Slovakia's fairy tale is Italy's shame
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With all the talk of the first World Cup in Africa etc etc, the irony is that only one of six African teams is through to the last 16. But Slovakia's win over Italy adds that unexpected twist the tournament needs.
From the outset there have been results which have raised a few eyebrows. For example Switzerland beating Spain in Durban on 16 June.
South Africa’s 2-1 defeat of France should have been regarded as a surprise but given that the French squad were involved in their dance of death, it wasn’t as earthshaking as it might have been.
But Slovakia toppling the world champions Italy is a shock. Mainly because pundits were wheeling out the cliché about the Italians starting slowly and then being their usual clinical selves in the knockout stages.
But it did not happen. They began slowly with a draw against Paraguay. Followed it up with a stalemate against New Zealand and ended up in the fast plane home after the 3-2 loss to Slovakia in Johannesburg. Out of the World Cup in the opening round for the first time since 1974.
Glory four years ago. Ignominy now. Coach Marcello Lippi said his was the responsibility. He was clearly hurting but was dignified in defeat.
By contrast the Slovakians are delirious. Onward they go. And the tournament does need a fairy tale or two.
If the usual suspects are always in the mix in the latter stages then where’s the idiosyncracy?
As readers of this blog will know, I love to refer to myself but here I take the unusual step of alluding to Simon Chadwick, professor of sport business strategy and marketing at Coventry University in central England.
We chatted a few months back about Liverpool after they’d failed to reach the knockout stages of the Uefa Champions League and were struggling in the Premier League.
Inter alia, Prof Chadwick spoke about competitive balance.
He said that if the Big Four in England remained the Big Four ad infinitum, then it became ultimately bad for football. Fine for the supporters of Chelsea, Arsenal etc but the other teams had to go into a match believing there was a chance to win.
Tottenham Hotspur displaced came fourth in England last season behind champions Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal.
If Spurs get through the preliminary round of the Champions League, then London will have three representatives in the Champions League.
Kudos for the capital. Tough for policing.
Spurs have shaken up the tree in England and hats off to Harry Redknapp and his boys. Slovakia have given a jolt to the World Cup here. Chapeau – that's the French equivalent of hats off – to Vladimir Weiss and his charges.
Italian Olympic Committee president Gianni Petrucci said the elimination of the Azzuri was a bitter moment for Italian football and sport in general.
He said we were brilliant four years ago not so good this time and over the years we’ve been generally good – we’ve even won the cup a couple of times - so don’t panic.
That clearly is the French response to elimination. President Nicolas Sarkozy’s press machine has denied that he cancelled a meeting with some development agencies to meet France striker Thierry Henry.
The non-governmental agencies were understandably concerned that discussion of aid programmes for the world’s poor ahead of the summit of international bigwigs in Canada were shunted aside to make way for crisis talks with a footballer who had to scrape by on a salary of nearly 2O million euros last year.
Euro-MP Daniel Cohn-Bendit suggested that, while he was talking football, maybe President Sarkozy could oversee anti-doping measures at the Tour de France.
Ho ho ho. What a wag.
Meanwhile New Zealand’s footballers will receive a hero’s welcome as they step off the plane. They left the tournament with three draws and finished higher than Italy in Group F.
No-one expected great things of the All Whites. They came, they played and they return with honour.
"All Whites Unblemished" headline anyone?
With all the talk of the first World Cup in Africa etc etc, the irony is that only one of six African teams is through to the last 16.
Two of the three Asian sides – South Korea and Japan - are into the knockout stages, the first time they’ve done this on foreign soil.
Shame for the departed African teams that the next World Cup isn’t over there, the favour might just be returned.
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