There will be a lot of random jottings here during the World Cup, given our declared support for Paraguay – not to the exclusion of a probably Bentless England, but in honour of Cristian Riveros, Paulo da Silva and those red and white stripes – and the haphazard nature of the Salut! Sunderland team of scribblers.
First thing first. In the long queue for the Uffizi museum in Florence, the faces of two Mexican students lit up when talk turned to football, and specifically to Sunderland.
Both were fans of Cruz Azul, from whom we have signed our second Paraguayan player, Cristian Riveros. And both gave him a hearty thumbs up (having read other match reports, I now suspect some of the criticism of him by our fans after Paraguay’s friendly against the Republic of Ireland was on the harsh side).
They also rated Paulo da Silva, our first Paraguayan, but feared that a third SAFC target Salvador Cabañas would never again play at a high level despite his steady recovery from head injury received in a nightclub shooting. Reports I have seen have varied from uncertain to mildly optimistic.
Back in France in time to catch Les Bleus on TV, in a warm-up game in Tunisia, I regretted not having set aside some paint to watch drying. Having gone behind early France huffed and puffed a great deal and finally grabbed an equaliser without ever looking like beating the limited opposition. It was a dire game and France would struggle on this evidence to progress beyond the group stage.
The word in Fifa’s ear is this: please ensure great consistency in South Africa than we saw from the Libyan referee, Mr Errai. He booked Sanga for a routine challenge, then failed to book a Tunisian for a much more obvious yellow card clattering of Sanga and failed even to spot Franck Ribery holding on so tightly to an opponent’s shirt, and for so long, that you began to think he had identified it as a piece of personal property stolen long ago.
There was worse.
Thierry Henry, it is fair to say, is currently in exile from high moral ground. But twice, when France had corners, he was manhandled to such an extent that he could barely move and at one point seemed about to be hauled to the ground.
Briggsy, a qualified ref and the most thoughtful of the Arsenal fans who came here to comment recently on the Eduardo Question, referred to this type of conduct, which now infests the game almost as commonly as diving and feigning injury. It is, as he argued, obstruction plain and simple for a player with his back to the dead ball to impede an opponent. Fifa would do football a huge service if it instructed World Cup officials, who do not include Mr Errai, to respond sternly to this scourge of the modern game.
* Couldn’t resist this photo from Germany 2006, courtesy of Lolo1860‘s Flickr pages