Friday, June 09, 2006

On a day like today, those claims that the Champions League is now a bigger event than the World Cup (admittedly usually advanced by managers of very big clubs, who have obvious reasons for saying that) look fairly silly, don’t they? When has anything in the Champions League been given this level of coverage, or seen this level of interest in its minutiae? There’s just no question about it, it’s the biggest thing in football. It’s also my favourite thing about football, and in a flurry of excitement I’m going to list some of the things I’m looking forward to.

Obscure matches. Tonight, ITV – noted caterers to the lowest common denominator – will screen Poland vs Ecuador in prime time. That’s the power of the World Cup – a match you wouldn’t usually cross the street to discover the result of suddenly becomes intensely interesting. Ideally I like to watch as many World Cup matches as possible, and I missed a lot of them last time due to the time difference. During this tournament I fully intend to enjoy Mexico vs Iran, Ukraine vs Tunisia and Ghana vs USA. I’ve realised that I’m scheduled to work on the afternoon of Japan vs Australia and am seriously thinking of taking the time off.

Complaining about whoever has sponsored ITV’s coverage. Every advertiser has been leaping on the World Cup bandwagon, regardless of whether the product has the remotest connection to football. Some of these ads have been great: the best of the bunch is Carlsberg’s all-star pub team. Some are poor: whoever did that Kellogg’s ad with the father and son eating cereal in front of a live match, it seems that nobody told them that this World Cup isn’t taking place in the Far East and will therefore be on at congruent times. But you can guarantee that the official sponsor of ITV’s coverage will come up with something that is at best poor, at worst actively irritating. I’ve actually come to look forward to this: watching ITV’s sports coverage is a necessary evil, so you might as well get some fun by mocking them. Their habit of pretending that the matches they’re not showing cannot be seen live anywhere is always good for laughs too.

Park Chu-young. And all the other players I’ve bought in Pro Evolution Soccer and never actually seen play in real life, such as Ryan Babel, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Johnny Heitinga, Xavi, Lee Woon-jae, Yuji Nakazawa, Masashi Oguro, Kim Nam-il and Naohiro Takahara (picking up Japanese and Korean players for cheap is a good way to get out of the second division in PES). I’ve singled out Park Chu-young (not to be confused with midfielder Park Ji-sung) because he’s my tip for Obscure Player Likely To Get Signed. He’s 20, currently playing for FC Seoul, and with an IQ of 150 he brings genuine meaning to the cliché ‘intelligent player’ – so I’m going around saying he’s one to watch in the hope of appearing to know something about football when in fact I just play a lot of PlayStation.

Surprises. I think another big team will go out in the first round this time – my money’s on Italy (not literally, I don’t have enough confidence in my predictions to put an actual bet on). With all the scandals kicking off back home, and a group that features two teams with a higher FIFA ranking (admittedly one of those is the USA, who have a perennially high ranking considering the actual quality of the team), it’s well set up for them to screw up. And overall it’s a very open tournament, with no obvious winner – everybody keeps saying Brazil are obviously the favourites, but I think this is just because nobody knows and Brazil are an uncontroversial choice (they win it a lot and everybody likes them). They made heavy weather of qualification and Arsenal showed that it’s possible to contain Ronaldinho. No team has ever reached four successive World Cup finals, and I’m going to stick my neck out and say it’s not going to happen this year. Plus, I’ve just drawn Croatia in the office sweepstake and stand to win upwards of ten pounds if they finish top scorers, so fingers crossed for a leaky Brazilian defence.

Alex Ferguson getting annoyed with Sven. Because apparently he has been, over the Rooney issue, but I’ve seen no evidence of it thus far. I can believe it’s happening, but the press is claiming that the managers are at loggerheads without supplying a single quote from anybody at Manchester United, and this rather takes all the fun out of it. I want to see Fergie stamping his little foot over the issue. And hopefully breaking a metatarsal.

That’s all for now, but don’t forget that the official MCFF fantasy football game is still open to entries until 1630hrs this afternoon at

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