The build-up to the Ghana-Uruguay eliminator in Group H tomorrow has been dominated by a demonised piece of goal line defending by Luis Suarez in a World Cup quarter-final 12 years ago. The Uruguayan centre-forward has shaken off incidents of low-grade canabalism more readily than his hand ball that led to an unconverted penalty, and ultimately Ghana’s exit from the competition, after further missed penalties in the shoot-out. Clearly, there were other actors in Ghana’s demise, but their failings have been absolved.
Typically unrepentant, Suarez claimed after the match that the “Hand of God” now belonged to him and not Diego Maradona. Do you think the Ghanaians might have mellowed about it after all these years? “The whole of Ghana hates him and the whole of Africa hates him,” the former Ghana player Ibrahim Ayew told The Athletic.
True what they say: time is a great healer.
Every illusion has its limits
As Qatar departed their home World Cup their imported band of “ultras” went home too – mostly to Lebanon. Concerned about the lack of native interest in football – matches in the Qatar club league often attract crowds in their hundreds – the Qatar authorities were anxious to whip up some noise for the host nation’s matches. So, in a world where everything is for sale, they assembled a crew of mercenary supporters.
According to a report in The New York Times, a “proof of concept” event was staged in Beirut in April, involving hundreds of Lebanese students and supporters of a local club, “recreating the atmosphere an ultra group can provide.” Satisfied that this was the way to go a word-of-mouth recruitment drive ensued, with mostly Lebanese football fans being enticed by free flights, accommodation, match tickets, food and some pocket money; the travelling band also included Egyptians, Algerians and a few Syrians.
A month before the tournament started 1,500 of these ultras-for-hire were flown to Qatar “to rehearse their choreographed actions and to practice their newly written chants.” They showed up on match days in their uniform maroon T-shirts, with “Qatar” on the front and “All for Al Annabi” on the back – a nod to Qatar’s star midfielder – and sang with their hearts in their mouths.
“It is our duty to support an Arab country,” one of them said. “We share the same language. We share the same culture. We are fingers on the same hand.” Indeed.
No plans had been made for the “ultras” to stay in Qatar beyond the group stages. Every illusion has its limits.
Number – 9
Eusebio’s total of World Cup goals for Portugal. One more than Ronaldo. Still.
GAA spring leagues were really hot
With so many other things to occupy our outrage, talk of oppressive match day temperatures has been shunted to the back of the queue. For the England-Wales game, for example, the temperature in the ground was a draining 24 degrees Celsius – although that was four degrees cooler than the sweltering heat for England’s opening game against Croatia in the Euros at Wembley, 17 months ago.
However, it was nothing like the conditions for the 2019 finals of the Qatar GAA spring leagues, which were played in a staggering 42 degrees, according to the Oryx na hEireann club twitter feed. The competition had involved 174 matches, the equivalent of nearly three World Cups. Just as well they’re amateurs.
“I can play in many different positions.”
Phil Foden, seeming to side with Piers Morgan against Gareth Southgate in the selection debate. Jeepers.
Pulisic looking positively perky
Even by the standards of modern media, Christian Pulisic’s eye-watering injury to the groin area – suffered while scoring the USA’s winner against Iran – went through a whirlwind news cycle. Replaced at half-time, and carted off to the nearest hospital for further examination, he was naturally one of the biggest talking points in the post-match interviews.
“Obviously we’re very happy he threw his body there,” said team-mate Weston McKennie, in tribute to a fallen comrade, who, in time-honoured fashion, had taken one for the team. “Huge player for us,” said the USA captain, Tyler Adams. “Praying for him, hoping everything is OK.”
The official update on Pulisic’s injury was that he had been diagnosed with a “pelvic contusion” and would be assessed “on a day-to-day,” basis, which you were welcome to read as good news or grave news. Word, though, soon emerged of the Chelsea striker Face-timing his team-mates from his hospital bed, “in good spirits” – in a lightning, faith-affirming response to Tyler Adams’ prayers.
Then, lo and behold, he appears in a social media video posted by the US federation, as the players are given a rapturous reception in the lobby of the team hotel. Pulisic is standing in the corner, beaming from ear to ear, capturing the scene on his phone, sporting a shirt that would have made Elvis blush during the Hawaiian phase of his movie career, looking positively perky.