On having too many Jabulanis in the air
By Toh Hsien Min
It wasn't helped by the fact that there was triple witching this time round. The turn of the quarter is often one of the edgiest times for me, but this last one had a leap-year effect. My whole life rolled up into a cycle of trying to catch enough sleep in a succession of two hour bursts while remaining functional. I felt like a doctor on call in the wards. And now that it's over I feel like there's something missing again, at least until mid-August rolls round.
I've been watching the World Cup since 1982, when I was first old enough to understand what football was - albeit I have only a faint memory of the final. While my allegiances to English football and in particular to Manchester City also stem from this period, there was something different about the World Cup. It was only partially the national prides at stake; Singapore having never come anywhere close enough to taking part in the World Cup Finals takes the sting out of that. For me, then, it was possibly more the liberation to watch football from an disinterested perspective, to support, as it were, the teams that were playing the best football rather than the team that one felt bound to support, which was epitomised in being able to build a mathematical model to pick (correctly, as it happened) the winner of the World Cup.
Every World Cup comes round now as following a similar pattern - every increasing levels of hype, followed by a tournament that ranges from poor to good at best. It is almost a curse to have the 1986 World Cup as the first one I can clearly recall, for every World Cup since has failed to match up to the beauty and drama of that edition - lit up by the skills of a certain Diego Armando Maradona, in comparison to whom today's star players appear woefully inept. Still, this one has been - despite the tedium of the first round of group games - on balance the best edition since 1998, with a hatful of memorable moments, such as:
* Diego Maradona's reaction to the second and third German goals. Both times the Argentina manager was preparing to send on a substitute - the player had stripped off and Maradona was bringing him to the fourth official... only for the goal to happen and for Maradona to turn away in despair. Was Maradona a secret football genius who had spotted some weakness in his team and had been about to bring on the player to resolve it, only for the weakness to be exposed just before his intervention? We shall never know.
* Luis Suarez walking towards the tunnel but just delaying long enough to turn and see Asamoah Gyan's penalty hitting the bar, then pumping his fist in delight, knowing that his sacrifice had been worth it. One may declaim against the morality of stopping a certain goal with the hands in the last minute of playing time, but at the same time there is much to admire in the masterfully instinctive playing of the rules rather than the game. If it made Suarez seem that little bit evil - well, isn't this the spiritual payoff for brushing aside the spirit of the game?
* Japan's two free-kicks against Denmark. In any other match, Yasuhito Endo's free-kick would have been the highlight of the match, curving perfectly into the corner to beat a top-class goalkeeper in Thomas Sorensen. But it was preceded by the beauty of Keisuke Honda's freekick, that swerved this way then that, causing Sorensen to shift to his left then realise "Geez, I'm screwed" to his right and miss the ball by the length of a finger. The third Japanese goal was also a beauty, but almost irrelevant beside the two free-kicks.
* Robert Green's fumble. Man-of-the-match for the USA for creating and scoring a goal out of nothing. It was obvious to everyone prior to the World Cup that Capello should either pick experience or form. He went for the neither-here-nor-there option, and that ultimately cost England top spot and a place in the quarters. Yes there will also be talk about Frank Lampard's goal that wasn't, but England didn't deserve to take anything away from the much better organised German side, and their elimination was probably a factor in the World Cup becoming more watchable from the quarters on. But the script really turned on the 43rd minute of the first game that England played.
* Maicon's did-he-mean-it-or-did-he-not stunner at the near post to break a hitherto stubborn North Korean side. The relatively unknown North Korean side had attracted much attention immediately prior to the tournament for exotic flavour. One journalist even asked if Kim Jong-Il was picking the team (he was stonewalled). And to everyone's surprise they managed to humiliate the world's top-ranked team, Brazil, by getting to half-time with a 0-0 scoreline. Ten minutes into the second half though, Maicon seemed to run out of space on his overlapping run on the right, only to pop it into the net from an impossible angle. It broke North Korea in the most heartbreaking way, and set up their subsequent capitulations, notable for Cristiano Ronaldo looking sheepish that he could have scored his ugly duckling goal against North Korea.
I haven't even mentioned the hypnotic yet strategically compelling geometric passing of eventual champions Spain yet. One commentator said, while watching another series of Spanish passes glide back towards the halfway line, that this wasn't a game to get you out of your seat. No, I thought, but it does keep you on the edge of it.
I'm not sure this edition of QLRS would be its 1986, but it certainly has a case to be a 2010. We have two very good poems from Jason Lee, one of which I had previously felt pained to decline but the improvement in it since has made it among the first names on this teamsheet. While the note of menace carries through to Holly Day's 'Room 13', the remaining poems all then carry what I see as a note of play - from the inversion of the usual active forms in J.H. Martin's 'Behind Temple Walls' to Yeow Kai Chai's geometric passing in text. The four short stories are again the winners of another very large crop, and Lee Yew Leong then illuminates the mise en abyme further for us. There are also four reviews of recent work, all of which are - surprisingly for us - broadly positive. Enjoy the game!QLRS Vol. 9 No. 3 Jul 2010