision to bring on Tim Krul for Cillessen just to face penalties – it’s not a pre-season friendly or a testimonial is it? Is the Newcastle keeper that good? He’s no Paul Cooper is he?  Alan Shearer reminds us that he has only saved 2 penalties from 20 for Newcastle.  Is Cillessen hoping for a win or defeat whilst he sits on the bench? The result? Tactical Genius.

The Beer World Cup

Still no luck in tracking down a Costa Rican number so we substituted in a Fuller’s Honey Dew to compete against a few Oranjebooms.

Netherland 1 Costa Rica 1 – Costa Rica win on penalties because Oranjeboom is actually brewed in Faversham and not Netherlands.

Five things from….Netherlands 2 Mexico 1


I could get very used to weekends like this.  The beauty of having games on at 5pm and 9pm is that you can do a day of family stuff, get home, watch game one, cook dinner/do chores and then settle down for game two. The heat was always going to be the deciding factor in this game as to whether we were going to see a match of all out attack like the Brazil v Chile one, or a more tactical one like Colombia v Uurguay.

1. Holland v Netherlands - Are ITV right in referring to the Netherlands as Holland?  Holland is actually a region and former province located on the western coast of the Netherlands. The name Holland is also frequently used as an informal term to refer to the whole of the country of the Netherlands. This usage is generally accepted, but some individuals, particularly from the other parts of the Netherlands, dislike the use of “Holland” as a substitute for “the Netherlands”. So it’s like New York being part of New York, right?

photo (2)2. “Let the ball do the work, the chance will come” – Exactly how will this happen?  Clarke Carlisle is suggesting that if the players simply play it to feet without any running then someone will get a chance?  Did he not see Germany v Austria in 1982 where this was exactly what happened?  Then 10 minutes later Carlisle bemoaned the Netherlands play as they did exactly what he said they should do, saying that it was “dull and defensive football”.  Wisdom of a former professional player.

3. Cooling Break – Preparation for Qatar 2022?  Imagine the temperature 10 degrees hotter and you will need breaks every 15 minutes.  Whilst I can see the medical sense in it, who benefits the most out of that five minute break in the first half?  The TV companies who can sell an additional TV advert break? Absolutely.  The coaches who have a chance to alter things? Correct.

4. Girl in the crowd – Surely a record for “most number of attractive girls given a close up on TV at a football match”?  There must be one cameraman whose job it is to troll the crowd looking for attractive girls to zoom in on.  Hard life.

5. “Van Gaal must be dreading this going to penalties” – Another great Carlisle line.  If you are trailing 2-1 in injury time do you think the Dutch manager will say..”tell you what, it is a bit hot out there.  I don’t want us to equalise and take this game to extra time.” So when Snejder’s 88th minute equaliser went in, he would have been absolutely fuming.  Almost as good as Glenn Hoddle’s comment that the final minute challenge on Robben was a “double penalty”.

The Beer World Cup

After a trip to the sunny Kent seaside it was a very pleasant beer match enjoying a cold Sol in the first half, with a twist of lime of course, against a chilled Amstel in the second.  Tough choice and one that eventually went to penalties with a bag of Totilla chips against a chocolate pancake….close but there could only be one winner.

Netherlands 2 Mexico 2…Netherlands won 3-1 on penalties

 

Five things from….Spain 1 Netherlands 5


Timing is everything and so as soon as the referee halted proceedings in Natal I was hot-footing it up Borough High Street with a San Miguel in one hand and a Heineken in the other.  This one would be a difficult one to call both on pitch and on my sofa.  The first clash of the titans.  To me, it would all come down to the socks, and I have to say, Spain were the pre-match favourites in terms of lower leg wear but were torn to shreds in a second half when the rain fell and the Heineken kept its head right to the bottom of the glass.

1. Change kits - Spain – Red, Netherlands – Orange…kit clash.  But why do they both have to play in their away kits?  What is wrong with Spain in white, Netherlands in Orange?  Or Spain in Red, Netherlands in Blue….Or is it blue?  My daughter Lolly says it is “Hard Lilac”.  All those Dutch fans in the crowd who had bought up every orange item in every shop in Brazil and the team can’t even be bothered to wear their proper kit.

10581754375_f9f3128833_b2.  Arjen Robben – Unbelievable he is only 30 years old.  He seems to have looked near retirement for a decade.  He is either having a tantrum or is the best player in the world. Tonight he was like a petulant child for 50 minutes and then BOSH…the best player in the world. Granted Casillas was having a Robert Green Day but even so…still didn’t see many of his team mates celebrate the first with him…Far too many tantrums in big games – you can see when he retires he will be trying to blag his way into restaraunts with a “Don’t you know I once scored two goals against the World Champions?” A great player when he can be bothered, but some of the time he just seems to piss off his team mates.

3. Assistant to the Assistant referee – A brief glimpse of the Spanish bench and you had Vincente del Bosque and Jose Antonio Grande looking very smart in their white shirts and red ties.  But next to them they appear to have two referees.  That’s just cheating.  No wonder they are World Champions.

4. Brilliant head gear – Alonso steps up, slots it into the corner of the net and immediately runs over to celebrate with three chaps in the crowd, face painted, wearing hats made of a green cardboard square with two little goals on and a little bull on the top with a ball.  Pure class from the Spanish proving you don’t have to be young, female and just wearing bodypaint to get on TV.  However, the Dutch response of the chaps wearing Orange airline pilot outfits restored the equilibrium in terms of strange outfits.

5. Blue Transit van - At the end to the right there was a blue transit van parked at an angle in the gap between the stands.  It could have been an ambulance but it didn’t have any windows or lights.  So perhaps it was just the builders van, still there waiting for the tarmac on the drive to dry.  Can’t believe that a sponsor somewhere hadn’t whacked a logo on it.

Beer World Cup

A real humdinger with a final sip win for the Dutch after the Spanish had taken a first half pint lead but were ultimately thrashed by the Dutch brew that kept its head (to seal in the freshness the Heineken master brewer once told me) until the final whistle.

San Miguel 2 Heineken 3

Long live the European Football Weekend


Whilst Danny Last’s famous site closed its doors just over a year ago, the EFW is still as big as ever.  This weekend Danny himself, Big Deaksy, Kenny Legg, Huddo Hudson, Spencer Webb and myself got familiar with the German beer, sausages and football at the weekend, our paths almost crossed with the Daggers Diary team who made the foray into Düsseldorf territory as part of their four game, three countries road trip.

About a year ago, Neil, Dagenham Dan and I made a trip into Europe to take in a game in four different countries over the course of one weekend. Even as we were making our way back from Oostende to Calais to catch the train back home, there were already plans to repeat (or improve) on the trip in 2013.

Despite the schedule of four games in such a short space of time, the only mad rush between games was between Koln and Venlo, and that was comfortably achieved without too much drama.

So this year, we thought we should try to do it all again. Obviously with different venues (fixtures permitting), but to attempt to repeat our 2012 trip would be great. A weekend was selected, and then we set about going through the games, seeing which ones we could feasibly attend. We selected four games, and unlike last year, they would all be in the top division of the respective leagues. Except that the French league was causing a bit of a problem, and after all of the others were more or less confirmed, we were kind of hoping that Lille would be scheduled for the Sunday evening, so that we could get a fifth game in. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to happen, so we would have to make do with just the four.

Of course, while we have got lucky with the fixtures and kick off times, there have been other things where we (or more specifically Neil), haven’t been so fortunate. Last year, about a week before the trip, Neil had an accident in the car, which meant that we ended up hiring a vehicle for the weekend. This year, the car hasn’t been the problem, but instead over the New Year period, Neil managed to break his wrist. This meant that, for a few days the trip was in the balance before the hospital proclaimed that the break should be healed in about a month’s time, and in plenty of time for the trip.

I say we have been lucky with the fixtures, and to a certain degree, we have. While Dan and I will be attending four new grounds (it’s two for Neil), we have potentially missed out on a couple of other games. For example, Anderlecht have a home game on the Friday of our trip, while Borussia Dortmund are at home on the Saturday night. Having already booked tickets for the other games as well as the hotels, we have decided to stick to the planned games. However, both clubs are ones that we all want to visit, but as we have found out before, getting tickets for Dortmund can be difficult.

So, now that we are half way through February, Neil’s fracture is healed, and we are on our way through the channel tunnel towards our first stop on the trip, Nijmegen.

Meeting Dan at Chafford at just before eight in the morning, we were lucky enough that the Dartford bridge was not too clogged up, and once across, we were able to make good progress on to our meeting point with Neil at Folkestone services. Arriving just after nine, we were able to sort out payment for Dan’s car parking before we carried on towards the Channel Tunnel. Booked on the 10.50 crossing, we were (after having breakfast in the terminal), through and onto a train, earlier than planned.

The trip to Nijmegen takes about three hours, and so once we emerged into the French sunshine at Calais, we hit the motorway and headed east to the Netherlands. Continue reading

On the twelfth day of TBIR Christmas – The Best game


Seeing over 100 games in 2012 means we have seen a few corkers.  And what better way to finish our 12 Days of Christmas than with our best three 90 minutes.  Well, in fact two of the three were only 45 minute games technically but made up want to stand up and cry “We love this beautiful game”.  Two of our favourites were international games, which was very surprising, and our winner only had two goals in, just to prove it is not always about the number of goals but the passion, drama and incident in the rest of the game.

So, thank you dear readers for coming with us on the past twelve days as we have waxed lyrical about all that was good (and bad) about our footballing adventure in 2012.  Same time, same place next year? Oh go on then.

3rd Place – Boston Town 4 Loughborough University 3
sam_3567Boston who?  You might say but United Counties Premier League sides Boston Town and Loughborough served up an absolute feast back in September.  I only arrived at half-time after watching the more famous Boston (United) play but the 22 players were obviously waiting for my arrival before putting on the real show.  The visitors were 2-0 when I made my appearance, and by the sound of it were running away with the game.  ”Bloody students…when you want them to be hungover from last night they bloody turn up looking like whippets” a local told me when I asked what the score was.  Over the next twenty minutes the score went 1-2, 1-3 and then 2-3 with just a minute to go.  The away keeper who had been in fine form then had a 90 seconds to forget.  First he let a simple shot squirm under his body and then with the last kick of the game Boston took the lead for the first time in the game when he was beaten with ease at his far post.  Just a shame there was only 55 people there to see it along with me.

2nd Place – England 2 Netherland 3
6797039632_aae5b301ec_bAn England game?  Are you mad?  Good old London Underground did their best to ruin the evening by delaying every possible route to Wembley and we didn’t get into the stadium until well into the first half but fortunately all the action was reserved for the final 33 minutes.  The Dutch showed their sheer class with three outstanding goals, whilst the English showed some true grit.  This was supposed to be the game that welcomed ‘Appy ‘Arry but a week is a long time in football, whilst a minute can sometimes be even longer as we saw in the 90th minute of this game when Ashley Young equalised for England then with the very next attack Robben curled an absolute peach into the top corner.  If all England games at Wembley were half as exciting they would be sold out every time.

Best game in 2012 – Egypt 1 New Zealand 1
7671833872_53594da8a5_bOlympic football in Manchester wasn’t supposed to get the general public on the edge of their seats, but the 60,000 who witnessed this warm up game to Brazil v Belarus on a sunny, but bloody cold day in late July saw one of the best games of football in decades.  Sure, there was only two goals but it simply was end to end action for 90 minutes.  Both, yet neither team deserved to win due to their attacking intent and last gasp defending.  Both keepers were heroes and to a man we all rose to applaud their efforts when they finished doing battle after an hour and a half.  Brazil may have been billed as the stars, but the extras but on an Oscar performance.

The Champions League road ends for Ajax


Being a man of many talents, our regular reporter for The Ball is Oval, Michael Miles headed over the North Sea to Holland for the Champions League game between Ajax and Borussia Dortmund last week.  

The man in front of me in the queue at the ticket office was very, very upset. He had a ticket for the match but because it was not in the German section he and his friends had been refused entry by the stewards. In excellent English he was demanding of the harassed clerk that she not only refund the cost of his ticket but his airfare and his hotel.

I never did find out how things panned out with him as she waved her hand at me and I thrust my confirmation letter in front of her. She had regained her composure sufficiently to ask if I too were German. I reminded her that the e-mail in front of her had my London address on it. She pushed two tickets, our 10-euro Arena card and two game scarves in our direction and we were away to leave her to her new German friend.

Buying tickets through the Ajax web site had been easy enough. I had forked out 273 euros and that included a mysterious 15 euro handling fee. A year previously I had watched a league game at the same stadium and paid half that sum. Such is the inflationary value of the Champions League.

On the packed metro to the Amsterdam Arena were a group of West Ham fans. I am a Hammers supporter, so good to meet some like-minded souls among all the Ajax fans thought I. But they were already into a two-days drinking binge and weren’t interested in me. My Chelsea-supporting friend had just found the courage to put his Chelsea cap on, something which seemed to vastly amuse the West Ham gang who entertained themselves trying to snatch it from his head. They weren’t even going to the game, but to a Status Quo concert.

Such are the joys of foreign football travel.

The Champions League is the ideal place for Ajax’s youngsters to gain some much needed experience on the continental stage, although they would probably have wanted a slightly easier group. Nevertheless they had taken four points off Manchester City, and had only lost 0-1 in Madrid. The Dutch champions, with an average age of about 23, have the competition’s youngest squad.

Winners of the last two Bundesliga titles, Dortmund probably don’t need reminding that the last time they claimed two consecutive domestic crowns (1995 and 1996) they wet on to become European champions the following season. Last season they came bottom of their group with only one win, but this time around Jurgen Klopp’s young side have started impressively. Manchester City were very lucky to emerge with a point from the game at the Ethiad when the German side were the much superior side, and impressed many people with the fluency of their football.

Ajax 1 Borussia Dortmund 4 – Amsterdam ArenA – Wednesday 21st November 2012
On the pitch tonight, 20-year old Mario Gotze inspired Borussia Dottmund as they produced a ruthlessly efficient performance to win 4-1 in the Amsterdam Arena.3-0 up at half time they progressed to the last 16 as Group D winners, with one game to go-home to a foundering Manchester City.Gotze had a hand in each of his teams goals, scoring the second himself and setting up two for Robert Lewandowski, as Dortmund looked capable of scoring every time they broke.

Substitute Daniel Hoesen’s late goal for Ajax was little consolation for the home team and did little to dampen the spirits of the jubilant away support, proud to have witnessed such a superb display from their side. I only hope the fan in front of me at the ticket office got in to see it.

Frank de Boer, the Ajax coach, commented “We got a lesion in efficiency from Dortmund but I am also very angry about the way we defended.”  He had every right to be.