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Australia vs Ghana

With none of the publicity that our men get, our women's national team has qualified for their fourth World Cup. Like our men going into the 2006 World Cup, our women were yet to win a game at the finals.

But that all changed tonight. We demolished Ghana 4-1. I didn't see a lot of the game, despite it being on free-to-air, but the highlights suggest we played quite well.

Germany 2006

Let's look back at the eighteenth World Cup, held in Germany in 2006 and won by Italy - their fourth win. Once again (see 1982) a Serie A match-fixing scandal at home unified the Italian team and delivered victory.

In 2002, Cameroon wore sleeveless shirts at the African Cup of Nations. FIFA responded by forbidding the wearing of vests at the 2002 World Cup Finals, so Cameroon added some odd-looking temporary sleeves. Cameroon went further in 2004, again at the African Cup of Nations, turning out in a one-piece Lyrca outfit, in which shirts and shorts formed a single garment. FIFA pointed to Law 4: shirts and shorts is the sole acceptable attire.

After much argument, Cameroon were permitted to wear the outfits in the group stages, but not the quarter-finals of the Cup of Nations. Cameroon wore them in the QF anyway and created huge headlines (despite losing the game). FIFA decided it was time to bring them to heel. On April 16, they fined Cameroon $154,000 and deducted six points from their World Cup qualifying campaign. With only 30 points on offer in their qualifying group, this was heavy punishment.

Cameroon appealed. FIFA denied the appeal. Cameroon brought in German lawyers and threatened to go all the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and sue FIFA for substantial damages. The Confederation of African Football sent in a petition of support signed by all 52 African countries. On May 21, 2004, FIFA bottled it and caved. Cameroon got their six points back. Sepp Blatter said, "Do not see this as a U-turn. It is merely a pardon."

On September 4, 2004, England drew 2-2 with Austria after a calamitous error by David James in goal. The British press got stuck in as usual. The Sun actually went and found a donkey and filmed it, after many takes, making the equivalent save that James failed to make. The donkey, named Mavis, became famous. The Sun then held a phone poll asking readers to vote on who should be goalkeeper for England's next match, Mavis or David James. 95% of Sun readers voted for Mavis. James was dropped.

Australia qualified for the finals for the second time. Both our qualifications coincide with the hosting of the Finals in Germany (strictly West Germany in 1974). Let's hope this is not the start of a pattern. Of the seven World Cup winners, six qualified for the Finals in 2006. The country that didn't, Uruguay, was eliminated by Australia. :)

Sweden failed to win their first group game at the Finals again. Despite regular appearances at the Finals, they haven't managed to win their first game since 1958 the year they hosted the finals.

Australia's Ray Richards played illegally at the Finals in 1974. He was the only player to do so until Josip Simunic achieved the feat playing for Croatia against Australia. Incredibly Simunic achieved the feat in a crucial game in the full glare of the modern media spotlight, not in a dead rubber back in the 1970s. The referee, Graham Poll of England, failed to realise that Simunic's second yellow was indeed his second, assumed it was his first and let Simunic remain on the field. This time the fourth official missed it and Simunic topped Richards by staying on until the final whistle, although there was less time to go in Simunic's case. A clear pattern has emerged too: Australia's third and final round one (or group stage) game at the Finals shall feature an illegal player.

Simunic went further though. Following the final whistle he remonstrated with Poll and received a third yellow card and was sent off. So while Simunic is now one of two illegal players, he is the only player ever to receive three yellow cards in a finals match, a record all his own.

In typical FIFA fashion the official match record shows only two yellow cards awarded to Simunic. The second card has been removed from the record. Poll announced his retirement from international refereeing shortly after the match.

Italy defeated Australia 1-0 in the round of 16 (bastards). The game was decided by a penalty in the last minute. There was no time to restart afterwards. Other than games decided by a penalty shoot-out or a golden goal, this is the only Finals game decided by the last kick of the match.

Australia's progress at the Finals attracted a lot of positive attention. Many reports naturally compared our performance very favourably to our efforts in 1974. Incredibly though, articles on FIFA's official website, on at least three separate occasions, referred to Australia not managing a single point in 1974. This is of course incorrect.

The French captain, Zinedine Zidane, was sent off in the Final. Again a pattern is emerging. Following Marcel Desailly's sending off in the 1998 Final, all French captains competing in a Final must arrange for themselves to be sent off. Clearly Zidane was running out of time and getting desperate. Hence the headbutt option. And even then the referee missed it.

Italy's win marked a further step in yet another pattern. Italy lost the Final in 1970. Twelve years later in 1982, following a match fixing scandal at home, they won. A further twelve years later in 1994 they lost the Final. And a further twelve years later in 2006, again following a match fixing scandal at home, they won.

Japan / Korea 2002

Let's look back at the seventeenth World Cup, held in Japan and South Korea in 2002 and won by Brazil - their fifth win. This is the only time the Finals have been jointly hosted.

With 195 teams attempting to qualify, the qualification tournament was extraordinarily complex. For example, both Honduras and Trinidad and Tobago played 22 games and both still failed to qualify. With every game crucial, FIFA's choice of referee was important. The referee must be absolutely neutral. The game between South Africa and the Kingdom of Lesotho was one such crucial game. FIFA went all out to find a neutral referee. Eventually they settled on Boxen Chinagu of Zambia. You can imagine FIFA's dismay and embarrassment when Zambian officials informed them that Chinagu was dead. And had been for six months.

The World Cup qualifiers for 2002 produced some very high-scoring games. New Zealand defeated Fiji 13-0 in August of 1983. This was the record score for a World Cup game and it stood for a long time. Until November 24, 2000, when Iran defeated Guam 19-0. Less than six months later Australia defeated Tonga 22-0 to set a new record, not just for World Cup games, but for all full internationals. But the Aussies weren't done yet. Two days later they defeated American Samoa 31-0.

The goals times were 10, 12, 13, 14, 17, 19, 21, 23, 25, 27, 29, 32, 33, 37, 42, 45, 50, 51, 55, 56, 58, 60, 65, 66, 78, 80, 81, 84, 85, 88 and 89. Archie Thompson finished with 13 goals beating the previous records for goals in a game of 7 for a World Cup game and 10 for a full international.

When Madagascar played Tunisia on May 5, 2001 the Madagascan starting 11 players all had surnames beginning with the letter 'R'. What's more all three substitutes used on the day did too. And so did their coach. Somewhat ironically they referred to themselves as Club M.

England's FA advised the travelling Barmy Army to try an "make an effort" to show some courtesy and sensitivity towards the culture of Japan and Korea. Good luck you may say. But one guy made a genuine effort. He went to a T-Shirt shop in Japan and asked for the words "England on Tour - I Love Japan" to be translated into Japanese and put on a shirt. No-one is sure if the message was lost in translation or the printer was having a laugh, but what he ended up with was "Gay submissive Englishman seeks muscular Japanese boy". None the wiser he wore it to England's first game against Sweden.

Croatia vs Australia

Our greatest ever result, but the nature of the game and the refereeing meant it was almost impossible to enjoy.

France 1998

Let's look back at the sixteenth World Cup, held in France in 1998 and won by France - their first win. France remain the latest country to win it for the first time.

In 1966, England won and Germany were runners-up. At the final whistle the scorer of the first goal in the final, Helmut Haller, picked up the ball and kept it. No big deal, no-one gave a second thought in those days to football memorabilia and its potential value. Haller gave the ball to his son for his fifth birthday. Over 20 years it was signed by Pele, Eusebio and other greats, but ended up languishing in Haller's cellar.

When England won the right to host the 1996 European Championships the magazine Total Football suggested the 1966 ball should 'come home'. This kicked of a massive campaign. The Sun and the Mirror battled it out for the scoop of getting the ball back. The bemused Hallers said they'd listen to offers. Eventually the Mirror, Eurostar and Richard Branson clinched a deal worth 70,000 pounds to Haller. After much subterfuge the Mirror got the money shot of Haller returning the ball to Geoff Hurst after smuggling Haller into the country. Miffed, the Sun demanded the Hallers give the money to charity, which the did - allegedly. The ball now resides at the National Football Museum at Preston North End's Deepdale ground. Sadly the precious autographs have faded because Richard Branson exposed the ball to full sunlight during the handover.

Scotland met Estonia in Estonia during the qualifying stages in a match set down for a 6:45pm kick-off. The Estonians rented floodlights from Finland. Scotland complained the lights were much shorter than normal and would dazzle the players. FIFA concurred and issued a directive at 9:00am on match day moving the kick-off forward to 3:00pm to avoid the need for lights. The Scottish fans were duly informed and arrived for the early kick-off along with their team and the referees. The Estonians failed to show. The referee awarded the match to Scotland as a forfeit. The Scottish fans were delighted.

The Estonians however had never officially accepted the new kick-off time. They were also concerned about being unable to provide security at such short notice and their fans being at work at kick-off time. So at 5:00pm the Estonian team duly arrived in their team bus along with their fans for a 6:45pm kick-off. They made their point by standing around, arms folded, waiting impatiently for Scotland to turn up.

FIFA now had a dilemma. Acting with their renowned speed and efficiency they came to a decision a month later. They decided the tie should be replayed on a neutral ground. Effectively, Scotland failed to win despite the opposition failing to turn up. The Scots eventually acceded to FIFA despite feeling they were being punished for something that was not their fault. The two sides finally did meet in Monaco a further three months later. Naturally Scotland were dire and were booed off their pitch by their fans in a 0-0 draw. Fortunately for FIFA they were spared a major backlash as Scotland eventually managed to qualify regardless.

The Maldives attempted to qualify for the first time. Given that 99.6 of the islands are officially classed as water and many children hone their football skills with a coconut, little was expected. Little was delivered as the Maldives lost all six of their qualifiers a compiled the worst ever for-and-against record of 0-59.

Princess Diana died from injuries sustained in a car-crash on August 31, 1997. The day of the funeral, Saturday September 6, was declared a national day of mourning by Prime Minister Tony Blair. All Premier League games were cancelled (along with race meetings and so on). Business closed until after the funeral, re-opening at 2:00pm. The Scottish FA however, decided it should be business as usual and that its World Cup qualifier against Belarus should go ahead. FIFA had been consulted and concurred provided the usual marks of respect (black arm bands, a minute's silence, etc) were observed. Eventually after a huge hullabaloo in the English Press the game was moved back a day to the Sunday, despite the observation that you could shop, visit themes parks, buy a Big Mac or purchase a lottery ticket, but not watch, play in or bet on a football match. Scotland won the rescheduled match 4-1.

After England's first match at the finals, an unremarkable 2-0 victory over Tunisia in Marseille, Glenn Hoddle and Alan Shearer were interviewed for TV. Curiously Hoddle was shown in full while Shearer's replies came from off camera. Turns out the producer had spotted the large Marseille sign behind Shearer. Shearer's head blocked the 'M' and the 'ille' was out of shot.

Hair-cuts featured a lot at WC 1998. There was Beckham's mohawk, Seaman's ponytail and Valderama's 'fro. Nigeria's Taribo West went for green pigtails and was rebuked by Nigeria's culture minister as promoting homosexuality for his trouble. Romania went all out though. The entire team went peroxide blond for their final group game (making life very difficult for commentators). Their goal keeper was unable to join in as he was bald and their coach shaved his head in moral support. Romania lost 0-1 and went home.

Brazil vs Australia

After spending a few unexpected days on top of our group table, anything seems possible. I elect to drive into our club pub to watch this match against one of the tournament favourites (although not in my view). Driving in, the news comes through that Croatia and Japan have played a 0-0 draw. This is awesome as a draw with Brazil would mean Croatia would have to beat us by a couple of goals to stop us progressing to the round of 16.

U.S.A. 1994

Let's look back at the fifteenth World Cup, held in the USA in 1994 and won by Brazil - their fourth win, the first nation to win it four times.

Football fans and critics were mostly united in their criticism of FIFA awarding the tournament to the USA, hardly a footballing nation. However, the football turned out okay and it's generally agreed it was a pretty good tournament. The attendance record is yet to be beaten.

Two things book-end the tournament - the opening ceremony and the Final. At the opening ceremony, Latino singer Jon Secada was supposed to be elevated to the stage on a rising trapdoor. Unfortunately it jammed, he stumbled, dislocated a shoulder and sang the national anthem with just his head and shoulders visible on stage. Oprah followed up by falling full-length as she dismounted the stage.

Top billing though went to Diana Ross. She was supposed to score from a penalty. Incredibly, despite a funnel-shaped guard of honour to guide her shot, she missed. The keeper still dived as choreographed and the goals still split asunder (supposedly parted by the ferocity of the shot).

At the other end of the tournament, Baggio shot high over the bar to gift Brazil the game in the first ever Final decided by a penalty shoot-out. To quote a British journalist: "The 15th World Cup ended exactly as it began - with a risible penalty miss by a highly paid and vastly overrated superstar."

Pakistan failed to qualify, but Farooq Aziz, once he obtained permission from his school's headmaster, became the youngest World Cup debutant at the age of 15 years, 4 months and 28 days. France and England also both failed to qualify.

80,000 fans turned up to watch a dead rubber between the USSR and Cameroon. They were rewarded with three records. Russia's Oleg Salenko became the first player to score five in a finals game. Cameroon's Roger Milla came on as a substitute and scored a consolation goal to claim two records: the oldest player ever to appear in a finals game and the obvious follow-up, the oldest player to score in a finals game.

Australia vs Japan

For many of us, our first ever finals match, as we weren't alive or don't remember 1974. Jamie and I had tickets to a special event at IMAX to watch the match on the big screen. And what a match it turned out to be.

We'd long known that we had to get off to a good start, ie. win this match, to have any chance of progressing to the Round of 16. Japan were our weakest opponents. We had to expect to lose to Brazil. And we didn't want to go into a match against Croatia needing a win.

Italy 1990

Let's look back at the fourteenth World Cup, held in Italy in 1990 and won by West Germany - their third win, the third nation to win it thrice.

Chile required a win against Brazil in their final qualifying game at the Maracana. Unfortunately for them Brazil scored in the 50th minute. As the Brazilian crowd began to celebrate, 24-year-old secretary, Rosemary de Mello, threw a flare onto the field. Chilean goalkeeper and captain Roberto Rojas fell dramatically to the ground clutching his face. Chilean players and officials surrounded him. He was soon taken off the field with blood pouring down his face.

Things looked grim for Brazil. Serious crowd disorder could result in an automatic forfeit. FIFA delegates went to the Chilean dressing room. Rojas couldn't carry on and the match was abandoned. But some Brazilians were suspicious. They flare hadn't landed that close to Rojas and the blood only arrived after a trainer attended to Rojas. A full FIFA investigation followed.

Rojas had cut himself deliberately with a scalpel to produce the blood. A false medical certificate had been issued by the team doctor. Rojas' jersey and gloves were destroyed to evade a forensic examination. Brazil were fined $30,000 for crowd disorder but awarded the game 2-0. Chile were fined $100,000, missed out on Italia 90 and were banned from USA 94 for good measure. Rosemary de Mello became a celebrity, worked as a PR agent for Brazil at Italia 90 and went on to appear in Playboy.

1990 marked Ireland's first appearance at the finals. They had appointed an Englishman, Big Jack Charlton, as their manager for the qualifiers. This was scandal enough, but when he started stretching the eligibility rules to the limit and scouring the English league for recruits it was too much for some. But when they won their last four qualifiers, Big Jack (now O'Charlton) became a national hero.

Ireland's first group game was against England. They held England for a comfortable 1-1 draw with Welsh-born Kevin Sheedy getting Ireland's goal. A 0-0 draw against Egypt followed. Then a late goal to snatch a draw against Holland saw Ireland qualify for the second round. Incredibly, they did so without winning a game. (Scottish fans looked on aghast.) They then beat Romania on penalties to earn a quarter-final against Italy, still not having won a game in regulation time. Eventually they went out to Italy 1-0.

They played five games, scored two goals and conceded three. Their captain, Mick McCarthy won the unofficial "dirtiest player of the tournament" award for 23 fouls in five games. A bronze status of Big Jack adorns the arrival lounge at Cork Airport. And not one of their 22-man squad that went to Italy was born in Ireland.

World Cup Finals 2006 - Almost

I gave a presentation on the World Cup today. It was very well attended and I received lots of good feedback. I spoke for about 90 minutes and included slides and video. Great fun.

With the World Cup due to kick-off tomorrow, I thought I should make a few predictions:


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