Friday, September 12, 2008

Football conquers all

Football conquers all.
England's 4-1 thrashing of Croatia in Zagreb stands out from the UEFA World Cup qualifiers, but it is really too early to book tickets to South Africa, or pass judgment on Fabio Capello, who in the title of Gabriele Marcotti's newly-published biography, is "a winner".

The vast improvement on the same fixture two years ago was manifest, but England are still maddeningly inconsistent. Have we suddenly forgotten the ubiquitous jeering at Wembley and funeral pyre-building in Fleet Street following England's previous game?

France had a dreadful result losing to Austria on Saturday but redeemed themselves slightly by beating Serbia 2-1 in Paris on Wednesday. Denmark excelled in winning in Portugal, but Austria and fellow EURO 2008 hosts Switzerland were beaten on Wednesday, by modest Lithuania and Luxembourg respectively.

More interesting is South America, where Paraguay still head the table, four points ahead of Brazil. The other two qualification places are taken up by Argentina and Chile, with Uruguay in the 5th place play-off spot.

Spare a thought for Oceania without Australia anymore. Seeing New Zealand top with five wins out of five just proves how far that FIFA region has to go.

Perhaps the most interesting World Cup game of the past few days was the USA's first trip to Cuba in 61 years. The Havana of 1947 would have seemed like home, with Al Capone and Co. running the show. While Cuba prevents its citizens leaving its shores, the US prevents its citizens from visiting Cuba, but that did not stop five brave American fans travelling via a third country to attend the game (won 1-0 by the US).

The warm welcome extended to the US squad and fans should send a message to the White House. These five proud Americans felt compelled to cover their faces throughout the game in case they were arrested on their return. Imagine the lunacy of America prosecuting Americans for supporting America.

Football may seem crazy, but not half as much as politics.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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