Ahoy-hoy, it's the First XI World Cup bulletin!
Here's what's happening in downtown South Africa today:
Monday 14 June 2010
12:30 Netherlands v Denmark, Johannesburg (Soccer City), ITV
15:00 Japan v Cameroon, Bloemfontein, BBC
19:30 Italy v Paraguay, Cape Town, BBC
After a weekend of thrills (Germany, Ghana) and spills (Robert Green, Faouzi Chaouchi) we're back to the sad reality of work today and the first attractive-looking game that most of us will miss due to the irritating need to earn a crust. The Netherlands are unbeaten since September 2008, but enjoy nothing more than imploding once things get serious. Denmark qualified impressively, beating Portugal to top spot in their group. Something's got to give. (Unless it's a draw.)
Cameroon and Japan have met three times in the past. Japan have won twice. Cameroon have never scored. Today could be light on men of indeterminate age dancing round the corner flag action. Speaking of Roger Milla, here's what Samuel Eto'o had to say last week about the man who helped to stun Argentina in the opening game of Italia '90: “It’s always just before the (major) tournaments that the old geezers wake up. What's Milla done? He hasn’t won the World Cup, they played in the quarter-finals.” Charming.
Italy begin their quest to become the first nation to ever retain the World Cup against a decent Paraguay side in Cape Town. The stats are with the Azzuri, who have lost only one of their 12 opening games at World Cup finals. Paraguay have won just one of their last 11 World Cup matches against European sides, and triumphed only once in seven opening games at World Cup tournaments. Good luck, Paraguay.
On this day in 1978 there was an average of 2.75 goals in the five games played, including a 5-1 win for Netherlands against Austria. A similar amount of goals today would be more than welcome. Come on, goals - happen.
MATCH OF THE DAY 19:30, BBC
ITALY V PARAGUAY
Group F. Green Point Stadium, Cape Town. Capacity: 70,000
Can it really be four years since Zinedine Zidane attempted to ram his shiny bonce through Marco Materazzi’s sternum? It can and it is. And the Azzuri begin their path to World Cup retention with a tricky opener against a South American side who finished above the more heralded Uruguay, Argentina and Colombia in qualifying. How? By scalping both Argentina and Brazil and conceding less than a goal a game. The latter fact is especially worrying given Italy also have a snooze-inducing habit of conceding zero. Expect this to be tight, then. Which really means dull. Still, it’s on at night and it’s on TV, which gives you an excuse to drink away your cripplingly dull existence.
PLAYER TO WATCH
SHUNSUKE NAKAMURA (above)
Japan’s ex-Celtic attacking midfielder is the tournament’s premier free-kick specialist. Don’t believe us? Ask Gordon Strachan – he calls Nakamura “a genius”. Or ex-Spurs star Steve Perryman – he reckons Shunsuke’s left peg “could open a tin of beans”. Or log onto YouTube and type “Nakamura free kick Manchester United”. A search that will yield several videos, all of which show him cracking an unstoppable left-footer into Van Der Sar’s net. This wasn’t a one-off either. The 31-year-old Yokohama Marinos midfielder has scored 23 mostly spectacular goals for his country too. Expect this to become 24 if there’s a free-kick near the box.
HALF-TIME PUB QUIZ
1 Name the only World Cup that all four home nations qualified for.
2 Which country holds the record for consecutive first-round eliminations?
3 Which six England players scored more than three goals in qualifying?
4 Which four teams came through the European World Cup qualifying play-offs?
5 Who is the only coach to win the World Cup twice?
YESTERDAY'S ANSWERS: 1 Walter Zenga. 2 David Beckham (Colombia 1998, Argentina 2002, Ecuador 2006). 3 1958 (note: they’ve only qualified once). 4 Nine. 5 Brazil vs Italy, 1994.
MATCH OF THE DAY 2
MISS ITALY vs MISS PARAGUAY
Who's hotter? Cast your votes in the comments box below.
It is Monica Belucci. Let us all agree that she is an attractive woman.
Hi, Cindy Taylor. Your hero is Eva Peron. "Yes, I know". Oh.
An audio filter that cancels out the sound of vuvuzelas. Lovely stuff, provided you can wade through a page of German.
Check back at 11 for tomorrow for the next First 11 World Cup Bulletin.