June 30, 2010
Justo Villar shows off his birthday cake
In the cut-throat environment of World Cup knockout football, it's nice to know that common human courtesy hasn't been abandoned by Paraguay.
Wednesday was Justo Villar's 33rd birthday and the goalkeeper was surprised at the end of a press conference when the Paraguayan journalists all sung him a birthday song to mark the occasion.
A cake was even produced out of nowhere by officials from the country's football federation. Presumably it was jelly, ice cream and party bags all round for the journos.
But what do you get the goalkeeper who has a World Cup quarter-final to look forward to? Given he is facing Spain and David Villa, perhaps a suitable present would be a bag containing a rabbit's foot, a four-leafed clover and a box of Lucky Charms.
© Getty Images
It the world of public relations, until very recently the worst job was probably working for BP. Now add to the list that of being responsible for the hapless England football side.
In the past week or so the FA has had to explain away Rooney slagging off fans, an abject display against Germany, the players failing to even acknowledge the 10,000 supporters who had slogged up to Bloemfontein, and now the front page of the papers showing those same players seemingly having a ball hours after the side was eliminated.
Only a puritan would suggest they weren’t entitled to let their hair down, but a little tact and a ban on them taking pictures on their mobiles would have been worth suggesting. Given all that has happened, why do players still think pictures sent to “mates” won’t find their way into the tabloids.
On Wednesday the Sun devoted its front page to a shot of the players enjoying themselves.“The photo - which shows winger Aaron Lennon puffing on a Cuban cigar - was allegedly taken by defender Ledley King and then circulated among pals with the title: Home time then holiday time’.”
Any before any asks 'will they ever learn?', I suspect we all know the answer to that already.
© Getty Images
Paraguay might have won themselves some more fans ahead of the World Cup quarter-finals, not so much because of their on-field achievements but through a high-profile fan.
Lingerie model Larissa Riquelme has been the centre of attention for photographers in Paraguay’s capital, Asuncion, among crowds watching the country’s matches.
In a much-syndicated picture taken last week, she was seen celebrating with a mobile phone stored in an ingenious way, and one clearly designed – successfully – to attract media interest.
Yesterday she said were the team to win the tournament she would streak through Asuncion “with my body painted with the colours of Paraguay”.
Red faces at the FIFA offices where seven replica World Cup trophies were stolen from its headquarters in Johannesburg.
Bheki Cele said at a security briefing Tuesday "we know that there was a burglary at the FIFA offices where they took seven replicas of the World Cup”. Cele added official FIFA clothing was also taken, although why anyone would want to pretend they represented the organisation remains a mystery.
FIFA said the trophies were taken from a storage room, but there was no sign of a break-in. The trophies, which are usually used as gifts, are about 6 inches tall and worth $256. Cele added police were looking into the theft and suspected the people responsible were "very familiar with the environment in the FIFA offices”.
June 28, 2010
Johann Cruyff believes Chile are the new Holland. But don't expect canals to be springing up in downtown Santiago, he's talking of the football team.
"The best team I've seen so far is Chile," he said in his column for De Telegraaf. "Chile has, on its own, created more chances than just about all the other teams combined."
Cruyff starred in the Dutch team known for their 'Total Football' which just lost out to West Germany in the 1974 World Cup final, but now reckons his side have been replaced in the minds of the fans who are watching this year's tournament.
"It was always our quality to offer fans something extra," he said. "We may never have won the ultimate prize, but the whole world talked about us. Chile has taken over that role from us."
Sir Mick in full flow© Getty Images
It was a losing weekend for geriatric rock star Mick Jagger.
On Saturday he could be seen high-fiving with Bill Clinton as USA scored against Ghana, celebrating the goal with all the gusto of a native New Yorker. When the final whistle went, Jagger offered consolation to the dejected former president.
Twenty-four hours later and he was in Bloemfontein being as English as you can get (albeit in the comfort of his VIP enclosure) on what turned out to be another bad day.
Meanwhile, Clinton earlier admitted he had been forced to apologise (not something unfamiliar to him) for his over-the-top behaviour while in a box with Sepp Blatter when Landon Donovan scored against Algeria last week.
"I was very diplomatic until we scored and then I was up there screaming and yelling with everybody. I lost my voice,” Clinton drawled. “I had to come home and drink honey and hot tea for an hour."
June 27, 2010
England and Germany have been asked by FIFA for ''fair play off the pitch'' in relation to their news conferences.
A number of international reporters were infuriated that only English TV journalists were given an opportunity to quiz Fabio Capello at the pre-match press conference, which lasted only five minutes and 12 seconds.
Meanwhile, Germany coach Joachim Low did not even appear - contrary to FIFA instructions - and their pre-match media briefings.
The FA say they complied with all FIFA instructions in putting up both Capello and skipper Steven Gerrard for interview, but were limited in the time they had available - Capello also had to do an interview with FIFA's website.
FIFA communications director Nicolas Maingot said: ''Fair play applies not only on the pitch but off it. Press conferences are not only talking to media but to all fans and we have taken note of what has happened.''
So now we have some explanation for all those empty seats at Saturday's games. The Sunday Times of Durban reports of a ticket fraud that has cost local firms $855,000 and ordinary fans, both local and overseas, tesn of tghousands of dollars after tickets they bought were cancelled because they weren't from the authorized agents.
The newspaper claims a lawyer for Match, FIFA's hospitality affiliate, has handed over to the police a dossier of affidavits from seven companies – including the petro giant Sasol.
It also reports on the plight of ordinary fans who have been duped by ticket-sales companies who sold on World Cup tickets despite lacking the necessary accreditation to do so. Those tickets very often turn out to be duds – either the names on them are wrong, or FIFA has already cancelled them.
These agencies appear to exploit one loophole in FIFA's ticketing process – the complicated process, which doesn't guarantee eventual success.
Questions are being raised, however, over FIFA's slow response to the issue, especially given the often blatant advertising of ticket sales by the unauthorized agencies. If the appeals of ordinary fans don't work, the shots of hundreds of empty seats in the knockout matches might do the trick.
June 26, 2010
As excitement about the England v Germany World Cup second round clash reaches fever pitch, bookmakers continue to come up with increasingly inventive specials.
Some bookies are offering punters the chance to bet on whether the England squad are allowed a beer on the eve of the match, nine or more players to sing or mime God Save The Queen and an England player to celebrate victory by blowing a vuvuzela.
Potentially lucrative outside bets include Capello being pictured drinking a pint of beer or the Italian celebrating by blowing a vuvuzela. The possibility of Fabio becoming the country's most popular Christian name is 1000/1. We're praying it's not Wayne.
The much-travelled Thulani Ngcobo
If you are sitting at home beginning to suffer from World Cup saturation, spare a thought for Thulani Ngcobo who has so far attended 21 matches and by the end of the tournament hopes to have been at 38.
Twenty-nine year old Ngcobo won a competition run by a South African mobile phone operator which gained him access to as many games as he could get to. Due to the travel difficulties – he faces a total of 17,000 kilometres by land and air - he has not actually been able to see all 90 minutes of some of the matches
Yesterday he was flown by helicopter to the North Korea-Ivory Coast tie and then on to Spain v Chile, his 21st game which secured his place in the Guinness Book of Records.
Do Germany players fear the Three Lions?© Getty Images
Germany players have been relaxing before their crunch second round clash with old rivals England by taking a safari trip.
Organised by coach Joachim Low in a bid to take his players' minds off the high-pressure game, the Nationalmannschaft encountered all manner of wildlife, including a perhaps symbolic group of three lions.
The players were thought to have been a touch nervous around the animals, but it remains to be seen whether they show any such fear when they take on the human Three Lions in Bloemfontein.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister David Cameron has revealed that he may watch the match with Germany's president Angela Merkel, while at the G8 summit in Canada together.
"I will try not to wrestle her to the ground during penalties, but we will have to see." he said. "Let’s hope it doesn’t go to penalties. I’m not sure the collective hearts of the nation can stand it."
June 25, 2010
Paul the predicting octopus in action© Getty Images
Forget the SPI, Germans believe they have the secret of predicting the fate of their national team in the World Cup. It’s an octopus.
Paul, who was born in England but now lives in a zoo in Oberhausen, makes his selections by choosing between two boxes emblazed with the teams’ national flags, both filled with a tasty snack of … well, whatever octopus/octopi/octopuses love.
According to zoo officials, Paul accurately foresaw Germany’s loss to Serbia and today picked Germany to beat England in Sunday's second-round clash.
Sadly, the risk of indigestion means Paul is unable to offer a prediction service for games not featuring Germany.
Global tournaments like the World Cup are fantastic, accompanying paraphernalia such as mascots and official anthems far less so.
© Getty Images
The official warble for South Africa 2010 is the dull Waka Waka by Shakira, has been described as being “stripped of all content and meaning to resemble nothing better than a tepid Eurovision regional heat entry”. Another nail in the coffin came when renowned music critic Sepp Blatter said: “Nothing represents the joy of football better than music, especially when it is a song so full of energy and dynamism.”
For all its on-message rhetoric about South Africa, FIFA oddly opted not to pick an African artist, presumably because international appeal and commercial attraction won through. The official excuse is that the World Cup is a global event etc etc.
It has now emerged the song actually borrows elements from a 1998 Cameroon hit. While that was brushed aside when the song-writing credits were first published, a few lawyers’ letters later and the oversight has been rectified.
The public are not as stupid as FIFA might have hoped and Shakira’s song is sinking as fast as the French team, outshone by various other more African-based tunes storming up the charts across the world. In Johannesburg, radio stations have been shunning Waka Waka amid complaints her pronunciations of the African words in the tune are way off.
Shakira will be back to trill again at the closing ceremony. Keep an eye out for Sepp and his music-loving sidekicks strutting their funky stuff in the VIP enclosure.
Red faces at satellite broadcaster Sky in the UK where it has emerged Sky Sports News boss David Ford sent out an email to staff suggesting Gareth Bale should have been considered as a replacement for Ashley Cole … which was astute were it not for the fact Bale is a Welshman. Ford also underlined his credentials with his spellings of “Sean Wright Phillps” and “Robert Greene”.
FIFA’s battle against ticket touts is not going well. Even though a Nigerian was jailed for three years last week after being found in possession of 30 stolen tickets with a face value of $5000, tours are still to be found even though many grounds are less than full. Critics claim FIFA is not helping itself by making buying spare official tickets so difficult.
June 23, 2010
Sepp Blatter (the dog) takes in the World Cup
As FIFA branding police rush round trying to enforce their strict commercial rules, South Africa’s low-cost airline Kululu.com continues to get under their skin.
After being told they could not advertise as “The Unofficial Carrier of the You Know What”, they have now hit back by running advertisements offering free internal flights to anyone called Sepp Blatter.
Since Blatter, a man conscious and deeply concerned about travel issues affecting fans, flies around in a private jet, it was not an offer he was likely to take up, even if he was aware of the existence of budget airlines.
But Kululu.com followed with another advertisement saying Sepp Blatter had taken up the offer – a dog called Sepp Blatter that is. “The dog’s owners pointed out that the offer didn’t specify which Sepp the ad referred to, so their pet was eligible to take advantage of the free flights,” a spokesman said while managing to maintain a straight face.
“Sepp will be enjoying flights to Johannesburg and Durban over the next few weeks. Having impressed Kulula with his sparkling personality and canine good looks, his trips will be covered on the Kulula facebook page.”
Given FIFA has managed to make headlines for all the wrong reasons after going for the jugular of some hapless ladies who happened to dress in orange for a Netherlands match, it sought to prove it was not anti women altogether.
It has revealed 31 Miss World contestants travelled by bus to the Brazil-Ivory Coast game on Monday, mingling with male fans.
“It was a way to bring Miss World and the World Cup together,” said an organising committee spokesman. “And to show off the safety and efficiency of our buses.”
June 22, 2010
The Gallaghers at Wembley © Getty Images
Lionel Messi is planning an unlikely reunion of Britpop band Oasis should Argentina win the World Cup, having become obsessed with their music.
Messi was gutted to learn that he would never be able to see the Gallagher brothers in action live after Carlos Tevez, the man who introduced the FIFA World Player of the Year to the band, told them they had split up last year.
But that is not going to deter Messi and other members of the Argentina squad, who have vowed to get Liam, Noel and Co to "name their price" to travel to South America to play their victory party.
Oasis split last year amid scenes similar to the Fench World Cup squad, fittingly when playing a festival in France, and brothers Noel and Liam, fans of Man City, have not spoken since. That said, they probably hadn't spoken for months before either.
Noel is big mates with Italy's Andrea Pirlo and sat next to the player's wife as they won the World Cup in Germany four years ago. Now he could get involved in another World Cup celebration party.
He said: "Ever since he has been playing in Manchester, Carlitos (Tevez) has told me how great Oasis was. I kept promising I would listen to them, but I never got round to it.
"On the plane on the way to the World Cup Carlitos made me listen to their first two albums. I have to say I wasn't expecting much but it is some of the best material I have ever heard. They are absolutely amazing. Their songs are incredible. I would have to say 'Supersonic' and 'Live Forever' are my favourites.
"I have been listening to their stuff on my iPod dock in the hotel room, on the way to the matches and in the dressing room. I can't believe it's taken me all this time to finally listen to them.
"I've been watching their live performances on YouTube and they look like they'd be amazing to see in concert. I asked Carlitos if we could go and see them in Manchester or London but he told me they have split up.
"I showed the rest of the boys in the Argentina squad their stuff and I promise you, everybody absolutely loves it. A few knew a couple of their songs but for most of them it was their first listen.
"We have agreed that if we win the World Cup we want to fly them over to Argentina for our celebration party. We just need them to name their price."
The Dutch ladies attend the game.
© Getty Images
Charges have been dropped against two Dutch women who had faced prosecution for taking part in an ambush marketing campaign at a World Cup match between Netherlands and Denmark.
The pair were among 30 women who were pictured at the match wearing skimpy orange dresses paid for by the Bavaria brewery. They were subsequently arrested at their hotel and faced charges under an act that covers ambush marketing.
The incident gained FIFA considerable negative publicity while also gaining Bavaria far more exposure than it could ever have imagined.
In a terse statement FIFA said it had reached a settlement with Bavaria in which all parties agreed to drop any claims and also not to make any further public comments about the case. It added Bavaria has agreed to fully respect its marketing policies through to 2022.
In a statement, the two Dutch women, Barbara Castelein and Mirte Nieuwpoort, said: "We are happy to go home and that the situation has been resolved."
FIFA officials took issue with a small "Bavaria" tag on the side of the dresses, which they saw as infringing the rights of official partners and sponsors. The dresses had been available at gas stations in Holland, given away free with packs of beer.
If South Africa are eliminated from the World Cup later today then there is speculation the organisers might use it as an opportunity to ban vuvuzelas from grounds.
Until now, such as move has been dismissed as FIFA has repeatedly insisted vuvuzelas are an integral part of the South Africa experience, even though many fans, players and broadcasters have opposed their noisy presence.
But the Daily Mail claims the possible exit of the hosts, along with the bulk of the African team, has resulted in informal discussions among senior FIFA and SA organising committee executives about a possible ban.
June 21, 2010
North Korea might be downbeat after their thrashing at the hands of Portugal, but they will certainly be missed by some when their tournament comes to an end.
The team have endeared themselves greatly to their hosts in Johannesburg, not least when they ordered McDonald's food for all the police and stewards looking after them.
Of course goals are the food of fans and Portugal's impressive display in beating North Korea 7-0 finally gave the public of Cape Town a win and something to satisfy their hunger.
The three previous matches at the Green Point Stadium were all dull draws - Uruguay v France, Italy v Paraguay and England v Algeria.
© Getty Images
One of the constant stories of the World Cup so far is that of the North Korean fans. Originally believed to be hired Chinese mercenaries, they were then said to be genuine North Koreans, and subsequently supporters drawn from the 6000-strong North Korean community in Japan who have been paid to attend.
On the rare moments any of them have spoken, they claim to have travelled from North Korea with the blessing of the Dear Leader. The latest story, and perhaps the most plausible one, is that they are soldiers handpicked by the regime to support the team.
Now the mystery is where they are staying. The North Korean embassy told the Daily Telegraph: “They came here from Pyongyang. They booked their own hotels. We issued their visas, but we do not keep a record of where they are staying.”
Given that people in North Korea aren’t allowed to sneeze without official approval (which is usually declined) the idea they would allow 300 citizens to stroll unguarded round a hotbed of capitalist debauchery such as South Africa is incredible. If they did, there might more than a few spare seats on the way home.
So for now they are in seclusion before being their next appearance later today.
Fans of the Florida Marlins baseball team were handed free vuvuzelas ahead of their game against Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday. The first 15,000 spectators to arrive were handed the instrument.
The players, however, were unimpressed. “This isn’t soccer,” moaned Marlins’ Dan Uggla, who was forced to wear earplugs. “We want to hear the crowd getting behind us, not horns.”
Unsurprisingly, the All England Club has banned vuvuzelas at Wimbledon which starts today.
June 20, 2010
In Johannesburg tournament organisers, concerned about traffic chaos for Sunday evening's glamour tie between Brazil and Ivory Coast, introduced an inventive incentive for public transport.
Gridlock has accompanied many games at Soccer City and Ellis Park so in an attempt to encourage more fans to use the bus system officials decided to make it more glamorous. As a result 31 Miss World finalists were among supporters travelling to the ground by the rapid-transit buses which operate in dedicated traffic lanes.
''We have emphasised the issue of public transportation,'' said World Cup local organising committee spokesman Rich Mkhondo.
North Korea were the only World Cup finalists not represented in the line-up of
It’s that time of the tournament when disappointing performances lead to conspiracy theories. For France it began well before the tournament started, for England before and after Algeria. South Africa’s turn is now, with speculation that players’ agents are calling the shots in team selection, with an eye on their wards securing contracts in the lucrative European leagues.
In a front-page “exclusive” headlined “Bafana fault lines”, the Cape Argus suggests the benching of experienced players Bernard Parker, Matthew Booth and MacBeth Sibaya is due more to the weightier pull of their team-mates’agents who are aware that the tournament is pretty much flooded with scouts from clubs in the European leagues.
Agents having a say in team selection is not new in sport - it has long been a rumour associated with Indian cricket, for example - and the very high stakes at the World Cup will inevitably lead to suggestions such as those made by the Argus. The report points, as evidence, to Steven Pienaar being played out of position - apparently to accommodate the out-of-form Teko Modise - and to Siphiwe Tshabalala seeking to recreate his wonder goal in the opening match at every opportunity in the subsequent game.
That’s a game South Africa lost 3-0, to Uruguay, a defeat that left them on the brink of elimination - the first host nation not to qualify for the second round. That defeat also ended their 13-match unbeaten run and that, along with happier memories of last year’s Confederations Cup, has upset and bemused Bafana supporters.
A sociological spin on the defeat comes from the journalist John Carlin - an old South Africa hand and author of the book on which Invictus is based. The defeat to Uruguay, he says, was a metaphor for everything that is seriously wrong with South Africa today - “things that, if they are not corrected, will lead the country down the plughole.” He goes on: “There was just something about the air of the players whose message seemed to be: Don’t worry, fans, we might be fading listlessly out of the World Cup but we remain the coolest bunch of dudes in the competition. To try hard, to sweat and toil, would be a little undignified.”
They have 90 minutes on Tuesday to undo that image.
© Press Display
Pavlos Joseph, a 32-year-old mortgage advisor, has managed to put himself on the front page of the Sunday Mirror after revealing he was the man who broke into the England dressing room after the Algeria performance to give them a piece of his mind.
He revealed: “I told them, 'That was woeful and not good enough'. The room was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop. The players' chins were on their chests - they looked pretty ashamed.”
Interestingly, though, he apparently felt David Beckham was the man who needed a kick up the backside, despite the midfielder having pretty much nothing whatsoever to do with any of it.
“I looked David straight in the eye and said, 'David, we've spent a lot of money getting here. This is a disgrace. What are you going to do about it?'”
Beckham, apparently having little concept of what he might do to improve a team he is neither playing for nor officially coaching, responded by asking him who he was.
“I'm Pavlos and I actually need the toilet,” he replied.
The voice of the people added in his exclusive interview: “I saw Joe Cole walk naked out of the shower.”
Here’s to a much improved performance against Slovenia.
June 19, 2010
Cape Town is alive and well after being invaded by 30,000 English fans – and a smaller number of Algerian supporters who seem to have flown in under the radar and celebrated their draw in similar fashion. The morning after the desperate night before, the main road near the stadium was fairly deserted – and, surprisingly, free of any debris from the 64,000 fans who attended Friday's game.
The morning's papers offered one clue – under the headline "Welcome to the Smarmy Army", the Cape Argus explains that high travel costs have brought in only the well-heeled fans, and then too as part of a couples or family package. There is of course the complement of WAGs and a surprise visitor or two.
One of them is Viv Anderson, England's first black international footballer, who flew in on a private jet with a few mates for – as one of them put it – "some beer and a flutter". One member of the party won more than 3,000 pounds on the Germany-Australia game – that will help pay for the fuel costs as they jet off to Port Elizabeth for England's last game.
The Argus also has a story on Neil van Schalkwyk – he's the "self-proclaimed inventor of the vuvuzela" whose sales, he said, had gone up from 500 to 50,000 in the past month. And there's good news and bad news on the new-look vuvuzela he's working on: It will produce less noise but will be in three parts and so easier to carry it to any part of the world it hasn't already invaded.
June 18, 2010
The underdogs from Algeria have watched the film "Battle of Algiers" - a graphic account of Algeria's bloody struggle for independence from French colonial rule - to get ready for Friday's game against England.
"I had never seen it before. It was very moving, and it was very moving to spend the time together. This is the kind of thing we need to do to feel together," 26-year-old midfielder Hassan Yebda told reporters.
Reuters reports that players gathered to watch the film on Wednesday night. Algeria was granted independence from France in 1962 and thousands died in the brutal war for independence, a conflict that has left deep and still-unhealed scars in both countries.
Algeria lost their Group C opener 1-0 to Slovenia, but feel the same determination to beat England as they felt in beating Egypt in Sudan in November - a tense match that secured their World Cup qualification,
Yebda said. "When we were in Sudan we had an obsession to win and that is what enabled us to beat Egypt. Had we lost that match we would have been eliminated. The same goes for tomorrow. We must go on to the pitch with the same obsession to win."
A woman who ruptured her throat at a vuvuzela blowing competition in Cape Town is on the mend.
''It took about two days to heal,'' said Yvonne Mayer. ''I just hope there is no permanent damage, but it doesn't seem like it.
''The doctor was really enjoying it, he just kept laughing at me and said it was his first vuvuzela injury.''
Perhaps they should put a warning on the side? Evidently it's a little much for some people to manage on their own.
Rather like the current BP chairman, everyone wants to have a dig at ITV after its cock-up with last Saturday’s England match, some below-par studio performances, and one of their pundits being sent home after his freebie tickets were used in an ambush-marketing scam.
Things must be bad if even the BBC are getting in on the act, claiming ITV have had to blur part of their studio window with its stadium backcloth to obscure a rubbish tip behind their set.
ITV say BBC are mischief-making – but don’t deny the presence of eyesore, merely that it’s nowhere near their camera shot.
June 17, 2010
Budweiser has broken its silence over the ambush marketing stunt that has hit the World Cup with the official FIFA sponsor strenuously denying that it had any involvement in the action taken against the alleged perpetrators.
''We first learned about this issue through media stories and reporter inquiries,'' read a statement. ''FIFA did apprise us of the situation as part of their regular sponsor communications after the incident was handled. We had nothing to do with FIFA's decision to remove these women from the stadium or the steps taken afterwards.
''Please understand that our position as a sponsor of the World Cup does not give us such decision-making authority.
''Although (Budweiser parent company) AB InBev is an official sponsor of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, FIFA remains the sole decision maker in regards to tournament issues both on and off the field.
''We want to be clear that we did not provide FIFA or South African authorities any counsel on the issue involving Bavaria - we are not and have not been involved. We understand there is an active investigation under way by the local authorities, and out of respect for that process and the parties involved, we will not provide any further comment.''
Meanwhile, Bavaria, despite having previously claimed to have no links to the apparent stunt, has pledged to provide legal support to the two Dutch women accused of being the ringleaders of the action.
''Unfortunately Bavaria has been drawn into the furore surrounding the arrest of the two ladies who were wearing an orange dress also worn by thousands of Dutch ladies and football supporters,'' read a statement from the brewer. There is no way FIFA can hold these ladies responsible for their attendance at the match in their Dutch dress in Soccer City and Bavaria is currently doing everything in their power to assist the arrested Dutch ladies.
''Bavaria will ask FIFA to immediately stop intimidating Dutch dressed female supporters.''
The dreaded Jabulanis
© Getty Images
In the interests of scientific research, Soccernet dispatched some of our leading lights to user test the Jabulani ball on Wednesday night in their weekly five-a-side match on a local west London astroturf pitch. Here are the findings of lead producer and office athlete Jonathan Hungin.
“Straight away it felt very different to the ball we use regularly (a 2009-10 Premier League ball). It has a light, bouncy ‘inflatable’ feel to it. So much so that to begin with we weren’t sure if we needed to pump it up or let some air out … we opted to pump it to the max in the hope it might lend some weight to it.
“After giving it go for 70 minutes, I can say it was not enjoyable to use. Despite the added air it was still far too light, the almost tennis-ball like bounce made it very, very difficult to control or play a quick pass, the margin for error on your first touch was non-existent. Trying to strike a hard and accurate shot was a bit of a lottery, you had to get your head over, smash it and just hope it didn’t wobble or fly off in a random direction.
“As for the ‘keepers, it really was tough. It was fine for the diving save or block with the body but a total nightmare for the shot straight at you. At no point could you be confident of a clean catch as there was too much of a chance of it rebounding out off your chest. The safest thing to do at all times was a firm punch.”
It looks like Soccernet’s own world beaters agree with Fabio Capello on this one.
June 16, 2010
The Sydney Morning Herald takes a new tack
© No source
With Australia's golden generation now seemingly over the hill, the Sydney Morning Herald has taken drastic action to provide a 'good news' headline for the people of New South Wales.
New Zealand earned their first ever World Cup point on Tuesday, courtesy of Winston Reid's injury-time equaliser, against a Slovakia side featuring the likes of Martin Skrtel, Marek Hamsik and Miroslav Stoch.
As such, Australia's oldest continuously published newspaper has decided to go a little more continental, using the headline 'Australasia 1-1 Slovakia' to remind the world of their close-knit relationship with their friendly near-neighbours.
Michael Cockerill writes: "From villain to hero, Winston Reid did for New Zealand what no one could do for Australia.
"The Socceroos rolled up their tent against the Germans, but the All Whites refused to lay down against the Slovaks. A huge gulf in quality in terms of the opposition, granted. But there is a moral to this story. Don't get caught up in the hype."
A poll on the website, at the time of writing, sees 74% of readers agreeing that the All Whites are capable of emulating the Socceroos of 2006.
June 15, 2010
Some Oranje girls got into the game.
© Getty Images
Look who got some of Robbie Earle's tickets!!!
A group of 36 female fans wearing orange mini-dresses were ejected from the match between Holland and Denmark accused of taking part in what FIFA described as an ''ambush marketing'' campaign for an unlicensed beer brand. ITV have said that a 'substantial number' of tickets, which were for Earle's friends and family, had been passed to a 'third party' and the Daily Mail have claimed the incident relates to the Bavaria beer stunt.
FIFA head of media Nicolas Maingot said: ''What happened was a clear ambush marketing activity by a Dutch beer company, all we have done is ask for some details from these women, but no one has been detained. We are looking into all legal remedies into this brewery.
''We have colleagues who are specialised in this kind of activity and they actually draw the line between what is ambush marketing and someone coming with a shirt that has a competitive brand on it. What is an issue is when there is clear strategy behind it, which is ambush marketing.''
We'd all be ok with adverts ruining goals in ITV's next televised game if this lot were involved.
World Cup pundit Robbie Earle has been axed by ITV after tickets for matches in South Africa were found to have been used for ‘‘unauthorised purposes''.
The broadcaster said a ''substantial number'' of tickets, which were for Earle's friends and family, had been passed to a ‘‘third party''. ITV had investigated how its allocation had been used after governing body FIFA raised concerns generally and a block of tickets for the Holland-Denmark match had aroused suspicions.
In a statement, ITV said: ‘‘Following claims by FIFA that official 2010 World Cup tickets may have been used for ambush marketing, ITV has reviewed its entire ticket allocation for the tournament.
‘‘Immediate investigations indicated that a block of ITV tickets would appear to have been used for unauthorised purposes during the Holland v Denmark match.
‘‘Further inquiries have revealed that a substantial number of tickets allocated to Robbie Earle for family and friends have been passed to a third party in breach of Fifa rules. As a result, Robbie Earle's contract with ITV has been terminated with immediate effect.''
Earle said: "Call me naive but I didn't think I was doing anything wrong. I hope when people hear the full story they will see me in a different light."
The fast food outlet, Nandos, that promised Mexicans free chicken meals if they lost to Bafana Bafana in the opening match, were spared the cost of handing out thousands of rands worth of free food after the 1-1 draw between the teams. However, it seems the restaurant chain is desperate to do more giveaways, as they’ve released a new advert ahead of South Africa’s next match.
This time the incentive is not just to Bafana’s opposition, Uruguay, but to the whole continent they represent and their fans. Nandos said they’ll have “Free Coke for the South Americans” if they lose, but were quick to add, “No, not that kind of coke - we’re a family restaurant.”
The host nation are drumming up support from all corners ahead of their do-or-die encounter against the former World champions. The official fan club, which launched its website two weeks ago, has almost 750,000 members, and is aiming to reach a million by kickoff on Wednesday night.
Despite this, goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune called for the fans to be even more vociferous, saying that the teams didn’t hear as many vuvuzelas as they would have liked in their opening game. He said Bafana want the sound levels to go even higher when they take on Uruguay at Loftus.
Chile: Trekking to all corners of the globe to watch your team in action; travelling across continents just for a glimpse of your heroes - being a football fan can be thirsty work.
But Chilean fans are set to be rewarded and have their thirst quenched as team sponsor, Cristal beer, have decided to provide supporters of the national team in South Africa with 15,000 bottles of the beverage.
The beers will be served in a bar in the the Sandton district of Johannesburg, which has been appropriated by the brand for the duration of the World Cup. There, Chilean fans will have a home away from home, complete with Roja banners and furnishings and a giant HD screen to watch the games.
And whether they need to celebrate or drown their sorrows, they will have use of a bar that only gives away free beer. A spokesman for Cristal said about 5,000 Chileans are in South Africa to follow their team, who play against Spain, Honduras, and Switzerland in Group H.
Netherlands: Becoming a father is a special time in any man's life, so why should playing at the World Cup provide any obstacle to seeing your newborn?
Dutch goalkeeper Michel Vorm certainly agreed with this sentiment, so following Netherlands 2-0 victory against Denmark in their Group E opener he set off on an 18,000 kilometer round trip to visit his wife and his newly born first child.
Jaivy Vorm was born on Sunday and the 26-year-old goalkeeper, who was on the bench for the Denmark game, left directly after the match to fly home. He will return on Thursday to join the squad, who will face Japan on Saturday in Durban in the second group match.
One has to wonder why Netherlands' two goals against Denmark were not followed by the "baby cradling" celebration made famous by Bebeto at the 1994 World Cup! The Oranje need to start getting creative.
June 14, 2010
In the interests of research (and it was cheaper than packing him off to Rustenburg) we sent Soccernet's veteran reporter Dale Johnson across the road from the ESPN offices in London to watch Saturday’s England-USA match at the legendary Hammersmith Apollo, home of thousands of the world’s greatest bands as well as auditions for Britain’s Got Talent. Free tickets for the ESPN event, cheap beer and a massive HD screen awaited him.
“Anticipation grew as kick-off edged closer, 3000 England fans, decked out in hats and flags were singing Three Lions as though it was the new national anthem. The beer was flowing freely, with enough staff on hand to make sure the wait was never too long: it never fails to get the fans in fine voice. Granted, you had to deal with the usual band of "classic England fans" who didn't care who they bumped, barged or blocked the view of, but there was an definite feeling of occasion.
“The huge HD screen - the size of four double-decker buses and the largest of its kind in Europe - filled the entire stage of the Apollo, or the Odeon to those of us of a certain age. The HD picture quality was perfect, something which pubs struggle with on much smaller screens.
“That was until someone at ITV HD got over-excited as Emile Heskey flicked a pass through to Steven Gerrard for the goal. The screen went black, the ITV HD logo came up and then the feed cut to an ESPN general feed. Cue flying and beer and boos. Luckily the picture then came back, with a score of 1-0 to England showing. There was a muted celebration as everyone tried to work out if England actually were winning, then came the goal replay and the cheers became louder. It wasn't just those in the Apollo who missed the goal, it was everyone across the country watching ITV HD.
“The Apollo's tickertape fanfare, meticulously planned to be fired off when England scored, was a bit limp coming a minute after the ball hit the back of the net - not that it was their fault. The rest of the match went off without a glitch, and while the result may not have been what everyone in the venue wanted, it was undoubtedly a successful night.”
The next two England matches are also being shown, and should the side progress further, all knockout-stage games will also be carried.
There are a few free tickets still available from the Hammersmith Apollo.
Public urination may be a common sight in any English town past 10pm, that and a smattering of discarded kebab wrappers, but you don't expect to see someone relieving themselves at a posh golf course in South Africa.
Unfortunately for the green keepers at Sun City's Lost City course on Sunday, Wayne Rooney and an unidentified member of Fabio Capello's backroom staff were caught short during their round and were forced to take emergency action.
You can take the man out of England...
June 13, 2010
So now we know. If the Nigerians were put off their game by the fowl play, Thierry Henry was undone by his boots being held up at Customs (ok, he was undone by Domenech and his own fading star but allow us this licence).
According to a report in Cape Town’s Sunday Times, Henry’s boots were detained by Customs officials at the Jo’burg airport - and delivered to him an hour before kick-off. A day before the game, the courier company DHL said, it got a call asking for help in reuniting Henry with his boots; they were hesitant, since it involved the Customs and they couldn’t guarantee. But according to the report everyone chipped in, including the Cape Town traffic police, whose elite “ghost squad” ensured the boots - encased in a cardboard box weighing 27 kg - reached the French squad with an hour to go.
What the French brought with them was their food - muesli bars, pasta of a specific shape and size and wine for members of the non-playing staff (players aren’t allowed to drink). Their bread is local - 90 baguettes a day, which was a challenge to the hotel staff at their training base. “Our poor baker was going crazy,” the manager said. “She was continuously rolling.”
The best bit from Sunday’s papers, though, was the predictions for the week ahead from the Times’ resident humourist Ben Trovato. Here’s a sample:
“Watch out for Denmark. They live in a country with three beggars, no crime and very little corruption. Even though Denmark tops the Global Boredom Index, one should not forget that Danes are related to Vikings and share a religion with the Rev Joseph Kony. Also, every year in the Faroe Islands, they slaughter hundreds of Calderon dolphins for the sheer hell of it. The Dutch players would be well advised not to call for the ball in high-pitched squeaks and whistles.
On Wednesday, we play Uruguay. Watch out for Uruguay. They call their team Los Charrúas, after a tough nomadic tribe that killed and ate Spanish explorer Juan Diaz de Solis during his 1515 voyage up the Rio de la Plata. He probably deserved it. The message we need to get across early in this game is that we despise colonialism as much as they do. And that we don't taste so good.”
Someone tell the French that, too.
To most observers, Argentina overwhelmed Nigeria on Saturday thanks to their superior ability and talent, but it now transpires that Diego Maradona’s men were in fact indebted to officious stewards at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.
Why, you ask? Well the kill-joys prevented Nigerian fans from bringing lucky chickens, which they had painted green, into the stadium. The Nigerians protested they were allowed to bring their good-luck charms to games at France ’98, but that little nugget of information did not sway the argument in their favour.
Strangely, a France fan was permitted to bring his rooster to the Uruguay game on Friday (above), though it did little good for Raymond Domenech’s side as they could only draw 0-0. You could say they were left with egg on their faces.
One of the joys of watching any sport in another country is meeting the people as well as sampling the local culture, and that includes the food. Anyone who has visited South Africa will know the locals like their meat, in quantity and quality (which is outstanding).
Sadly, not everyone is so keen to leave home behind. One US-based writer found a need to visit a McDonalds. But even then, they found themselves unsatisfied. The burger, it seems, was simply too … beefy.
“It was a 'tasty and satisfying' meal, but I must admit, I wasn't completely satisfied,” she wrote. “The Quarter Pounder I had Friday was … too fresh. The fries were … too real. It just wasn't greasy enough. My taste buds missed the welcoming flavor of old fry grease, frozen meat patties and flat Coca-Cola. It was like a shock to my system, and I didn't like it.”
June 12, 2010
A sight to inspire England fans ... as long as they weren't watching ITV1 HD
© Getty Images
Welcome to ITV, new presenter Adrian Chiles. After the fiasco in the FA Cup in 2008-09 when a producer cut to an advertisement just as Everton scored a 118th-minute winner against Liverpool, returning to the live transmission in time to see the players celebrating, surely there was no way ITV would make the same mistake again on the biggest stage of all?
Four minutes into England v USA someone somewhere pressed a button so viewers of ITV1 HD in the UK were shown an advertisement for a car for the ten seconds either side of England’s opening goal.
At half-time a rather embarrassed-looking Chiles mumbled an apology for a break in coverage without mentioning the minor detail it was when the goal was scored. How he must have wished (albeit momentarily) he was back at the ad-free BBC.
ITV traditionally get flattened in any major event when they go head-to-head with the BBC, and shoddy production such as this will leave them even more marginalised.
Last month ITV outraged Nike for cutting their multi-million pound world exclusive World Cup advertisement screening before the end during the break in the Champions League Final.
Perhaps they should stick to X Factor or other such programmes which they appear more able to handle?
A quick one from the USA camp ahead of Saturday's huge clash between England and the United States.
Barack Obama has decided not to go to South Africa as he tries to mob up some spilt oil at home, but he's still found time to wish his soccer stars good luck.
The USA players themselves love a bit of Twitter, and Obama has used the social networking site to pass on his best wishes.
"Best of luck to U.S. soccer team - you’re representing all of us. We're incredibly proud of what you’ve done already," says the President.
It's not quite David Cameron shouting "Come on, England". In fact, it's a bit more respectable.
See the Tweet here: http://twitter.com/BARACKOBAMA
Every time England qualify for a major tournament there's a flood of football songs. And we think we've just found the best of the bunch.
As the likes of Dizzee Rascal and James Corden battle for the top of the charts with no official song being released, the duo have some serious competition from some girl called Jess.
It's a masterpiece of modern music. Any song which has the opening lyrics I chat to my dad/about why he's so sad surely have to make the shortlist of an Ivor Novello.
Basically, Jess told her dad that England would win the World Cup. Jess' dad didn't believe her. So Jess wrote a song about it. It's so heartwarming.
If you only do one thing today, go to this website, read the short story and watch the video. It will make your day. No, it will make your week.
Such is the coverage of the World Cup in some sections of the US media that readers might be forgiven for thinking that English fans have been thinking about nothing but tonight’s match for months. It’s big … but it’s not that big … and then there's the English press who get all territorial about Americans getting into football.
Robert Burns of Fox (the Murdoch-owned ultra right-wing news network) lost the plot after two Liverpool ‘fans’ were photographed burning an US flag as a protest against his club’s American owners. Referring to “this group of myopic peasants [who] took it upon themselves to desecrate the American flag – the Stars and Stripes which represents 300 million people”, he wrote:
“Interested to know which country has purchased the most World Cup tickets for South Africa? That’s right, it’s baseball-loving, Budweiser-drinking, hamburger-grilling America.
“I’m well aware that the U.S. squad in South Africa needs little more motivation to kick England’s butt this Saturday, but I hope this little display of British stupidity ignites a nation.
“I hope U.S. fans rally like never before behind our players and give them the support that those folks in England believe is beyond our grasp. On Saturday, it’ll be time to stop speaking softly and put that big stick to some use.”
The British press are, in their own way, just as bad. The Sun published a typically xenophobic front page on Saturday mocking the widely-held perception that Americans and football are not happy bedfellows.
“Here’s hopin’ that England United shoot some totally awesome strikes past the goaltender in the soccerball world series today”
And this is just the start of the tournament …
Meanwhile, it's emerged that USA fans are set to outnumber England fans in Rustenburg. According to the tournament organisers, around 8,000 USA fans have bought tickets compared to 6,000 from England.
Within hours of banning his players from using Twitter, Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk did the same to the ubiquitous vuvuzelas, banishing them from his side’s training ground.
He snapped at an open training session watched by around 3000 spectators. “It was annoying and I could not make myself audible,” he said. “Training has no use if I can’t address my players.
The reason England will not win the World Cup
© PA Photos
England: It's emerged that Steven Gerrard was going get Usain Bolt along to England training to teach everyone how to run fast, but the plan, sadly, will now not come to fruition.
“I'd heard Usain Bolt was a big football fan and it was really flattering that he wanted my shirt,” Gerrard said. “I'm just disappointed I haven't got his pace.
“It's a pity he's a Man United fan, though. I was going to ask him to one of our training sessions when he's in England but I might not bother now. Seriously, Usain is an athlete I really look up to. As a sprinter, he's the man, isn't he? He's a winner, an inspiration and someone I love watching.”
June 11, 2010
A herd of trouble
© Getty Images
Much has been made of the measures the USA might take to stop England's Three Lions on Saturday, but some other South African wildlife went to extraordinary lengths to disrupt Bob Bradley’s team’s preparations for the Group C clash.
With the USA eager to make sure they’re at the peak of their powers for their much-anticipated clash in Rustenburg, players and staff were forced to delay the start of their training session on Friday due to an elephant on the road that was blocking their team bus.
The ordeal is said to have lasted five nerve-jangling minutes, with the elephant eating from nearby trees as it refused to budge from its strict grazing schedule.
England coach Fabio Capello made no comment on ‘elephant-gate’ in his Friday press conference, but links are sure to be made between this act of sabotage and England’s pre-tournament safari earlier in the week.
While there are no clear links between wildlife and any of the England party, Capello’s selection of football donkey E-mule Heskey has led to several raised eyebrows.
Mexican fans make themselves conspicuous
Mexicans in South Africa can't be blamed for feeling a little left out. One of the country's leading fast food outlets has run an advert offering free lunch to Mexico fans - as long as they lose.
That's one of the milder ways in which South Africans have declared war on Mexico. Anyone wearing the emerald green of the Central American country are officially enemies of state, but one fan braved the hostility to appear as a guest on a local news channel.
Adolfo Ibarra, a El Tri fan, proudly wore his national team jersey as he entered a Bafana Bafana stronghold. The first question the news anchor put to him was whether the Mexicans could be tripped up by the constant blasting of the vuvuzelas.
He claimed he was "not at all worried," because that the stadium in Mexico City has far more noise as it is able to hold over 100,000 people.
"If you multiply the 10,000 more people the Estadio can hold by the amount of noise each makes, you'll see that there is a lot more noise there. We are not scared of your little vuvuzela," he said, tauntingly. He predicted a 3-1 victory for Mexico and said he expects his team and France to advance from Group A.
His message for South Africans? "I think they are doing a really good job and they should enjoy playing in the tournament. They are guaranteed to play three matches."
Then Ibarra shocked the newsroom by bringing his own blowing horn to the studio. He blew hard and made a noise equal to that of at least three vuvuzelas. He also sang a popular Mexican football chant live on air before leaving. Needless to say, that left the employees in the newsroom, most of whom are behind Bafana Bafana, speechless.
>nobr>© Getty Images
The biggest news of the opening day has to be that Sepp Blatter has launched his own Twitter page where football fans globally can follow the great man’s every utterance.
Rather ironically, the announcement came within hours of the Dutch coach banning his players from Tweeting after one of them made inappropriate comments. No fear that Blatter would say anything off message. Dull and blinkered, possibly. But not off message.
Unfortunately, @sepp.blatter had already been taken by someone posing as Blatter (the latest post headed “If you don't know why I'm awesome, then you need awesome lessons”) so the official site is @SeppBlatter.
He promises to answer “as many questions as I can” about FIFA and football. Just don’t ask about goal-line technology.
June 10, 2010
Uruguay striker Diego Forlan certainly got the media talking when he updated his Twitter feed.
Around five hours before their public training session was due to commence ahead of their opening match on Friday, he revealed their plane suffered ''a breakdown''.
The Atletico Madrid striker, whose side face France at Green Point Stadium, said on Twitter: ''We are still waiting... they say our plane has suffered a breakdown... Question - there is no other aircraft available? It's incredible.''
Not ideal when you're at 30,000 feet, so thankfully it was all resolved and, over three hours later, he joyfully updated his followers: ''We landed in Cape Town!''
Meanwhile, FIFA President Sepp Blatter will launch his own personal Twitter page.
Fans from all over the world will be able to follow Blatter's often controversial views and opinions on the account “@seppblatter” throughout the event.
Blatter said: “We are approaching the first FIFA World Cup in which social media websites will play an important role in connecting everyone who cares about the game of football. I’m very excited to be sharing my own personal experience of the 2010 FIFA World Cup with football fans from all over the world.” We await the first post.
Never let it be said modern footballers are influenced by anything other than passion for the game.
Various players were asked for their opinion on the much-cricticised new Adidas ball being used in the World Cup.
Italy’s Giampaolo Pazzini said it was “a catastrophe”, Julio Cesar (Brazil) called it “terrible … like cheap ones you can buy in a supermarket”, Spanish keeper Iker Casillas said it was “like a beachball … a rotten ball” while Germany’s Marcus Hahnemann called it “a horse … the worst ball I’ve ever played with”.
"The ball's terrible," US keeper Tim Howard moaned. "You're going to hear that now, you're going to hear that next week and next month."
But not so according to the absent Michael Ballack who gushed: “The ball is fantastic and does exactly what I want it to do.”
We are sure it is entirely coincidental but Ballack also happens to be an Adidas client.
According to one Adelaide newspaper, Franz Beckenbauer has issued strict instructions to the German team on that most important of subjects – how to behave during the national anthems.
"As coach in 1986 I introduced an obligation to sing the national anthem," he was quoted as saying. "What I don't want to see is nose pulling, scratching body parts, looking at the public, that's definitely out of the question."
Coach Joachim Low appeared less than convinced. "Many were born in Germany, but their whole family was not. That can then be difficult for them with the anthem."
Beckenbauer enjoys national anthems so much that he admitted to singing those of other countries as well. In the USA in 1994 he said he “joined in and sang the American national anthem ahead of every game, even though I’m not at all an American”.
June 9, 2010
Vuvuzelas for 10 Rand, braai not included
© Jayaditya Gupta
The World Cup can make seemingly rational people take leave of their senses.
Following a call from the South African Football Supporters Association (SAFSA) for fans to pray and fast to help the national team, about a dozen of them took up the challenge.
They included SAFSA’s director Siyabulela Makunga “I'm absconding [sic] from alcohol and sex and it's not a joke, as I normally drink a lot of whisky," he told the BBC. "It's pretty difficult with my girlfriend, as we're not on the best terms at the moment, but I can't kiss her on the cheek as this is the commitment I'm making for the team."
Meanwhile, thousands of South Africans - and hundreds of tourists – turned out with their vuvuzelas at noon on Wednesday to show - or blow - their support for their team.
There were particularly chaotic scenes in Johannesburg, where Bafana Bafana staged a “parade” on an open-topped bus that attempted to negotiate its way past clogged streets. The leitmotif was the vuvuzela, the long and loud trumpet that is a standard accessory for all Bafana fans.
And for those who didn’t have one, they were being sold at street corners along with the “makarapa” miners’ helmets. The helmets aren’t merely decorative: they act as protection when fans start chanting and swinging their vuvuzelas madly, leading to sprays of spittle from all over!
FIFA’s merchandising police will be disheartened by a survey in the UK which showed a quarter of those questioned would buy fake World Cup-branded goods to save money
A survey by Kelkoo UK said counterfeiting World Cup goods is rife, with about a fifth likely to be fake.
"Big sporting events like the World Cup provide retailers and sporting manufacturers with a great opportunity to ramp up the sales of official merchandise,” Kelkoo UK managing director Bruce Fair told the BBC. “People who knowingly buy fake goods because they are cheaper are likely to find it a false economy, as they can often sacrifice quality and still pay out high sums of money relative to the actual value of the product."
However, some of those who have bought such goods pointed out the massive mark-ups on official goods was a major reason this was seen as an “acceptable crime”.
Branco, Romario and Dunga celebrate Brazil's 1994 World Cup triumph
© Getty Images
Brazil: For Brazil, the secret to World Cup success has been sublime skill, dazzling dribbling and formidable finishing. It is a formula that has worked on no less than five occasions, making them the most successful international team in football history.
But the Selcao's 1994 vintage also had an off-field formula to help them achieve their goal of winning the tournament in the USA - plenty of drinking and socialising between team-mates and regular nookie with other halves.
Branco, part of the side that beat Italy on penalties to lift the World Cup 1994, has revealed that the players would have "three or four drinks" to relax and happily admitted that his son was conceived during the tournament.
"What harm is there in it? My son Stefano was conceived during the 1994 World Cup when I spent a day off in San Francisco with my wife. Sex is good for you. It relieves tension. We hadn't won the World Cup for 24 years, so it didn't do us any harm.
"Sex at the camp should only be ruled out with a team-mate's wife. What you can't do is stuff your face until four in the morning or stay in a brothel. We were very professional when we won the World Cup in '94. We went there to win it.
"Drinking was allowed and we'd have three or four drinks to relax. What's wrong with that? If it were a problem, then there wouldn't be any football in England or Germany, where they drink beer, or in Italy, France and Argentina, where they drink wine. It's part of the culture.
"There was drink in '94, I conceived my son and everyone said we were perfect physically and tactically. What's the problem?"
USA:Some teams may choose to watch movies like Braveheart, Gladiator and Rocky to help motivate them ahead of big games at the World Cup, but USA boss Bob Bradley decided to turn an inspirational film into a reality when he invited the hero helicopter pilot behind Blackhawk Down to give his players a pep talk.
Chief Warrant Officer Dan Jollota, who was part of the operation to capture Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid in Mogadishu in 1993, visited the US team to deliver a lesson in bravery and teamwork, with Clint Dempsey among those who admitted the Top Gun's talk had a real impact on him.
Dempsey said: "We have had the opportunity to have some speakers come in and it has been cool. Like we had one of the pilots from Blackhawk Down come in to speak. And we had (eleven times NBA champion coach) Bill Russell come in to talk to us.
"We've got to see some documentaries and things that bring the team together. It is good to do things like that. The speakers helped us with team bonding. They brought into reality from their experiences about coming together for one team goal.
"That you have to put egos aside and putting personal glory aside. It is about the team. To do the best that is what you need. Everyone on the same page."
French newspaper Libération has sent a team to South Africa for the World Cup to investigate … brothels.
Their report includes interviews with two prostitutes. One, a former drug mule, was quoted as saying she did not like black people because positive discrimination in their favour is the reason she has to be a prostitute. She also said she planned to charge tourists double.
Another claims the police have said they will turn a blind eye to prostitution during the World Cup. Reports have indicated as many as 100,000 sex workers will flood into southern Africa around the tournament. It is estimated that around 50% of South Africa's prostitutes have AIDS.
Not for the first time, FIFA boss Sepp Blatter has sprung to the defence of Jack Warner who, as we reported yesterday, is under pressure to relinquish his FIFA roles after being appointed a minister in Trinidad and Tobago’s new coalition government.
A political rival has asked that Warner be investigated to see if he is in breach of the Code of Ethics for Parliamentarians by holding the government post while maintaining his FIFA role.
But Blatter offered a sugar-coated endorsement of the controversial Warner who has survived a number of embarrassments that would have sunk many lesser men without trace.
"Your election victory is a vibrant testimony to your brilliant political career,” Blatter gushed. “[It] represents the desire to assist the people of your beautiful country to strengthen the cultural and educational values within the society of TT further.
"My friend Jack, you will continue to break any imaginable barrier this life has to offer."
June 8, 2010
We don’t yet know the line-up for Friday’s pre-match opening ceremony at Soccer City but we do know who the biggest star will be at the ground that day – after months of speculation, it was confirmed on Tuesday that Nelson Mandela will attend, if only for a very brief period.
Mandela, touching 92 and visibly frail, is rarely seen in public but keeps in touch with current events – just last week he met Bafana Bafana, as the national team is called, and even wore the No. 4 jersey of team captain Aaron Mokoena. It’s a tradition he famously began with the 1995 rugby world cup squad, but his connections with football - the most popular sport in South Africa - are far closer.
More than 40 years ago, when he was in solitary confinement on Robben Island, his fellow inmates set up the Makana Football Association, using the sport to unite themselves in typically Mandela-esque manner. The story was documented in the 2007 film More Than A Game. Mandela himself couldn’t actively participate but gave the movement his blessings – just as he will to the more joyous tournament that begins on Friday.
© Getty Images
The US side had an audience with President Barack Obama ahead of their departure for South Africa.
West Ham’s Jonathan Spector told reporters: “He gave a brief speech but he’s a busy man and he had a lot of important things to take care of. He wished us luck and told us we have the support of the nation.”
US captain Carlos Bocanegra said it was “cool” before adding: “Man, we’re trying to dominate like the US does in other sports.” That would be those other global sports like baseball and NFL?
There are those who might see it as a cheap publicity stunt, but Sky TV’s accident-prone pundit Chris Kamara has changed his name by deed poll to Chris Cabanga after he “learned that the word could have a positive effect on the England players during the World Cup”.
Kamara claimed research found the word cabanga, derived from the Zulu for imagine, will unite the team when it is chanted by fans.
Given Kamara’s reputation for blunders, it remains quite possible that what seemed a good idea at the time could backfire as he heads to South Africa if he has not ensured all the necessary paperwork has been switched to his new name.
Jack Warner – the president of the CONCACAF region who is no stranger to controversy – has said he will ignore calls to step down from his position as a vice-president of FIFA after he was appointed as the new Minister of Works and Transport in Trinidad and Tobago’s coalition government.
“At this time, I am listening to all that is being said about my international affiliations and I welcome all to critically examine my life," Warner said. “At this time, if my international office can be used to benefit TT, then so be it.”
Presumably the offer to pry into his life does not extend to anyone outside Trinidad. After an investigation by the BBC into his affairs in 2007 he told reporters: “No foreigner, particularly a white foreigner, will come to my country and try to harass me.”
That seems to be at odds with FIFA president Sepp Blatter assertion that "anyone who complacently maintains that racism is impossible in their territory is not only wrong but irresponsible".
If Warner does stand down then FIFA’s loss will clearly be Trinidad’s gain.
Samuel Eto'o models a designer watch.
© Getty Images
Cameroon: Samuel Eto’o has splashed out almost £900,000 on designer watches for his Cameroon squad, including back-room staff. He bought 30 of the £29,000 watches after promising he would reward them if they qualified for South Africa, and he handed them out before the warm-up match against Serbia.
Last month, Eto’o was accused by Cameroon legend Roger Milla of doing nothing for his country.
England: Following Monday's news that the referee for England vs USA is prone to making the odd headline, headline-making former World Cup referee Graham Poll has some words of warning for Wayne Rooney. The striker has been told that his ranting could lead to a red card at the tournament, and Poll tells the Daily Mail he could well find himself in trouble: "The referees in the World Cup training camp are not allowed to officiate at these warm-up matches, but they will all be watching. Especially the Brazilian Carlos Simon, who will take charge of England’s opening game against the USA in Rustenburg on Saturday. And that is bad news for Wayne Rooney.
"Simon, who speaks good English, will be aware of Rooney and will have seen his latest act of petulance. It was a yellow card on Monday, but it would be a red card on Saturday. The referees have been given two significant instructions: protect the skilful players and protect the image of the game at all times.
"I sense Rooney’s anger has been bubbling recently and, although his goal on Monday will help restore a smile, there has been a little too much aggression in his play. He once swore at me 27 times in 45 minutes in a live TV game at Highbury."
June 7, 2010
Carlos Simon: Smiling assassin
© Getty Images
England: Hmmm, what to talk about when no-one has been injured in over 24 hours? Well, the English media have certainly ensured that the focus remains off the pitch, for the time being at least, as they have exposed referee Carlos Simon for... wait for it... smiling.
Despite having watched Graham Poll grin his way through games with the greatest of ease for a decade, the media have now picked on the ref, who is due to take charge of England's game with the USA, for having too much fun in dishing out cards.
Simon reportedly caused OUTRAGE for inexplicably sending off Swede Teddy Lucic against hosts Germany in 2006, while he has a string of dodgy decisions hanging over his head from his domestic exploits - prompting Flamengo to send a DVD to FIFA warning them of his record.
The man dubbed 'Simple Simon' will have some sympathy with the hounding press pack as he used to a journalist himself, but it does seem a little like the English media are trying to get their excuses in early before the unthinkable happens.
South Africa: Now, one of the weirdest stories to come out of South Africa thus far, and bird lovers please look away.
Some followers of what has been called 'multi magic' in South Africa are causing a flutter by choosing to smoke dried-vulture brains with the mistaken belief that it will allow them to predict match results.
Conservationists are now worried that the Cape Vulture (Gyps coprotheres) - one of Africa's largest birds of prey - is under threat of extinction, in part, due to the 'magic' follower.
Mark Anderson, the Executive Director of BirdLife South Africa said: "Many vultures species across the world are in trouble. Our very own species in southern Africa is declining sharply for a number of reasons, including reduced food availability, deliberate poisoning and electrocution from electricity pylons. The harvesting of the bird's heads by followers of muti magic is an additional threat these birds can't endure."
June 6, 2010
Tim Cahill is hoping to impress his mum in South Africa
© Getty Images
Australia: Let's face it, there are probably a fair few footballers who are mummy's boys - and we certainly don't judge them for that (unless they're stilll getting their washing done!). But while we are suspicious that there are plenty of them out there, it's not too often that a player actually confirms his mummy boy credentials. Cue Australia star Tim Cahill.
Cahill has admitted he is worried about playing badly at the World Cup for fear of how his mother will react. And who wouldn't, especially after he revealed that Mrs Cahill used to throw high heels at Tim when he was an up and coming youngster at Sydney United.
“If I play bad, she still tells me why,” said Cahill. “It reminds me of when I was a little kid.
Normally it was with the shoe, telling me I didn’t play well. Now I just get on the phone because I’m not [living] close to her. It’s easier - I don’t get any shoes thrown at me.”
“I still never forget to say please and thank you. I never forget to open the door for someone or get up to give them a seat. Respect is the biggest value that anyone can have and, being a footballer, it’s helped me in every step of the way.”
France: Raymond Domenech's side are hardly setting the world alight at the moment, and the recent defeat to China has to be one of the lowest ever points for Les Bleus. So are the players rallying round? Are they supporting each other? Not on your nelly.
In fact, Florent Malouda has come out to express his disgust at the way team-mates fight over which position they want to play, and even revealed that he wishes he could have been basketball legend Michael Jordan in another life. And we thought England had a problem with getting players to play on the left-side of midfield.
"I am more of a left midfielder with Chelsea but that does not stop me going to the right. When that happens, a team-mate must take my place on the left side. You have to create links between players, be interested in others. Not think 'I'm an attacker so I attack and I'm not interested in what the others do'.
"We are not there to say 'I want to play on the right or in the middle'. I would like to have been Michael Jordan but I'm not. So? We are going to be ridiculous if, like at Euro 2008, each player stays in his comfort zone aiming for good marks from the media to the detriment of the team.''
And Malouda also helped confirmed what the football world have always believed.
"The manager does not necessarily have all the answers," Malouda said, leading to a universal sigh of, 'well, duh' from the French public. "That is what experienced players in the squad are for."
June 5, 2010
Alexi Lalas scored against England at the 1993 US Cup
© Getty Images
USA: Before the 2006 World Cup, the England team were subjected to a variety of wind-ups, courtesy of Rio Ferdinand's television show "You've been merked". This time around, former USA defender Alexi Lalas believes that the USA should be doing some winding-up of their own against their Group C opponents - with Wayne Rooney the target.
But Lalas isn't talking about pranks. He believes that Rooney remains a bit of a loose cannon and thinks the poor temperament that saw him get sent-off against Portugal at the 2006 finals should be exploited to the full by Team USA.
"I hope he has a temper tantrum, has a swing at someone and gets thrown out," Lalas said. "I would love to see him act like a baby. This is all part of gamesmanship and recognising the weaknesses and the flaws of the individual players and teams."
Brazil: It's not often that the Brazil national side are labelled "boring", not least by a player who played in one of their most exciting teams.
But legendary former captain Socrates has made that very accusation, with the man who skippered the Selecao at the 1982 and 1986 finals expressing his dismay at the tactics of current coach Dunga.
Socrates believes that under the 1994 World Cup winner, Brazil's traditional flair and dazzling skill has been replaced by a win-by-any-means philosophy, and revealed that he has become so disillusioned with his motherland that he will be cheering on Spain at the World Cup.
"Brazil certainly can win the World Cup, but Spain are playing superbly in terms of beauty and flair," Socrates said. "I am not against Brazil, I just don't get excited by the football they play these days. Brazil have relinquished the fantasy and abandoned their roots.
"In these times of football as a business, winning became everything and the game is dominated by pragmatism. It is a shame even at the financial point of view, because Brazil could still be cashing in by using their unique tradition of flair."
June 4, 2010
Carlos Tevez manages to find a seat at training.
Argentina: While Diego Maradona appears to be the biggest barrier to Argentina winning the World Cup this year, Carlos Tevez seems to think the biggest barrier is his own stomach.
"I hired a nutritionist because one of my biggest problems is my weight," he said. "I usually don't care so much about that, but I have to be a professional and this is a World Cup - you have to be responsible.
"I also hired a personal trainer. I have eaten a lot of fruit and vegetables since working with the nutritionist. Let's see if all the suffering will be worth it or not."
Tevez, of course, hit the headlines last season for apparently failing to pull his considerable weight at training at both Manchester United and City.
Nigeria: The Nigerian Football Federation is doing little to help the country in its preparations for the tournament. Having decided to sack Shaibu Amodu just months before the tournament, the body is now struggling to pay for the whole World Cup experience.
Kick Off reports that they've yet to pay for their hotel in Durban, they're expecting a $700,000 bill from Arik Air for airlifting the team from London after a debacle with flights, and they don't have the cash to pay success-related bonuses to new boss Lars Lagerback or the players.
The government has apparently approved a grant to meet the costs, but the NFF is still waiting for the money.
June 3, 2010
Robert Mugabe waves to the fans before the game.
Brazil: The matches haven't even kicked off yet and there's already controversy off the pitch.
Brazil's decision to play a friendly against Zimbabwe in Harare was always going to raise eyebrows, given the political situation in the country, but having Robert Mugabe stroll onto the pitch to be presented to the teams before the match really set the media talking.
Especially as Mugabe's reputation for violence seemed to effect the Zimbabwean players. At one stage an angry Robinho had to be restrained by Zimbabwe’s Benjani after he was singled out - alongside Kaka - for some pretty tasty tackling.
Sports Minister David Coltart told the BBC before the game: "This is the biggest sporting event ever in Zimbabwe. It is a unique opportunity to rebrand Zimbabwe." It doesn't look like it worked and certainly doesn't leave a good taste in the mouth with just over a week to go until kick-off. Brazil may just regret that poor choice of planning.
North Korea: Elsewhere, North Korea have upset the applecart by refusing to bow to FIFA rules over the number of goalkeepers in their squad. The North Koreans seem to believe that they won't need three 'keepers - instead choosing to name Kim Myong-Won, who is a striker, as a keeper as well.
They will, however, be forced to play Myong-Won as a 'keeper should the sitation present itself, as the rules are there for a reason. One can't helping thinking that if it had been Peter Crouch or Thierry Henry , people might have noticed a little sooner.
Meanwhile, in news that will please campaigners, a million free condoms will be given to fans at the World Cup amid fears over HIV. So there's some good news coming out of today....
June 2, 2010
Naomi Campbell with the World Cup
No excuse is needed to justify publishing a picture of the delightful Naomi Campbell, but here's one anyway: the super-model has unveiled the new custom-made Louis Vuitton carry case which will house the World Cup trophy on its journey to South Africa.
Not to be outdone by all the man-bag toting super-star footballers at the tournament this summer, the venerable 18-carat gold trophy now has its very own de rigueur case - featuring Vuitton's iconic monogram canvas.
"When you have the most beautiful girl in the world you hope she will wear the most beautiful dress," Jerome Valcke, secretary general of FIFA, explained. "That's exactly what we've done."
However, FIFA have not yet lost all their marbles. Naomi was only allowed to pose with a replica of the trophy given her history of... er... throwing things.
England: When Fabio Capello dumped Theo Walcott, aged 21, in favour of Shaun Wright-Phillips, 28, from his final selection the manager ensured England took their oldest ever squad to the World Cup finals.
The average age of 28.7 years beats the old record from the 1954 World Cup of 28.4 - and that squad included a 39-year-old Stanley Matthews. The team is also the most experienced ever with a total of 900 caps - an average of 39.1 that beats the previous best of 32.2 when England reached the semi-finals of Italia 90.
The last time an experienced England squad was dubbed 'Dad's Army' they actually won the World Cup, in 2003. Okay, so that was a different sport, rugby union, but good omens and all that!
France: Those crazy French can't seem to stay upright at Raymond Domench's 'It's a Knockout' World Cup training camp.
First defender William Gallas rolled his dune buggy during a race around the hotel grounds and now Nicolas Anelka has crashed his mountain bike at their camp on the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion.
Anelka, who has started up front in the two warm-up games France have played so far, escaped unhurt after losing his balance on a slippery road and falling at the end of a 50-minute ride on the spectacular volcanic island.
Les Bleus began their preparations with a climb in the snow-capped French Alps. A more traditional training session is scheduled for Wednesday, before a match against China on Friday.
June 1, 2010
Giovani: Shocking news.
© PA Photos
Mexico: As the fax machines at FIFA HQ continue to buzz away with vigour, there are plenty of players suffering the crushing blow of learning they have been excluded from the World Cup.
Few, though, have provoked the kind of hysteric reaction reserved for Mexico’s decision to leave out Barcelona youngster Jonathan Dos Santos. His father, Zizinho, claims the blow could end the international career of the midfielder, and his brother Giovani.
“Gio is very hurt and he wants to be at home with us,” said Zizinho. “He is there now and he's not well. We don't know if he will play (at the World Cup) or not. We still don't know anything. Jonathan told me that he is going to quit the Mexican team and I don't want him playing for them anymore anyway.”
We await Don Walcott’s reaction with relish.
Italy: Another player to take the news of his snub pretty badly is Italy striker Luca Toni. After been overlooked by Azzurri coach Marcello Lippi, he is backing another Italian boss to succeed in South Africa.
"I never heard from Lippi again. I am sad and I will miss my team-mates. I believed in a call-up until the very end, but I had imagined this," he told Chi magazine. "As for the World Cup, Fabio Capello's England will win it."