So it was on to this tournament’s Group of Death, otherwise known as G, as no more than five Chelsea players squared up to each other. This promised to an enthralling game, arguably Africa’s best team up against one of Europe’s finest, currently ranked third according to FIFA’s confusing system. It also would see two of the world’s best players, our own legendary Didier Drogba and the biggest winker in football Real’s Christiano Ronaldo. So much to look forward to then but, alas, it turned it out to be so much to forget. In truth, like much of the first round of group games so far, it was a dour experience with little in the way of goal mouth action or individual brilliance. Two teams who didn’t want to lose their first game once again both got their wish by being as cagey as a zoo’s rabbit hutch. Cue more complaints about the ball, the Vuvuzelas or the altitude. Personally I think there should be more complaints about the negative tactics employed and how shit some the players are performing. Patrick Evra (‘I can’t sleep because of the Vuvuzelas’) pull your finger out and stop whinging.
The Chelsea boys only ever sparked into life fleetingly during the game. Riccy Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira would have been most pleased with their day’s work, a clean sheet was a job well done. Ferreira made an excellent covering tackle to prevent the fitful Gervinho but also looked short of pace at times, he might have a more difficult time against the Brazilians. Carvalho, as ever, was coolness personified and had a steady game. One of those intriguing clashes we were hoping for saw a good chance for Kalou following a cross from the right. Saloman stretched to get his bounce on the cross and Carvalho edged him out slyly by leaning into him. Good defending, good attacking and minimal excitement – well done boys. Having already announced it was his final World Cup Deco looked as though he was at least trying to get things going for Portugal. A neat cross in the box to Liédson brought a rare save and was his probable highlight. Kalou did likewise just before, his shot driven straight at the keeper. Both were soon subbed on the hour presumably for being too much of a goal threat. Enter stage left, Didier Drogba complete with protective cast hidden under a long sleeved shirt. No white cast on show was disappointing, I was hoping he would evoke memories of Linker circa Mexico ’86 but never mind. The volume went up for his entrance and, sadly, this was probably his highlight too. Not even the Drog can do much if he doesn’t get the ball. He did have a half chance in the closing minutes of the game, racing into the box from a good pass and then uncharacteristically rolling the ball across the box to no one. It might have been a great pass if anyone else had bothered to be in the box, instead it was a head-scratching moment and we asked why didn’t he just belt it? Somehow I don’t think he’ll be making the same mistake next time. Chelsea target Yaya Touré also played and it was a typical midfield powerhouse performance from him. Essien and Yaya in the same side next season would be a scary prospect for the rest of the premiership, fingers crossed the club can start doing some business soon.
How has the coverage faired so far? ITV have certainly pulled up their socks and seem a bit more on the money this time, Adrian Chiles offering a Des-like smoothness to intros and injecting some much needed humour. Top marks there then. However things quickly went pear-shaped when they missed England’s first goal in South Africa on ITV HD. On the panel Southgate is proving to be a better pundit than manager, his wry observations either funny or insightful, sometimes even both. The rest of the team isn’t so great so far. Davids I’m liking but his comedy glasses are off putting, it’s like they’re too big for his tiny nose. He certainly offers more analysis than Veira who you often forget is there, even when he’s speaking. Chelsea legend Marcel Desailly has done ok, although they recorded him celebrating Ghana’s winning goal like a Norwegian commentator (something about chickens?), then played it back to him which was embarrassing for all concerned and felt a needlessly cheap shot from the producers. Keegan seems to know little but is likeably energetic. Former Blue Townsend (It pains me to write as I can no longer stand the man) barks along with a misplaced authority on football and too often gets the big calls laughably wrong. Coleman moaned on and on about the Brazilian full backs not getting forward the other night (no, really he did), Maicon then spanked in a wonder strike from an impossible angle (the by line, could he get any more forward?!) and Chris decided he hadn’t meant it anyway so his argument still counts. Awful. Clive Tyldesley and Jim Beglin complete the hellish commentary team. Peter Drury you can stomach more but for some reason tends to miss the big games. The BBC are rumoured to be introducing a noise filter for the mutant beehive of Vuvuzelas, can we turn them up instead for the ITV commentary?
Over on the Beeb and safe hands Gary Linker’s chummy line up of familiar faces does deliver more often than not. Hansen, Lawrenson and Linker’s banter is reliably good and does enough to counter the personality-void of Alan Shearer. Lee Dixon is much improved on the punditry skills and can deliver some quality analysis on the offside law and sometimes even more. Of the new signings Adebayor is woeful, someone should ring him up on air to tell him. Clarence Seedorf and Jürgen Klinsmann have both been pleasant surprises, good humour and great knowledge of the game, let’s hope they stick around for the later stages. Jonathan Pearce has calmed down but still likely to say something stupid, Motson can dither on these days and Steve Wilson/Guy Mowbray can often be a bit dull – even so all are infinitely better than anything ITV can throw at us. Mick McCarthy has been funny at times, in the way only a dour Yorkshireman can, Keown and Bright are average but, again, still preferable to the Coleman and Townsend debacle. ITV are much improved, there’s certainly no Gazza/McCoist drunken embarrassments and they’ve managed to get a decent studio and theme tune this time. Even so, the BBC’s coverage still wins and will be the side that everyone will be watching once the big games (and hopefully the excitement) really begin.
The second group games are quickly coming upon us, next up France take on Mexico.