Belgium v the United States

I hear that the Americans are ganging up on poor little Belgium on Twitter. #nobodylikesyouBelgium, anyone? #worsethanBelarus? I am assured that it’s all in jest, but this is the nation that gave us Freedom Fries. You never do know with the Yanks…

So I settle down to watch the match feeling that, of the two, Belgium is more deserving of my support. Besides, Belgians make the better beer. (Actually, the Americans don’t make beer at all, just a strange kind of mildly hoppy water.) That said, the US has done a damn sight better than England, which isn’t bad for a nation that only realised what soccer was six weeks ago.

It’s a very active match – much more so than the previous ones I’ve seen. To borrow a phrase from Monty Python, whose reunion show is on this evening, they’re up and down like the Assyrian Empire. Corners here, free kicks there. But no goals by the end of the first half.

Belgium give it a great deal more welly in part two. They’re creating plenty of goal-scoring opportunities, but they just don’t seem to be able to pop the ball over the line. You can see on their faces that they’re getting frustrated. But, by the same token, the American goalie is more than proving his worth.

Extra time… Ooooooo! Things are getting tense. The commentators keep saying that late finishes have been the hallmark of this World Cup.

Finally! Belgium score! Their manager’s out on the pitch: get back onto the bench you dingbat! And how often do you get to see a half-stadium’s worth of joyous, bouncing Belgians? And then they score again! They’re just showing off now.

Then the Americans have scored! What’s all this about? Three goals in extra time – blimey. Talk about leaving things to the last minute.

2-1 to Belgium is how we leave things, but good on the US for putting on such a stonking show. And I’m surprised to find that I’ve actually enjoyed the football this time around. This was definitely my favourite game so far. I make a note to pick up a celebratory bottle of Leffe at the supermarket tomorrow.


France v Germany

I know that England has a somewhat confected rivalry with Germany, but what about the French? If it’s anything like current European politics, this should be a corker of a game. If we don’t have blood, I’ll be wanting my money back. In fact, I will be satisfied with nothing short of a 22-man re-run of the Franco-Prussian War. With period moustaches.

The question of who to support is tricky. Drink is no good: German beer, much yes; but French wine, also much yes. I toss a coin: France it is. Allez les blues!

I tune in just as the first half draws to a close. And my, what a comb over! Someone give that referee a medal – a really big one. Momentarily distracted, I neglect to check the score; it’s 1-0 to Germany, so I fear that I may have started by backing the wrong team.

But I have to say: it’s a very dull game. The most involved things get is the great deal of faffing about that goes on down one side. On and off the ball goes, but after goodness knows how long we’ve moved fewer than twenty yards. I turn up for football, but here I am watching continental hokey-kokey.

The French, like the Belgians before them, are spending a lot of time almost scoring. But the German players, whose names sound like either breweries or sausages, always get their feet in at the right time.

Two minutes to go, and we have a shot of a French supporter. He’s dressed like a chef but looks glum, like someone’s given him a bad review. The French manager, however, looks like he’s ready to kill. The German fans, in contrast, are having a grand old time.

No goals materialise; the score is unchanged. Gary Likeker would have liked more “va va voom” from France, and everyone agrees that they lacked “urgency” as the game wore on. The Franco-Prussian war it was, and Germany waltz off with football’s equivalent of Alsace-Lorraine. Quelle domage.