For those of you worldwide who are just dying to know, Cyprus-Ireland was fugly. You know how people were not so long ago predicting that the next great tactical trend would be to play no forwards? Ireland are trying to qualify for the World Cup without any central midfielders. They say Keith Andrews and Glen Whelan were on the pitch. I remain unconvinced.
But Ireland won. Being an Ireland fan is a tad headwrecking at the moment, with a great disconnect between what we see when we watch the games on the one hand and the results on the other. Look at that table: second place, unbeaten with two (home) games to go. Imagine if Robbie Keane had scored with that chance at the end of the game in Bari! (Now now, don't torture yourself, F...)
Ireland have a friendly on
But who am I kidding?
A draw would keep Italy within reach and Bulgaria at a safeish (that's a big -ish) distance. A Bulgaria win will blow the group wide open, leaving anything possible. But Ireland, I fear, are not good enough to cash in on a chance to win the group. An Italy win would practically guarantee the latter first place and would mean that a win for Ireland in either of their last two games (vs. Italy — gulp — and Montenegro) would clinch second. (As to whether that would be good enough for a play-off place: I have no idea. It's Sunday. Sunday is no day to trying to figure stuff like that out.)
In sum: I know nothing.
* Ireland-South Africa is actually tomorrow, Tuesday. Some indication of how much I care about it, I think...
— When writing my post on the confused opinions on diving, I forwent the opportunity to bring up the issue of xenophobia: that it was easier for some in English football to be outraged by Eduardo's dive against Celtic because he wasn't one of their own. One reason for this omission is that the post was long enough as it was — I had to pick which parts of the topic I wanted to deal with. Another, though, is because I wasn't entirely confident on the matter. I had some nagging feeling that there was an it's-all-them-cheating-foreigners thing going on, at least in the media; but I was also willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, figuring that progress has been made since the days when, say, the Mirror could run with a front page headline reading "For you, Fritz, ze Euro 96 is over!" (Though Piers Morgan is still alive, so, y'know, anything's possible.) I just didn't feel equipped to wade in on the matter.
John Terry's comments on how English players just don't do that sort of thing ("I think sometimes as a country we're too honest": "as a country"! He actually said this!) came to light just as I was preparing the post for publication. I could have made reference to it, but it was very late at night and I was somewhat wired and I would have ended up using the word "cunt" a lot and there are only so many dozens of times you can do that before it gets gratuitous. So I let it be.
The press response to Wayne Rooney's dive in England's game against Slovenia has been mighty interesting. "There was no question of Rooney having dived, but he made a half-hearted penalty appeal and the Slovenia players were furious when Eriksson pointed to the spot," writes Dan King of the Mail on Sunday. "A dive? Gamesmanship? Rooney didn’t offer much of an appeal so you had to give him the benefit of the doubt," says Duncan White in the Sunday Telegraph. "It was not a dive, merely an inability to stay upright in a tangle with Slovenia's Bostjan Cesar," offers Paul Hayward in the Observer.
Even more starkly: "Not that Rooney should be condemned as a "cheat." This wasn't an 'Eduardo'. This was Rooney getting stuck in as Rooney does - and risking the wrath of the referee," reasons Rob Beasley in the News of the World. And watch four of Fleet Street's finest tie themselves up in knots about Rooney, and diving in general ("the last thing on Rooney’s mind, ever, is to go into the penalty area just for the purpose of trying to win a penalty"). (Video via 101 Great Goals.)
There is no difference between what Eduardo did against Celtic and what Rooney did against Arsenal. There is no difference between either of those two cases and what Rooney did yesterday. Yet, though Rooney's couple have certainly received more than their fair share of coverage, their has been little of the rush to label Rooney a cheat. This is especially interesting in the light of his own comments in the week.
So is there some strain of xenophobia underlying all this? If so, it's of a subtler brand than has been historically employed by elements of Her Maj's Press. But then, it usually is subtler these days (usually, I say, usually). Maybe it's just homerism. Perhaps these journalists are just trying to stay onside with Rooney, in the hope that they may still be allowed to talk to him in future, or in dread that their job will be made difficult for them in South Africa. (Perhaps they don't want to antagonise Sralex either.) Or maybe they are so stupid that they can't tell when someone is trying to cheat.
In sum: The debate on diving is way strange. A portion of England's football press are either xenophobes, liars, cocksuckers or morons. QED.
— Nicklas Bendtner scored a very nice goal yesterday...
— ...against Portugal, who, despite their late equaliser, are in grave danger of not making the finals. Argentina are in for a rough ride in their efforts to qualify after losing to Brazil. So Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi may be absent next summer. North Korea will not, and Bosnia, Latvia, Gabon and Venezuela may all be present too.
— Finally, some links from the last few weeks, loosely connected by the theme of fandom:
The Run of Play
Simon Kuper at FT.com
Marina Hyde at guardian.co.uk