Today, we were told, was going to be all about the Best in the World (right). We have the Best footballing nation in the World, the current Best in the World and the supposed Best footballer in the World all sharing the same stage so all we had to do was set back and marvel. That was the theory at least - the practice proved to be somewhat different.
It's always struck me as terribly unusual that, given their constant trumpeting of all things digital and interactive, the BBC does not have a digital channel broadcasting during the day for anybody over the age of about 12, particularly given that the audience for the CBBC channel tend to spend their days at school or hassling OAPs outside local shops. As a result North Korea-Ivory Coast was hidden behind the mythical red button and for users of Virgin Media such as myself that means it might as well be in China as accessing Virgin's red button resources is a process every bit as slow, arcane and unrewarding as a Find Familiar
spell. Heck, you don't even get wide-angled vision out of it! As a result I had to choose one match and ignore the other and so I made what I felt would be the smart move and opted for Brazil-Portugal. Big mistake as it was, to use the modern vernacular, utter pants. After a load of build-up from Lineker it was always bound to be a disappointment but this was a lot worse than anybody could have imagined. The Portuguese are admittedly a technically good side but they are a horrid bunch of cheats and whiners whilst Brazil looked decidedly ordinary. Meanwhile the Coast racked up the goals in a vain attempt to reach the second round and all we saw were shrunken version of the goals. A chore and no mistake and the fact that I spent much of the match playing Snake Xenzia says all you need to know about the quality of what was on offer. It also must be said that Jonathan Pearce's rum habit of occasionally adopting an indeterminate Mediterranean accent whenever referring to a player from that general area or one of their former colonies is incredibly grating and was fundamentally overused in this game. In fairness this match was quite meaningless and both of these are a lot better than this but it is a shame that the Ivory Coast didn't have Drogba fit from the start as they might just have taken the Portuguese down. As for North Korea they were nice in the first game but as soon as the novelty wore off it was clear that they were well and truly out of their depth.
The other Best in the World (or at least the one that was until they lost to Swiss) came next and once again the band made an arse of things by cutting off the stirring "O el asilo contra la opresión" bit of Chile's national anthem with Spain's silent effort. It did the Chileans no harm in the early stages however as their play was excellent and Spain looked like being overwhelmed and bundled out. As the inevitable 0-0 between Switzerland and Honduras rumbled on (a match I was able to watch freely but never felt the need to see) it soon became clear that Chile badly lack a goleador in the Zamorano mould and as such the game became, very briefly, more about duff commentary than anything else. Chris Coleman's ill-omened few months at Real Sociedad made him the Spanish football expert by default, although if the rumours are to be believed Cookie learned only about the Spanish nightlife in his time in Iberia. Meanwhile Clive "that magical night at the Nou Camp" Tyldesley told us that Marcelo Bielsa being a qualified PE teacher was obvious from his habit of wearing his glasses on a piece of cord. Perhaps it's just me but that's a look I have always associated with the stereotypical librarian rather than the failed professional footballers that humiliate fat children in the name of PE "teaching". Still, whilst I was considering that particular conundrum David Villa suddenly belted in a goal from nothing following some comedic hi-jinx from the Chilean keeper. Spain may no longer be the Best in the World after the Switzerland result but they might just have the best out and out striker in the world in Villa. Meanwhile Iniesta soon made it two with an absolute peach of a goal, although he was due something special after a ropey start. Very unfortunate to see Estrada get a red card because the woefully ineffective Fernando Torres fell over during the build-up but there was a violent side to Chile in this game alongside their nice play. The 2-0 half-time score could hardly have been more flattering to the Spanish but they do say that true champions will grind out results even when they're not playing great. The sudden Chile goal at the start of the second half suggested a classic was to follow and Spain certainly improved when Torres, whom you have to assume is injured rather than just suddenly rubbish, left the scene for Fabregas. However before long the game petered out, presumably with word filtering through that the Swiss were doing their usual no forwards routine, and the last twenty minutes or so became very turgid indeed. Still, there was enough time left for Clive to make another balls-up as he proceeded to tell us that apparently North Korea had qualified for a second round tie. Bad news for Portugal, I suppose! God, Brian Moore you are sorely missed at these tournaments. In the end Spain just about shaded it and were probably worthy group winners whilst Chile will be a much more entertaining prospect for the second round than the deathly dull Swiss. Poor old Honduras were never really at the races and I think it's fair to say were actually a lot worse than their results suggest.
The real stuff can begin in earnest tomorrow and isn't amazing how received wisdom has again been proven to be the words of wiseacres. They told us ad nauseam that the South African winter would suit the European teams as the South Americans (most of whom play in Europe) don't know what winter is as they all live in places so hot that even the salamanders complain. Absolute tripe, as all five South American teams have gone through whilst seven of Europe's bloated contingent have buggered off home. In fact given the way the draw has turned out there will only be three European teams in the quarter-finals which is the fewest in the history of the competition. Admittedly 1930 and 1950 did not have anything like quarter-finals due to a lack of participants but, although 1978 and 1974 did not have quarter-finals either, they did have eight team group stages, each of which had more than three European teams. 1982 was even more confusing but their second group stage had ten European teams out of 12 so it was a lot more than this time out. So if three out of eight represents conditions suiting the Europeans I dread to think how they perform when it is held in Brazil.