BfB Goes To The World Cup 2010 (Without leaving the front room)

There was a Golden Generation – the first one – in football and it contained names like Rui Costa, Luis Figo, Jaio Pinto and by the time the sun set on the careers of players every country had decided that it too possessed a “Golden Generation.”

The original might not have been the best. The Portuguese won a couple of penalty shoot-outs against England but that did not make them Germany. As a footballing nation they have looked good but won nothing for as long as they have been kicking a ball.

As a group of players the current group are typified by the most expensive player in the World who is in their ranks. Cristiano Ronaldo is very good on the ball but can go missing in big games, has a tendency to be selfish and – frankly – cheats. For Ronaldo read Portugal and early on Didier Zakora is booked after the Ronaldo takes a shameful dive to get him booked.

The man is a disgrace, his career speckled with the black marks of moments of cheating that eventually tarnish all that could be good.

The Ivory Coast – managed by Sven Goran-Eriksson – are without Didier Drogba who is recovering from a broken arm. The Swede has only been in the job for a few months following his departure for Notts County and has done little to change the West Africans keeping the 433 they play rather than putting his own 442. His job is to bring discipline to a team of talented players but it is worth noting that no team with a manager from another nation has ever won a World Cup.

Ronaldo shows the other side of his game hitting a fierce shot from thirty five yards that strikes the post with a force that can heard above the vuvuzelas. Two minutes later Portuguese pressure breaks down as the winger opts to favour the back heel flick over the composed control. Coach Carlos Queiroz has not been would love to take just one part of player’s game.

Ivory Coast enjoy more of the early possession but Cheick Tiote and Aruna Dindane are both guilty of snapping at long range efforts rather than pressing the build up into the box.

Guy Demel tackles Ronaldo who dives once more and is booked for it after shouting something in the face of an angry Demel – who confronts him – which looks very much like the sort of words which England’s Wayne Rooney were told they would be sent off for using. Rooney and Ronaldo were team mates, perhaps one taught the other it.

Tinnitus starts in my left ear. I thought I had mastered ignoring the vuvuzela.

Gervinho bursts down the right and gets past Ricardo Carvalho in a way which worries the Portuguese. Carvalho’s pace – or lack of it – is a problem and one which Sven Goran Eriksson has almost certainly told his team to try exploit. Minutes later and Carvalho is stretching again to stop Gervinho and angrily shouting at him afterwards.

The mood of the game has been soured by Ronaldo’s diving and Pedro Mendes would surely have been booked – if not more – if his unpleasant studs in tackle on the ankle of Emmanuel Eboue has been seen. The break while Eboue is treated gives a chance for the game to calm down.

Rolando is a curious player. Most footballers are never touched by greatness but those who are – the Maradonas, The Peles, The Cruyffs, The Moores – are split into categories by their approach to the game. Pele and Moore played fairly and and are rightly recognised as greats.

Thierry Henry had a chance to touch that greatness but forwent it when he infamously handled to knock the Irish out of World Cup qualifying. Henry is forgiven as an opportunist but real greatness is out of reach for him. Ronaldo though – like Maradona – has not given in to the temptation of opportunism but rather has incorporated his ability to cheat into his game as much as his pace or his control.

There is no before and after for Ronaldo and because his cheating is so much a part of his game that it is impossible to separate it from his play. While one might forgive – if not appreciate – a player going over under slight challenge as he tries to break through on the wing Ronaldo’s first aim is always the dive, never the cross, and his ability to simulate a foul and win a free kick replaces an ability to create space for a cross.

He can never be great, ever.

The short version of that is “If he is that good, why does he have to cheat?”

Ivory Coast have the better of possession in the game but thus far have lacked the patience to probe the back line of the Europeans to find the holes and create clear cut chances.

The second half starts much as the first ended with Ivory Coast and Gervinho especially making most of the running. The lithe forward crosses towards Dindane who leaps towards the call falling short. In reply the Portuguese seem to want to force play through Ronaldo to the exclusion of all others and it is only a free kick that Deco – once thought of in the highest terms – is able to bend an impressive cross which is tough to deal with but cleared.

The moment of action seems to spark Deco who wakes for a years long slumber to break again with the ball but within minutes he is left once again frustrated watching Ronaldo run forward into a line of orange defenders rather than lay the ball off. The Portugal players seem use Ronaldo’s obvious single minded play as a reason to shrug when possession is lost.

For a team ranked third in the World they are amazingly one dimensional and they come alive when Ronaldo is not involved – Deco crosses well from the left hand side of the box but Liédson’s header is saved with a flourish by the wonderfully named Boubacar Barry.

Every Portugal chance though is matched by two by Ivory Coast who have Gervinho testing the keeper after a dart down the left then charging into the box on the right in pursuit of an over hit pass. Gervinho is carrying the weight of the Drogba-less attack and the idea of adding the latter to the former when injury permits is mouthwatering.

Drogba readies himself to come on, Eriksson gives him a few final words of instruction “Go on my son, get me a goal.”

The roar that greets Drogba is marked. He is – perhaps – the highest profile African in the first African World Cup and while that may seem curious to the European mindset who would not consider cheering a Greek simply because he was a fellow European it plays in a continent with fewer high profile players.

Raul Meireles seems to have a photo-realistic tattoo of a woman on his arm. Greater love hath no man.

Ronaldo continues his attempts to get Zakora send off with a contemptible dive but the free kick is delivered poorly. Portugal’s ten are out of ideas, again they look to the one to see what he can do. He blasts a free kick over from long range – as good a hit as has been done with this ball – but it sails over the ball.

Zakora thinks his afternoon might be over after a foul in the middle but he gets a look from the Referee that seems to say that his first half booking has now been give. Gervinho’s afternoon is over and he departs as Eriksson closes his side up to try ensure that the game is not lost perhaps hinting that the Swede thinks his team is more equipped to get a result from Brazil than Portugal are. Perhaps a more fit Drogba is part of that plan, the striker got only a half chance in this game.

On evidence it is hard to disagree although one would worry that the unpredictable element of Portugal could delivery them something against the South Americans which the West Africans do not get. The structure of this group – North Korea being the lowest ranked team in the World Cup, Brazil the highest – effectively could have seen the loser – more or less – exit the tournament.

Neither side lost the and so qualification depends on how these team fair against the best and the worse.

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