El World Cup Diario, Day 11: Permutations, push bikes and finger pointing aplenty
There's no easy way of breaking this to you, reader, but as of right now, we've had half of this World Cup's games. Thirty-two games gone, only another 32 now left. Bah and indeed buggeration to that, but console yourself with the thought that with the dead wood soon to be sailing home, the best should still be ahead of us.
So, with all eight groups having two games left in which to jostle for places, now is probably a good time to contemplate who's playing for what exactly. We'll take it in order, but you will need to concentrate...
The deeply unimpressive hosts Brazil will squeeze through if they avoid defeat against pointless, bottom and all ready for home Cameroon. It's the other game where the intrigue lies: Mexico and their heroic goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa will qualify if they avoid defeat against Croatia. There is a scenario in which Croatia beat Mexico and Cameroon beat Brazil by three or four goals to see both Croatia and Mexico squeezing through at the hosts' expense, but there's no way Sepp will let that happen.
Whoever wins the group faces the runner-up of Group B. Whoever finishes second faces the winner of that group. Brazil-Chile, Holland-Croatia probably, possibly.
Holland and Chile are playing each other for top spot. Holland currently have it, with a GD one better, so the onus is on Chile to attack, but then they only have one gear anyway. The big news from the group decider was that with Robin van Persie banned, for the first time in 221 games (way back to 1996) Holland will line up without a player with a 'Van' in their surname. This may not actually be true – and El Diario didn't do a count-back – but it should be.
But more interesting even than that stat were the claims yesterday that Vicente del Bosque had asked Chelsea noob Cesc Fabregas to leave Spain's training session in the build-up to their final game against Australia. Fabregas was miffed with something or other, probably the fact he's so far played just 12 minutes, so removed his bib and buggered off on a push bike. Del Bosque was later quoted as saying: "I think about all of the players – they only think about themselves." This one's definitely got legs.
This one's wide open, in that all four teams can still go through but can also still go out. Colombia are top and will go through as group winners providing they avoid an almighty and unlikely trousering at the hands of Japan. Ivory Coast, currently in second, could and absolutely should go through with a point against bottom-but-still-breathing Greece. Defeat or a draw coupled with a two-goal win for Japan would see the Africans miss out.
As you may have heard, Costa Rica top the group and will go through with maximum points if, or more likely when they beat England on Tuesday. If/when/if England lose, it will be the first time since 1958 that they've returned home from a World Cup without a win, so it's not entirely meaningless, but it is.
The other game is the one that matters, the one where Italy and Uruguay engage in The Dark Arts to decide who joins Costa Rica in the last 16. A draw would be enough for Italy, and likely set up a last 16 game against Colombia, leaving Costa Rica to face Ivory Coast, probably.
But wait: you think you're getting through an entry on England's group without an update on the latest noises coming from the Home Of Football on Day 11? We'll try to keep this as brief and painless as possible.
Wayne Rooney claims England aren't dirty enough to win the World Cup. Bloody ugly, yes, but not as well versed in Those Dark Arts as some other teams he might mention. “I think you look at teams who have won the tournament over previous years and you can see that nastiness in them,” he explained. “I think we need to get that in us. Maybe we’re too honest."
The solution's not quite that simple though, claimed rent-a-quote Harry Redknapp, sat in the driver's seat with his window wound down. The one-time saviour of England suggested some England players don't even want to play for England. "When I was at Tottenham, when full internationals came around, there were two or three players who did not want to play for England," he saucily claimed.
"They would come to me 10 days before the game and say, 'Gaffer, get me out of that game, I don’t want to play in that game'. It makes you wonder and I think it's only going to get worse. You see the stick the England players get and they come home, they’re earning fantastic money at their clubs, they’re all playing in the Champions League. They think, 'Do we need the aggro?'"
And despite not being asked, former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson offered his assessment of England's exit and the manager, Mr Roy Hodgson. "I know for sure, if that had been me, I would have been sacked at once," sniped Sven. Asked if Mr Hodgson should be sacked, he added: "If they don't want me back, keep Hodgson. He's good. I would come back at once, of course. But that will not happen."
France will almost certainly finish top here by virtue of being really quite decent, and they'll be joined in the last 16 by either Ecuador (their opponents on Wednesday) or Switzerland. The Swiss will be more confident as they face Group E whipping boys Honduras, while even a coasting France, in the form they have been in, should take something from Ecuador.
If the Swiss better Ecuador's result, they're through as runners-up and likely to face Argentina. France should face Nigeria, which sounds very decent indeed.
Argentina are through, but Nigeria can still take top stop if they beat them in the final game (on Wednesday). Based purely on how badly Argentina have played in beating Iran and the now eliminated Bosnia-Herzegovina, this wouldn't surprise many people.
But this group is where things get comical, because if Iran beat Bosnia 1-0 and Lionel Messi beats Nigeria 1-0, both teams will finish with an identical record, level on goal difference, goals scored and head-to-head (a 0-0 draw). And if that happens, the team scraping through will be decided by a coin toss or drawing a name from a large, ceremonial hat. Please make this happen, Mr Blatter. Please.
Portugal's late, late, very very late equaliser against USA has kept Group G wide open. All four teams can still qualify, but if Germany and USA play out a draw in their final game, what Portugal and Ghana do on the same night is of no significance. Of course, there's absolutely no way the Germans would just play out a draw, safe in the knowledge that if they do, they can knock out poor Algeri... ah. Ah, yes. Nobody mention 'El Anschluss'.
Miroslav Klose's World Cup-record-equalling goal against Ghana on Saturday earned him a photograph with Barbadian chanteuse Rihanna, for some unexplained reason. But it also conveniently turned the world's attention away from the fact that Germany looked surprisingly beatable in that 2-2 draw with Ghana.
The Germans are as good as through even if they lose to USA, but they'll beat them to prove a point to the world, topping the group in the process and opening the door to Ghana, who'll beat a largely hopeless Portugal who are as good as gone already.
Belgium have qualified as group winners without ever finding second gear; yesterday's 1-0 win over Fabio Capello's listless Engl... Russia heaping pressure on the mercenary old Italian. A single point so far for a reported annual salary of £8.4 million works out roughly... erm, at about, er... £8.4m per point? Roughly. And that sound is Mr Putin sharpening his pointy knives.
Algeria face Russia in the final game, knowing a point will take them through in second as long as South Korea don't beat Belgium. And given that this is not 2002 and Korea are not the hosts, you can't see that happening. Belgium should face the runners up in Group H, by our reckoning Ghana, while Algeria should face Group G winners Germany: 1982 and all that!
This truly is the World Cup that just keeps on giving.