It’s a funny old world (cup)

Three days later, I am only now recovering from Monday’s 1-1 draw with the USA, a game that tested my physical, mental and emotional resilience way past breaking point into places of anguish and anxiety that beggar description – and that was just during Dylan Ebenezer and Malcolm Allen’s pre-match build-up! Suffice to say here: the drugs do work.

If Cymru have played a worse 45 minutes of football than the first half at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan then I am unable to recall it. It seemed as though the USA had twice as many men on the field as they dominated all aspects of play. Our defenders were awe-struck, the midfield went AWOL and the attack was non-existent. The Americans are a well-drilled, well-organised, technically sound and competent team, but by no means the irresistible force Cymru’s quivering and quaking made them appear. I fully understand what was happening – after all, I was so racked with raw fear as kick-off approached that I actually shrieked at my poor companions “If only we hadn’t qualified – it’s easier!” Yes, this was simply a case of overwhelming stage-fright in front of an audience of 4 billion after 64 years waiting in the wings. And the fact we qualified for the last two Euros is neither here nor there because nothing comes remotely close to the sheer enormity, majesty, sense of occasion, global clout and historical heft of the World Cup.

Talk about a ‘game of two halves’! Rob Page completely altered Cymru’s shape at half-time by bringing on striker Kieffer Moore to knit together the uncoordinated parts, provide an attacking focus and give the US defence something to do – and it worked so well Moore will be a certain starter against Iran. Although star men Ramsey and Bale were still peripheral to the action, Cymru dominated and it was the two of them who combined to concoct the equaliser; Ramsey with a quick pass and Bale with the tight control that forced US defender Zimmerman to concede a penalty. Bale, who else, duly lashed the ball into the top corner eight minutes from the end – his 41st goal for Cymru as he drew level with Chris Gunter’s record appearance total of 109. What a result! We haven’t been whitewashed and we’re still in with a chance, admittedly slim, of getting into the knock-out phase! I don’t believe it!

We all got very, very drunk on hard liquor deep into the night and I spent the entire following day comatose in bed. Oh my poor skull…

A quick round-up of some other World Cup points:
Cardiff Council, normally only too eager to close roads, disrupt life and bring the city to a standstill at the behest of any old crappy, instantly forgettable commercial event, has disgracefully failed to provide a World Cup fan zone here in the capital of Wales – so very typical of this despicable, virulently British nationalist and anti-Welsh administration.
Wandering around Cardiff, flags and banners are so few and far between you wouldn’t even know that Cymru were playing in the tournament. The apathy and lack of engagement is shocking, but hardly surprising in this thoroughly British (translation: English) provincial hell-hole. My mind goes back long ago to when I was living in west London in the 1970s and Fulham FC reached the English Cup Final for the first (and, so far, only) time in the club’s history in 1975. All of Fulham was bedecked in the Cottagers’ white and black colours, hanging from more or less every house, zig-zagging from roof to roof across the terraced streets and covering windows and walls everywhere you looked. Fulham’s average crowd at the time was just over 10,000, but the entire population had risen to the occasion. Sadly there is no community in Cardiff, much less any sense of Welsh national pride and purpose.
One aspect of the tournament that is really annoying is the ridiculous amount of time being added on at the end of each half to take account of what FIFA is calling “unnatural lost time”. FIFA has issued a directive instructing officials to take account of every stoppage for goal celebrations, time wasting, VAR adjudications, substitutions, injuries, penalties and yellow/red cards and this means that every match is now stretching well beyond 100 minutes. The USA/Cymru game for instance was 104 minutes long. So, in effect, the perfect soccer time-span of 90 minutes is being abolished and the sport is being turned into the overcooked eternity of rugby union or American football. FIFA fails to understand that, unlike those sports, football is non-stop action and doesn’t need to compensate for every minute lost. Instead lost time could be regained by scrapping the FIFA measures that actually cause it – like the increase in substitutes allowed (introduced by stealth during the pandemic to do the bidding of super-rich clubs with stockpiles of players on their books) and the introduction of VAR which has sucked the joy, humanity and spontaneity out of the game for the sake of ludicrously pedantic offside and handball decisions that depend on microscopic and irrelevant nuances invisible to the human eye. And even more time could be saved if FIFA issued a directive outlawing the ever more elaborate, artificial, self-glorifying, ugly and stupid practice of rehearsed goal celebrations by posturing egomaniac millionaires. What’s wrong with an old-fashioned pat on the back, hand-shake and tongue down the throat?

Time for me to go back under the duvet; it’s bloody freezing and I’ve got to be fit for the Iran game tomorrow. Aaargh!!