M.R. Praveen Chandran
Advances in communication technologies have shrunk the world. The FIFA World Cup has shrunk it even further. The world now seems to be as large as the dotted leather ball. In crowded shopping malls, on trains, at pubs, at offices the only discussion seems to be about the Beautiful Game.
The first week of World Cup had its share of twists and turns. The Adidas Teamgeist football has continued to baffle the goalkeepers and many of them are already blaming the ball as unfriendly. But few can blame the goalkeepers or the ball for some great goals. The most memorable of them a 25-yard scorcher from Czech Republic's Tomas Rosicky that left the American goalkeeper Kasey Keller dazed. Tomas Rosicky scored another goal against the United States to become one of the early stars of the World Cup.
Among those who grabbed the headlines in the first week was the unheralded goalkeeper from the tiny nation of Trindad & Tobago Shaka Hislop. The 37-year-old, who played much of his club football in England, was simply brilliant against Sweden. He was solely responsible for his country earning a honourable draw against the European powerhouse that boasted stalwarts like Henrik Larsson and Zalton Ibrahimovic.
Germany's Philip Lahm, Miroslav Klose and Bravo were some of the other stars who dazzled in the first week.
But a few reputations also took a beating. England's Michael Owen, Frank Lampard and David Beckham and France's Thierry Henry could not reproduce their club form for their country. Some of the big stars of African football too found the expectations a big burden and were a shadow of their former selves in the World Cup. Ghana's Michael Essien and Togo's Emmanuel Adebayor let their teams down when it mattered.
While rank outsiders Trinidad & Tobago and Ecuador have dented the pride of football aristocrats such as Sweden and Poland, the football debutants from African continent have invariably flopped.
The black antelopes, as Angolans prefer to call their football team, still have not overcome the fear of their former rulers Portugal. The antelopes were left scurrying for cover as Portugal's dazzling stars took control. But the Portuguese showed some mercy to their former colony by scoring only one goal and the victory margin actually masks the ineptness of the Angolans.
Slow-starters Italy came out trumps against Ghana. But the African nation had its share of chances and enjoyed spells of dominance over its rival. But in the end, it was the big match temperament and experience of Italian players that saved the day for them.
After defeats of both Iran and Japan, the Asian flag was held high by the Koreans who defeated World Cup debutants Togo 2-1.
The world stops when Brazil plays. The football's most poetic nation was given a few uncomfortable moments by the Croats, who lost 0-1. But there were enough glimpses of the extraordinary talents of the Brazilians in that lone goal scored by Kaka. A simple build-up with no hint of danger and suddenly a riveting shot that sent the whole stadium wild with joy. But the frailties of the Brazilians could not be hidden for long as the Croats tested the leaky defence forcing the Brazilian goalkeeper to work overtime.
England was lacklustre in its 1-0 win over Paraguay. The beautiful game ebbed and flowed when Argentina played Ivory Coast. The high voltage action saw the former champions claim an important victory in the group of death.
So far, the referees have avoided controversies though a few have been over-enthusiastic in flashing the yellow cards. The fever is on and the following week promises some unbridled action when injured stars like Messi, Raul and Rooney get fit to play.