On the day Nicolas Anelka was sent home by France for insulting coach Raymond Domenech and Wayne Rooney apologised to England’s long-suffering fans, the World Cup provided unexpected late night thrills here in Pretoria.
I suspect not many changed their Saturday night party schedule for Denmark versus Cameroon at the Loftus Versfeld rugby stadium but hey, you might have been converted. A chilly night on the Highveld provided only the second come-from-behind victory of the tournament in 26 games as Denmark pulled off a 2-1 win. It could have ended 10-10.
The two no-hopers in Group E, after a literally and figuratively pointless opening round, provided seriously entertaining fare. It nearly rivalled the USA’s 2-2 draw with Slovenia (we won’t mention the injustice of that scoreline, it’s already been discussed at length) and Greece’s 2-1 win over Nigeria.
Cameroon struck early through the great Samuel Eto’o, formerly of Barcelona, now of Internazionale in Milan. The man who threatened to withdraw from the tournament when he was criticised by the legendary Roger Milla, really looked like Africa’s top player again, rousing the crowd and the continent with a great first-half display.
After just 10 minutes, the former African player of the year benefited from another mistake from Danish defender Simon Kjaer. After his own-goal in the 2-0 defeat against Holland, he played a terrible cross-field pass, picked up by Achille Webo.
He squared for Eto’o, who made no mistake to slot past Thomas Sorensen. And that was just the start. End-to-end stuff ensued, with Eto’o hitting a post and Dennis Rommedahl cutting repeated swathes through the Cameroon defence.
Somewhere in the middle of all the excitement, Arsenal’s lanky goal-misser Nicklas Bendtner slid in on a Rommedahl cross to level after 33 minutes.
A breathtaking first half was followed by a dramatic second. After 61 minutes, Rommedahl was at it again. Charlton fans may remember his searing pace – he played 75 games for them between 2004 and 2007. Undimmed by 31 years of being knocked over by stolid left backs, he tore past Jean Makoun and bent the winner past Hamidou Souleymanou.
Cameroon, desperate to prove a force in Africa’s first World Cup, hammered away at Sorensen’s goal for the last half-hour. But Africa’s highest-ranked nation in South Africa – they’re 19th - couldn’t produce the leveller. Like Nigeria, they have no points after two games – it’s been a tough tournament for the continent.
Day eight of an increasingly absorbing World Cup opened with Holland joining Argentina as the only sides definitely through to the knock-out stages. Their 1-0 win over Japan was no classic but the magnificent Moses Mabhida Stadium was packed to the rafters with Orange shirts celebrating a second-successive win for their side.
The Dutch fans had closed the motorways between Pretoria and Durban – a five-hour, 400 mile drive through the snow-covered Drakensburg mountains – as they travelled in convoy to follow their side on Thursday.
Bayern Munich’s Wesley Sneijder scored the only goal after 53 minutes. His firmly struck shot with the light Jabulani ball which appeared to deceive Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima, who could only deflect the shot off his palms and into the net.
Japan coach Takeshi Okada, who looked close to tears at times during the game, said: “Our players tried everything they could. I'm really sorry for our supporters.”
Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk wasn’t fooled. This was hardly a classic case of Dutch total football. He said: “You've got to be happy about winning your first two games. But we can play better than that, and we'll have to.”
Then Ghana and Australia fought out a no-prisoners 1-1 draw in front of 33,000 at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium – a result which leaves the Soccceroos hanging on by their fingernails.
Ghana saw off Serbia in their opening game while Australia were beaten heavily, 4-0, by Germany. But day seven saw Serbia shock the Germans 1-0 – Group D really may stand for Death.
The Aussies went ahead through the lively Brett Holman after just 11 minutes but disaster struck 14 minutes later. Harry Kewell blocked a goal-bound shot on the line with his right arm and was sent-off despite pleading “look at the big screen, I didn’t mean it” as Italian referee Roberto Rosetti produced his red card.
Asamoah Gyan stuck away his second penalty of the tournament and it looked like Ghana would take control – but by the death it was 10-man Australia who were doing all the pushing.
Aussie boss Pim Verbeek said: “I’m proud of the players – playing with a man less for that long is not easy. We’re still in the race but it’s going to be difficult now. We need to win against Serbia and score at least three or four goals. Ok, that’s the job.”
Look, I know I rattle on about these things but, unbelievably, they want me to speak at South Africa’s National Arts Festival on July 4. Yes, it’s ridiculous. Me? Arts? Anyway, here’s the details if you can make it: http://www.computicket.com/web/event/neal_collins_a_game_apart/148367625
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