Five things we learned on day 18
Jon Obi Mikel isn’t worried about the arrival of Cesc Fabregas at Chelsea. Obvious question really. Nigeria’s players are preparing for the biggest game of their international lives and someone in the press conference before the game against France asks Mikel whether he feels threatened by the arrival of Cesc Fabregas at Chelsea.
So many midfielders and so little space kind of thing. Mik – as he’s called by his national team manager Stephen Keshi – says he’s looking forward to working with Fabregas having played against him so many times. “Chelsea is my second home,” said the 27-year-old Nigerian. “But with football, you can never tell. At the moment I’m happy there.”
And why not. He’s won the league title, the UEFA champions league title and a couple of FA Cups in more than 300 appearances for the Blues. The boy Mikel is doing good.
“If you cut me, is not my blood is green”. This is a line from a Pakistan cricket fan we interviewed many moons ago during the cricket world cup final between Pakistan and England. The daily review was working as a reporter for a newspaper and was told to find somewhere in London to hang with the Pakistan supporters as they watched the match. Needless to say we produced a vividly scintillating piece of reportage as Pakistan – led by Imran Khan (before he turned into a politician) - swept past England. One frenzied youth who was born in England to parents from Pakistan came out with the above line. It made its way into the report because it is so hysterically dramatic. We watched the Costa Rica v Greece penalty shoot-out on day 18. And due to our roots connection with Costa Rica, we rejoiced. Besides they were the underdog. And that’s always a great story.
The spot kick is cruel way to end. Chile lost their last 16 match in a penalty shoot out and now the Greeks have gone the same way. It is so tough on the player who misses after 120 minutes of thrashing around the park. Costa Rica progressed to their first world cup quarter-final as a result of the win. And they played for nearly an hour with only 10 men after Oscar Duarte was dismissed for two yellow cards. Credit to them for guts and holding off a full strength Greek side who really did go for the kill.
We will stop predicting who’s going to miss a penalty in the shoot-out. We watched the Brazil v Chile match in a bar in Campinas with our newest bestest friends from the Grupo sem Tempo. The band leader, Matheus, went off for a cigarette after about 15 minutes of the match. Quite a bit of the second half was spent in a side alcove with several cigarettes. When he did come and sit down we berated the performance of Hulk. For such a strapping lad, he did spend a lot of time on the floor. And when he was upright he didn’t do very much. As extra time progressed Matheus was joined in the alcove by an increasing number of people. Needless to say when the penalty shoot-out came and Hulk moved towards the penalty box, we groaned. Hulk missed. Sadly we weren’t with our chums from the group for the Costa Rica v Greece game. We rated Joel Campbell as pretty abject during extra-time for Costa Rica. When he stepped up for their fourth penalty, we thought he’s not going to do this. Slotted it in to the goalkeeper’s right.
Africans feel the heat too. Apparently it is going to be hot when Nigeria take on France in Brasilia on day 19. At the pre-match press conference, Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi was asked whether this would favour Nigeria. Not really, he said. He added that quite a lot of his players turn out for clubs in Europe. Good to see some cold analysis around.