Steve Braunias' World Cup Diary: day 4
WHAT HAPPENED IN THE WEEKEND
It doesn’t rain in Brazil
It pours. What a fantastic sight it was to watch Mexico play Cameroon in such vast quantities of loud, sluicing rain. The Mexicans looked like they were underwater, buoyant, swimming happy strokes in the Rio Grande. The Africans looked like drowned rats. They played with furious expressions, all indignant and outraged, as the downpour rained on the parade of their expressive haircuts and subtle goatees.
Are they the vainest team in the World Cup? They may spend more time in front of mirror than at football practice. They were drab against Mexico, and should have lost 3-0 – the referee and his linesmen played howlers, disallowing two perfectly good goals.
Mexico were clever and exciting; the decisive match in the group will almost certainly be their match against Croatia, to decide who will join Brazil in progressing to the next round. On this form, it’s Mexico.
Robin van Persie’s parents are artists
His mother is a jeweller, and his father is a sculptor. Their son is a fucking genius. That header! God almighty. It’s the run behind the defender. It’s the beautiful dive, with the feet flicking up in the air. It’s the landing on his hands.
And more than anything it’s the fabulous parabola of the ball when he heads it, its narrative arc too high and too much for Ika Casillas in Spain’s goal. Casillas couldn’t catch it; he couldn’t read it. It was over his head. He was exposed as illiterate. Van Persie was revealed as Proust.
The goal levelled the score at 1-1. But it did more than that. The style and gorgeousness of it took out Spain’s heart and ate it in front of them.
2-1, 3-1, 4-1, 5-1 – what a game, and what goals. The two by Arjen Robben were masterclasses not just of skill but also reminders that the game is built for speed. For his second goal, Robben just ran faster than poor old Sergio Ramos. He made him look a fat dope as he sprinted past Ramos from the half-way line. By the time he got to Casillas, he must have looked up, and thought happily: “Oh, right! That fuckwit!”
Holland were dynamic and intelligent, and in de Jong they have one of the game’s most ruthless savages. Van Persie scored a second goal, and his thumping shot against the crossbar was better than that header, almost.
He even had time for another remarkable miss. After his header, he ran to his club and country manager, Louis Van Gaal, to celebrate with a high five. His palm missed by a mile.
As for Spain – actually they weren’t terrible or anything. To see Iniesta on the ball, one touch and a sudden turn putting him in space with infinite options open to him, is to witness one of the great moments in modern football. He was imperious against Holland, for a while. Villa and Xavi also played some wonderful passes.
The problem was that they were playing them to Diego Costa, who looked as though he’d not seen a football before in his life; he was substituted for Fernando Torres, that ailing wretch who has long forgotten what to do with a football.
Torres has never got over the trauma of his 35 million pound transfer to Chelsea. Nice trauma to have, but the magnitude of it bled him dry, took out his bones and replaced them with faux bones. Typically, inevitably, he missed a sitter in the last few minutes against Holland.
You would have scored. So would your mother. Has she any Spanish blood? Is it too late to draft her into the squad?
I drew Australia in the World Cup sweepstake at Rutherford Primary School in Te Atatu. The staff thought that was a great joke. I could hear them roaring with laughter all weekend as Chile tore Australia a new one, outplaying the clueless Roos 3-1 in an enjoyable game of skill and superb running.
It was sentimental but foolish to expect Uruguay’s Diego Forlan to replicate his wonderful form in 2010, where he was the supreme individuaul talent of the World Cup; it had to be taken into account Uruguay were missing their injured star, Luis Suarez; but the fact of the matter is that Urguay were rubbish, and Costa Rica, one of the least serious teams at the World Cup, duly took out the trash.
Man of the match, obviously, with his tremendous goal and daring passes, was Costa Rica striker, Joel Campbell. Before each match, he reads Psalm 27:
When the wicked came against me
To eat up my flesh,
My enemies and foes,
They stumbled and fell.
As Costa Rica humbled Uruguay 3-1, Campbell was set high on a rock, whereupon he sang praises unto the Lord for 90 holy minutes.
The 2010 World Cup in South Africa was a stinker. It had a joke ball, the stupid Adidad Jubilani, which whizzed this way and that. It had them vuvezelas, flatulent and crazed. It was played in a seething republic which didn’t even like football – there was no atmosphere, no history, just another Fifa jamboree. The football wasn’t much good.
But the 2014 World Cup is off to a fantastic start. We haven’t even seen Germany, Portugal, or the team everyone has been talking about these past few months, Belgium; and already we’ve seen great football every day. Brazil inspires it, sets the stage. The tournament is even in the national team’s image. The defending has been poor. This is an attacking World Cup. It’s suited Neymar, Benzema, van Persie. It’s kind of suiting Messi right now vs Bosnia.
England, too, have come to attack. They were a revelation for the first 60 minutes vs Italy. They were a new England. They shot from range, they were daring and full of verve, they had the Italians gasping. They were happy in the haze of that snappy hour, but heaven knows they were miserable for the last 30 minutes. The old England returned – terrible passing, dumb mistakes. Wayne Rooney took a corner. He kicked it into the crowd behind the goal.
Goodness knows why they kept him on the pitch. Beneath his crazy rug – the worst hair transplant money can buy – he looked demented, a silly old fool who is old and silly beyond his years.
Italy were the better team. They have Pirlo. What a game he played, slowing it down and changing the direction of it at his whim – it was as though he were playing it in his sleep. The game was his dream.
He provided the single most awesome moment of skill of the World Cup with that audacious free-kick in the last minute. England goalkeeper Joe Hart had plainly never seen anything like it. The swerve and velocity of it baffled him. He was like a man running for the bus, only to discover it was going the other way. Pirlo’s shot hit the crossbar; the way that the ball bounced high up into the air was a moment of pure football joy.