World Cup Time


It’s quite possible my opinion on football is weighted towards the international game because of timing.  The first game I was ever taken to as a boy wasn’t a Celtic a game, it was a World Cup warm-up match for Scotland at Hampden.  Although I must admit I do remember being more excited at the prospect of going along to see Dariusz Dziekanowski in the flesh more than anything else.  Not that he was the only Celtic player on show that day – he wasn’t even the only Polish Celt with Dariusz Wdowczyk also playing that day – but Jackie was my hero at the time.

The friendly game that day finished 1-1, which suited me fine given my ancestry.  My memory of the game is rather hazy. I remember wanting to sit on the barriers in the terracing – the Celtic end of course – and it being a gloriously sunny day. I couldn’t tell you who scored the Scotland goal, although a quick search on Google has since revealed I may have purposely blocked the **** in question from my memory. I do remember, however, that the Polish goal was a rather ridiculous looping header from Scotland’s Gary Gillespie who hadn’t spotted Andy Goram was running off his line to come and collect.  So you can imagine what my reaction to him signing for Celtic was the following year.

That summer was a defining moment for me.  After all, my first ever live football match came just a week after I’d sat out in the garden watching on a black and white portable TV as Celtic lost to Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup final on penalties.  That’s the first full game I really remember watching us play.  A few weeks after that and Scotland were playing in the World Cup in Italy.  Well, I say playing, it lasted as long as it usually did.  Losing to Costa Rica was as depressing as it was typical.  Beating Sweden was a highlight though.  Pity we narrowly lost to Brazil in the final group match.  I think my Maths skills took a boost that summer as we frantically tried to calculate if finishing third might be enough.  24 teams at a World Cup was a strange setup.  I seem to remember Austria also losing out on one of the “Best 3rd Place” spots.  Strange the things you remember.

Four years later, and I’d remembered I was of Irish decent too.  So did most of the country mind you, with none of the “home nations” qualifying that year.  I distinctly remember us being hammered by Portugal in qualifying, and a couple of trips to see Scotland in action.  Not to the under-reconstruction Hampden, but to Ibrox to watch dire 0-0 draws.  Maybe it’s something to do with that stadium…

Remember when Ireland beat Italy?  What a day.  Pity the rest of that tournament was quite so bad.  The only other game I remember seeing was the Irish losing to the Dutch in the knockout stage.  I remember that one because I was watching it with the Dutch… not surprising really since I was on a school trip to Holland at the time.  I seem to remember being gutted to miss the game of the tournament between the Dutch and the Brazilians as it took place the same day we were travelling home.  There was an annoying hint of irony to that.

France 98 and Scotland were back though.  And this time, we would open the whole show.  Everyone in the World was going to be watching us.  It was a brilliant summer.  We’d just stopped ten in a row the previous month and it was the summer before I went to University.  Things were changing for the better.

Except no one told Scotland.  Losing to Brazil is bad enough, but losing to an own goal scored by the guy who had lifted the league trophy the previous month.  Oh that stung, but not half as much as the humiliation Morocco put us through though.  I remember watching that last group game with my mates.  I have never, ever seen someone as gutted as one of them was that day – and I include Black Sunday in that.  I know teenagers can be a bit dramatic, maybe it was that, but he was inconsolable – despite how much his girlfriend at the time might try.

I never thought at the time that I’d be sitting here, 12 years later, and Scotland haven’t played another game at the World Cup.  Of course, it’s going to be at least 16 years until they do.  In between time I remember nearly doing cartwheels in the student union bar when Robbie Keane equalised against Germany in the last minute in 2002, and I even went to see Poland play in Germany in 2006.  Going to the World Cup was a brilliant experience, but I left feeling a little bit hollow.  When it really comes down to it, neither Ireland nor Poland are the country where I was born and have grown up in.  It’s just not the same.  I hope some day I’ll get to go to the World Cup and see Scotland there.  I might be waiting a while.

This year is the worst yet though.  For the first time in my lifetime, there’s no Scotland, no Ireland and no Poland.  The three nations I actually have an emotional and family attachment to, and none of them have qualified.  I literally have no one to support.

Or do I?

Option 1: Anyone But England.  I know a lot of people who are living on this basis alone.  To be perfectly honest, I know some decent English folk.  In fact, I don’t really know any who aren’t.  It’s their commentators that annoy me more than anything else.  Even during the Hearts game they managed to shoehorn in a reference to a certain year in the 60s that wasn’t 1967 (see, I can shoehorn too).  But the older I get, the more I think I shouldn’t judge a whole nation on their commentators.  Especially when we have the likes of Craig Burley, Scott Booth, Mark Hateley, Craig Patterson, Jock Brown and a far too many others working on the game here.  So with the exception of the game against the United States, I’m going to just not care what England do.  I say with that exception because when England play the US I’ll actually be in San Francisco for the North American Celtic Convention over there.  I feel like I should support our gracious hosts!

Of course, five minutes of those English commentators and I’ll probably change my mind again…

Option 2: Support the Celts.  They’re still naming the squads and the final 23 for each nation won’t be known until June 1st, but there’s fairly good odds that we’ll see some familiar names.  Some that are currently at Celtic, while others we’ve at least seen in the hoops in the last 18 months.

Well… almost.  Rod Fanni was one name I noticed in the France squad.  I know we never saw him in the hoops and that he was only ever a rumour, but that is still one of my all time favourite stories.  If only we has signed him and played him along side the likes of Lee Naylor, Bobo Balde and Darren O’Dea…

I’m probably cheating further by even mentioning Pedro Mendes given he played from THEM rather than us, but I definitely saw him in the hoops.  Even if it was Sporting Lisbon and he was scoring against Everton, I still found the image kinda funny.

Sadly, there are few who haven’t made the cut.  You’ll all be devastated, shocked and stunned at the omission of Nacho Novo from the Spanish squad.  He’ll just have to phone up Marc Crosas and watch it on the telly like the rest of us.

England, despite not having Wayne Bridge to call on thanks to their former Captain’s antics, have failed to call up Lee Naylor.  One can only imagine that knock he got in the win against Rangers was worse that it looked.  Or maybe he just wants to keep his missus away from the squad.  If we’re being picky, Josh Thompson and Ben Hutchison were also eligible for call up, but that was hardly likely anyway.

Also missing out from the Celtic squad are Andy Hinkel whom Germany have overlooked, Dominic Cervi who isn’t in the US squad, and Morten Rasmussen who isn’t one of only three strikers Denmark have named.  I don’t think they’re taking this tournament seriously.  I definitely remember the press panning England for only taking four strikers to a World Cup under Sven Goran Eriksson.

So that’s who isn’t going.  Who does that leave though?  Not many sadly.  There’s actually only two contracted Celtic players still in with a chance of playing at the World Cup.  For South Korea, Ki Sung-Yong, and for Greece, Georgios Samaras.

That’s not to say we don’t have others we can look out for.  For instance, while Holland may not have called up Glenn Loovens or Jos Hooiveld, they have called up Edson Braafheid.  Another loan star for Celtic throughout this season, Landry N’Guemo, has been called up to the Cameroon squad.

Still not enthrawled?  What about recently departed Celts?  Australia and New Zealand have a couple of familiar strikers in Scott McDonald and Chris Killen who only left us in January.  Indeed, New Zealand are one of the few squads who have already decided on their final 23, so Killen is one of the few who will definitely be there.

Another familar name in the New Zealand squad is that of Michael McGlinchey.  He left Celtic last year after failing to break into the first team, and while he had gone to play on the other side of the world at club level as well as country, he was recently back in Scotland on a loan move to Motherwell.

Those of you who really know your stuff might know the name of Osman Chavez.  This Honduran  may be relatively unknown to most Celtic fans, but he was reported to be training with the team back in November.  Obviously we didn’t sign him, but I’ll be looking out for him just to see what we might have missed out on.  Or possibly what we might go back for?

I must admit, that list of players doesn’t really impress me.  None of the big names that Celtic have had recently are there.  There’s no Boruc or McGeady or Keane… But there is one name that might put a smile on your face when you see him

Shunsuke Nakamura.

Sadly for Naka, it didn’t work out at Espanyol.  I watched an Espanyol game this season and it was one of the worst games of Spanish Football I’ve ever watched.  A more negative bunch you’re unlikely to see outside Govan or Milan.  Must be the blue colour… I’m not surprised Naka went home.  But the good news for us is we’ll get to see him one more time, playing for his country.  Not along side Koki Mizuno though, he’s another one who missed out.  You’d forgotten we even had him, hadn’t you?

Another couple of names you might recognise when you see them at the World Cup are currently plying their trade in Edinburgh.  Hearts’ Laryea Kingston looked fairly decent for Ghana at the Africa Nations Cup, while rubbing shoulders with the likes of Didier Drogba, Yaya and Kolo Toure, Salomon Kalou and Michael Essien will be the somewhat unlikely name of Hibs’ Sol Bamba.

Another name on that list for the Ivory Coast is a certain Arune Dindane – a man who once played against us for Anderlecht but has more recently been linked with a move away from Lens to us among others.  He may be one to look out for.  Or at the very least you can support the Ivory Coast because of their flag…

Finally of course, there are three men who play across the city from us, all of whom are destined to meet the country those across the city love… Step forward Demarcus Beasley, and Maurice Edu of the United States, and Madjid Bougherra of Algeria.  Will they still be at Rangers by the time the SPL season starts again?  Reports would indicate at least one of them won’t.  But they might just get the backing of the vast majority of Glasgow for the first time this year, something they won’t be used to.  And should any of them play a part in knocking England out of the World Cup this year, be sure that they’ll get a warm reception from all if they do return to Glasgow.  At least until August.

This World Cup may not be capturing the imagination of those north of Carlisle like previous tournaments have – despite the “best” efforts of the likes of Mars, Kit-Kat and the Sun newspaper.  Indeed I know of some who, having already witnessed certain teams triumph this season, are half expecting the misery to continue and to never hear the end of this summer’s tales ever again.

But there is hope for football yet.  For one, there’s the reigning European Champions.  A team who have at least two of the top five players in the World playing for them, and plenty of other very talented players throughout the squad.  And just like every single World Cup before this one, there’s one team there who will no doubt entertain us throughout in their effort to get their hands on the trophy for a sixth time.

Both of these teams have already beaten England in a friendly in the build up to this World Cup.  And for all I’ll be hoping the Celtic players – former, current and maybe even soon to be – do well at this tournament, I’ll just be hoping that the majority of this 64-game long tournament are entertaining and that the best team win.  Which team is that?  I think it’s one of the two I’ve just mentioned.

Good luck Spain and Brazil.

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