So the World Cup’s first round is over.
It’s been a strange old tournament so far. The current holders Italy have limped home already, having failed spectacularly to qualify from a group containing such soccer powerhouses as, er, New Zealand and Slovakia. Perennial contenders France are also out, spectacularly imploding amongst rumours of disharmony within the squad, players staging walkouts during training, and striker Nicolas Anelka getting expelled from the party after calling the head coach a “son of a bitch” and suggesting he should go forth and fornicate during a half time argument. Brazil look uninspired, strolling through to the second round without really getting out of first gear, tournament favourites Spain somehow managed to lose their first game against Switzerland, and Portugal have gone from inspired seven-nil victories to lifeless nil-nil draws in the space of days.
The only team really to have made their mark so far are Argentina, which has come as something of a surprise according to those in the know. For a start they struggled to even qualify for the competition, relying on a last gasp win to see them through. Their head coach, football legend Diego Maradona, was roundly criticised by the national press for his lack of experience and tactical knowledge. After guiding his team to victory Diego responded in a dignified and mature manner. Well alright, not really. During the live post match press conference Maradona announced to his nay sayers that they should, and I quote, “suck it and keep on sucking it”. (Gee Note: You know I think the world would be a better place if more influential people took a similar approach to dealing with their critics. President Obama for example. “What’s that? You don’t like the idea of universal healthcare? Well I tell you what. Why don’t you pucker up and kiss my black ass son?”). This led to him getting banned from all activities involving football for two months, which in turn led to the cancellation of a game between Argentina and the Czech Republic.
Thankfully the little genius has carried that form in to the World Cup. Whooping and hollering from the touchline, hopping around like an excitable child, Diego is often the most entertaining on screen by far. He’s even brought his own unique brand of interview technique to the table.
(Gee Note: To be fair it is a stupid question. “Can love win a World Cup?”. Oh sure. Course it can. As long as you back it up with some pixie dust and happy happy thoughts. La la la la la la la la).
Sadly not everyone has been as joyful to watch during this campaign as ol’ Mazza. England for a start. Tomorrow England face Germany in the knockout stages having finished second in their group. Which is pretty abysmal considering their group consisted of Algeria, Slovenia (Gee Note: Who if I’m honest I didn’t actually realise were countries before this whole thing started) and the USA, all of which are hardly considered world beaters. England have still managed to struggle however, a dreadful mistake costing them victory against the States, a drab performance in the following game, and a nervous one goal victory over Slovenia meant they scraped through to the following round.
As a Welshman it’s hard not to feel a sense of schadenfreude when England do poorly. It’s not out any malice directed towards my English brethren you understand. Some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met have been English (Gee Note: A couple have been dicks too mind you. Swings and roundabouts I guess). It’s just the blind fever that surrounds the national football team in the media when ever they step foot on to a soccer pitch. Just take the main headline of everyone’s favourite dustbin liner The Sun when England’s World Cup group was announced.
So when things started to go wrong in the first two games of course every half-witted pundit on TV and in the press started to wail about how the national team was an “embarrassment” and how everyone involved in this debacle should lose their jobs. And then after they beat Slovenia those same people started bleating on about how England had “rediscovered their form” and how certain players in the team were “the best in the world”. And the truth is that this wouldn’t be so bad if these windbag’s genuinely held that opinion. But they don‘t. Instead it’s a cynical attempt to present what in reality is a very average football team in the most melodramatic way possible. And that’s why it’s easy to dislike the England national soccer squad. Not because of the players (Gee Note: After all there’s an amazing TV advert for Tesco’s with Frank Lampard doing the rounds at the moment. Basically he see’s a boy kicking a cauliflower around and comments to the kid’s mum that the young lad has some skill. To which the mum replies “Oh yes. We think he might be the next Wayne Rooney”. The idea that Wayne Rooney is more famous than Frank makes him very sad. And Frank Lampard’s sad face makes me laugh like a child for some reason. Seriously, :( + Frank Lampard = WIN). Not because of the people who live there. But because of the insane hyperbolic nature created by the media and fed to the fans like it was gospel.
Still we’ve only got tomorrow left and then England will be out of the World Cup and it’ll be back to all quiet on the Western Front as far as the papers and the telly are concerned. Because, the truth is England will lose to Germany and be forced to pack their bags and leave South Africa having failed once again to live up to the Spirit of ‘66 (Gee Note: Which was the year that the English football team last won the World Cup. I know this because not a second goes by without it getting a mention on the airwaves. Which is insane. It would be like NBA commentators mentioning the 1992 Dream Team that won the Olympics every time, you know, one of the basketballers does what ever the hell it is they do. Slam a dunk? Is that what they do? I don’t know. I don’t watch a lot of basketball if I’m honest. I’m going to go with that though. Yes. They slam a dunk.) Well that’s if you believe Paul.
You see Paul is a psychic.
And an octopus.
Paul is a psychic octopus.
Here’s the storrizzle. Paul was born in England and moved to an aquarium in Oberhausen in 2008. At some point his keepers went a bit mad and decided to ask him for his opinion of upcoming German football fixtures. They did this by placing two boxes in Paul’s living space both containing a mussel, one with the German flag imprinted upon it, the other with the opponents flag. Which ever mussel Paul decided to gobble up first would be his “prediction”. According to German national newspapers, for the European Championship that year Paul had an 80% success rate.
This year Paul’s been on an even hotter streak (Gee Note: Prompting sweaty men wearing ill fitting Hawaiian shirts in Las Vegas to mutter “Man. If only I had me an octopus. I’d be running this place by tomorrow night”). In fact the crazy cephalopod is 100% accurate as far as Germany and the World Cup go. And so when the time came that Paul should choose between the country of his birth and his adopted nation he, being either a traitorous bastard or proud nationalist depending on who you believe, picked Germany.
"Paul's prediction was phenomenal," said spokesman Tanja Munzig (Gee Note: Wait. He has a spokesman? The f***ing octopus has a spokesman??? I can’t even get the teenager at my local McDonald’s to smile at me. And yet I’m funny. And good looking. And I have a fully functional internal skeleton. But noooo, somehow Smarty McSmart-Smart the floating handbag with tassels has a publicist. And I’m stuck here paranoid that fast food workers are spitting on my burgers.), "He swam straight over to the German box, climbed in and even put a lid on top once he was sitting inside."
Now of course all this could be an amazing coincidence. Or it could be because the box with the German flag was the closest one to Paul. But the animal world is a strange old thing. Deep sea fish and fireflies have developed ways to create light where none exists, which if you think about it is pretty insane. Cows lie down just before it’s about to rain. So a psychic octopus? Well it’s possible. Not really likely. But possible.
The thing is I’ve just turned on the television and I swear, the first thing I saw was a piece about how this England team should be known as the “Golden Generation”. All this after beating just one team in the World Cup. Slovenia. A team who’s country has only 10,417 registered players. Compared to England’s, oh gosh, 1,486,000,000. And that one win, a one-nil victory over hopelessly outmatched opponents, was enough to convince the man on the TV that England are unstoppable juggernaughts.
See what I mean? I just hope to God that octopus was right.