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Steve Braunias' World Cup Diary: day 11

Jun 23, 2014 Sport



Portugal vs America

“So many words have surrounded Cristiano Ronaldo in his football career,” said the commentator at this morning’s game. So many words, surrounding him like trees, like fog, like bees; but one word makes its way through the crowd, and pushes itself to the front of the queue. Chav.

Ronaldo is the king of chavs, the chav king, the chav to end all nouveau riche chavs. Well, better than nouveau than never. There he was this morning, sporting his latest World Cup haircut, a supreme statement of his chavness – a kind of zig and a bit of zag shaved into the side of his head.

What a tool, more money than sense, etc. None of it matters when he plays. But he didn’t much play this morning, doing just enough for Portugal to salvage a 2-2 draw. Chav, subdued.

Another player caught the eye. It was someone who I interviewed 15 years ago, on a day in early summer, when New Zealand hosted the Under-17 World Cup.

There were some great players at the tournament. Michael Essien, for Ghana, stood out. Adriano, for Brazil, was there; he later scored 27 games for the senior team, and was a star at Inter Milan, with 47 goals. I didn’t even notice him.

My favourite players were two Americans. I went to interview them at the team’s hotel, the modest Mt Albert Motor Inn on New North Rd. Landon Donovan was named the best player at the under-17 tournament, although New Zealand coach Kevin Fallon didn’t rate him. He said: “I thought he was a fanny. Didn’t fancy him at all. He looked the part, but he was a poser. I wouldn’t have swapped him for New Zealand’s Allan Pearce.”

I don’t know what happened to New Zealand’s Allan Pearce.

Donovan became the most celebrated player in American football history, scoring goals in club football in Germany and England, and forming a dazzling partnership with Sir David of Beckham for the Los Angeles Aztecs.

He was controversially dropped from this World Cup. But the other player I spoke to at Mt Albert was DaMarcus Beasley, now a veteran for the US senior team, a first-choice player in Brazil.

In 1999, he was a black kid from Fort Wayne, 17 years old, small and thin, with a peroxide haircut and good dance moves. He said, “I like two kindsa music. R & B, and rap, and thassit. I like a beat to it, a little somethin’ to getcha movin’. The Hot Boys. Juvenile. Yeah. Thass what I like.”

He’s had a successful career, as a defender, at PSV Eindhoven in Holland and, briefly, Manchester City. In 1999, he was a skilful, attacking player, with superb close control. He scored perhaps the goal of the tournament in New Zealand, bringing down a high pass with one touch, and beating Mexico’s goalkeeper with a fulminating shot from about 30 yards.

Strange to see him this morning in the heat of the Amazon. His head is shaved, and he wears a heavy beard. He’s broad-shouldered, with a calm, soulful face. He didn’t do anything spectacular against Portugal and he didn’t do anything wrong. His positioning was expert, he played a lot of back passes, and he closed down Ronaldo once or twice, which is once or twice more than most mortals.

Should you find yourself driving past the Mt Albert Motor Inn, pay silent respects to its former guest, the kid from Fort Wayne, Indiana, who grew up to tame the chav king.


Argentina vs Iran

It’s not a World Cup without Maradona shuffling around somewhere in the background, an incredible bulk with his dark glasses, his short legs, his weepy face – the godfather of world football, its dark, tormented don.

There he was in the weekend, watching Argentina vs Iran with his beautiful daughter, and his face was more expressive than the game. Later, he gave the World Cup its best quote.

Argentina were bland. They’re not a team you warm to. They have no character. Iran – fast, daring Iran – played more spectacular football, but lost because of Messi, scoring a beautiful Messi goal late in the game.

Maradona didn’t see it. He’d already left. The president of Argentina’s football association said that Maradona was a jinx, that the team needed him to leave the stadium before it could score a goal; when told about this, on live TV, Maradona responded by brandishing his middle finger, and instructing the president: “Jinx this!”


Italy vs Costa Rica

Well, really. There I was on this page on Friday, waving the flag for England: “All is not lost. England still have everything to play for, possibly. Italy need to beat Costa Rica and Uruguay, and England need to give Costa Rica a hiding. These are all reasonable expectations…”

It’s not a reasonable World Cup. It’s a great World Cup, full of drama and surprise, wonderful attacking football and, perhaps best of all, superb refereeing.

Refs basically subscribe to the principles of a nanny state. They’re whistling nannies, preventing the game’s free enterprise with their regulations and interventions. Every tackle a foul, every foul a yellow card. They believe in red tape; they call it a red card.

They have an anti-smacking mindset. It’s as though Sue Bradford is in charge of football legislation.

But the referees at the World Cup have taken such a liberal view of the game that you could describe their approach as libertarian. They have decided to deregulate. They have let things go.

They have played on, and the games have blossomed. Hard tackling is now a matter of hard tackling, nothing more; it’s men against men, playing without fear of nanny taking away the ball.

The Brazil World Cup is dedicated to Colin Craig.


Previously: What Now For England?


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