|A RECOIL WORLD CUP BONANZA - 1st Half||July 1998|
|"That was no big Bertha finish, that was a subtle sandwich."|
4 giant humanoids wind their way menacingly through the streets of central Paris, pausing only occasionally to allow a tiny figure to emerge from one of the monsters feet, gesture frantically to the monsters head, then return to his pedic world. As bewildered Parisians look on, someone comments that the sentinel representing Asia looks as though he has a severe case of constipation and the American goliath seems to be free-wheeling out of control. Nearing the Champs Elysees, these colossal beasts are suddenly set upon by hoards of surreal insects and delinquent sea creatures, swerving in and out of the legs and most certainly causing great alarm to the mere mortals responsible for manoeuvring them towards their final destination. Representing the 4 continents of the earth, these gargantuan symbols of world unity at last come to rest at the Place De La Concord where everyone hangs around for a while, looking bemused and slightly at a loss before heading off to the nearest bar to bandy about their theories and contemplate the coming month. And so begins the first in a bizarre series of events that make up World Cup '98.
As 80,000 football fans, about 96% of them French, gather in the newly constructed Stade De France in Paris, tension mounts for the first match of the tournament - SCOTLAND vs. the mighty BRAZIL. But why so tense?
Are Scotland fans fearful of the lightening pace of Ronaldo or the super skills of Rivaldo? Have the Brazilians been tipped off as to just what the sweaties wear under their kilts?
|Of course not, it's the opening ceremony - just what else have the French organisers in store for us! In the blink of an eye, ladybirds, butterflies, huge flowers and more marauding creepy crawlies are swarming onto the playing surface. "Some greenfly are on the pitch! They think it's all over - it is now!"|
|The opposing teams look on in horror as leviathan bugs on stilts stalk across the immaculate turf and roly-poly bumble-bees swing from the goal posts.|
|Described by one journalist as "...a surreal collision of The Wizard Of Oz and the Teletubbies", trampolinists bounce in and out of the petals and huge blooms burst forth to spew multi-coloured balloons into the Paris sky. Amongst the commotion, the calm voice of Barry Davis reassures us all:|
"...and if you're worried about 5000 balloons getting in the way of low flying aircraft, don't - the French pilots are all on strike.. "
Away from this'Garden Of Earthly Delights', thousands of ticketless fans cram into bars and parks to watch the match on giant screens, whilst others gather round the stadium, plastered in face-paint or simply just plastered.
This "traditionally low-scoring" opening game sees Brazil, still in third gear, score after 5 minutes followed by a Scotland penalty 10 minutes before half time. Collins converts, the jocks go wild and Barry Davies enthuses "This game's got high's and lows in it's doubts!" "What?!" say the rest of us. An own goal after 70 minutes ensures Brazil clinch the 3 points and Scotland limp back to their training camp to prepare for the next onslaught. The morning papers, as one would expect, centre on 'Braveheart' and the unfortunate scorer of the own goal - lucky he wasn't Colombian.
|World Cup '98 - a commentator's
dream? Well, in their first match of the tournament, against Morocco,
'Rekdal' gives some cause for concern and like Euro '96's pronunciation
nightmare 'Kuntz', any prior discussions about the appropriate delivery
of the players' names obviously goes out of the window as the game begins
to heat up and Ron Atkinson and
become more animated.
|"...That's good intelligence,
"...They've played with slowness, with a little bit of dive on it..."
"...'e's enjoyed it, little fortune...or
else great enfortune..."
|On the morning of Monday 15th June, the entire country was plunged into a state of panic in anticipation of ENGLAND's opening match against TUNISIA. Since Sunday night, the unofficial England Welcoming Committee had swung into action and by daybreak, the call to ban the English from the tournament altogether had been spearheaded by the French authorities. In spite of the fact that most of the trouble appeared to have been started by local North Africans, the French operated a new 'bang 'em up, charge 'em in the morning' policy and the television news sported images of beer-bellied Chelsea fans staggering towards the cells.|
|Down in deepest Sussex, having arranged to borrow a big screen and projector for the tournament, we could be found stomping around the house muttering expletives, as the hour of the match loomed ever nearer. The company supplying the equipment was still arguing about the delivery and advised us that the screen was on it's way from Southampton, the projector from London and the lens from Scotland.|
The game started and we resigned ourselves to the fact that all the drivers had obviously stopped off in the 'Dog 'n' Duck' to watch the match. News reports of road-rage running rampant as people drove like lunatics towards the nearest television set only confirmed our suspicions.
The match itself was fairly predictable - England sporting the stronger team but the Tunisians skilful on the ball. Barry Davis offered us the bizarre "Sol Campbell was in a field of corn ...." and England eventually tasted victory thanks to Paul Scholes' stunning goal just on full- time. In absolute accordance with the law of sod, as the referee pursed his lips to blow the final whistle, the door bell rang:
"Got a delivery for you, a giant screen and projector? Watch the match did you? Cor blimey, you should have watched it on this mate, wwwaaaaahhhhh....."
In an attempt to stem the violence (no, not against the delivery man), the Marseilles authorities ordered that all bars and off-licences close after the match but found that this only exacerbated matters further and the fighting continued throughout the night. World Cup '98, the mighty Britannia had arrived.....
GERMANY vs. USA threw up some interesting connotations and the possibility of the first upset of the tournament. "We're gonna confuse the Germans." exulted the US coach and they did. "Vot are zey doing here?" mused Jurgen Klinsman, as his veteran teammates parked their zimmer-frames on the sidelines and totally out-classed the Americans from start to finish.
Admittedly it wasn't difficult to read the US strategy, whose only tactic for both forward and defender alike seemed to be "to come forward out of the backfield" in order to "be ahead on challenges midfield". Back in the land of the free and home of the brave, only 2% of the population even knew the tournament was on and nobody seemed to care about a game where "Belgium have a lot of poise in their repertoire on the negative side" and Nigeria are "...the new kids on the footballing block."
Back in the England camp, with a week to prepare
before battle recommenced, the team trained behind closed doors and
the fans continued to drink and scrap. Ron Atkinson upped the level
was always going to be the toughest
game of group G and from start to finish the chance to finish in top
position was up for grabs. Romania scored first but with the words "cometh
the hour, cometh the boy" barely
out of the commentators mouth, Michael
Owen proved why the future of English
football weighs squarely on his shoulders by scoring his first World
Cup goal at the age of 18. Having achieved the desired equaliser, the
team sat back, played for the draw and waited for the full time whistle
as the nation gave a collective sigh of relief, sang the praises of
the team's performance and went to put the kettle on.
Step forward Kevin Keegan, the only footballer who can actually influence a match without even being on the pitch.
only one team who can win this game now....England!"
chirped our Kev as Chelsea defender and Tim Simenon look-a-like Dan Petrescu scored the winning goal for Romania. Seems they would be "Romanin 'ere" after all.
SCOTLAND's final group game vs. MOROCCO saw 'Braveheart' fighting for survival, with an historic place in the next round as the prize. In spite of admirable attempts from the commentary team to delude themselves that a Scottish victory was imminent - "Leighton looks a sharp as a tank" (Barry Davis), "...the Scottish confidence barometer will be measured at the top end..." (David Pleat) and "...that's Colin 'Colossus' Hendry at his best!" (Barry Davis) - they crashed to a 3-0 defeat and the game was succinctly summed up by Ron Atkinson's parting words: "The ref's absolutely stone blind spot on."
The fans however showed characteristic defiance and dignity in their deafening rendition of 'Bonny Rose Of Scotland' during the dying moments of the game until someone spotted Ally McCoist in a kilt and the chant promptly switched to the more predictable "Ally, Ally, show us yer arse!". But perhaps the highlight of this particular match was the priceless look on the Moroccan players' faces at the end of the game when they realised that Brazil couldn't be arsed to beat Norway......
Security was tight for the GERMANY
encounter after German neo-nazis, determined not to be out-shone by
their British counterparts, rioted in Lens and left a French policeman
in a coma. Armed with mobile phones and an impressive array of weapons,
they were only looking out for the "reputation
of the Fatherland",
explained one thug.
The game filled with the most tension (for both players and nations alike) also involved IRAN who were determined to do the business against an old foe who had whipped its arse one too many times on the political stage. USA was all smiles during the handshakes and national anthems (a deliberate tactic perhaps, to blind the opposing team with a huge flash of light?) but once the game started it was obvious that they were determined to.....lose. A brief delay in returning to the pitch for the second half had us contemplating the possibility that they had either been seized at gunpoint in their dressing room by masked terrorists, or the coach hadn't finished explaining that really complicated rule about not being caught in front of the last defender...."it's a game of keepaway on the possession maintenance..." gee, what is that, the 'side-off' rule or something?
A RECOIL WORLD CUP BONANZA