MESSAGE to whoever is running the Sports Direct shop at the Trafford Centre: £40 for a Brazil replica shirt is not ‘mega value’, whatever your price tags might say. Did you not pay any attention to Friday’s quarter-final against Holland?
Still, that’s nothing. They’re also charging £40 for a Croatia away shirt, and they didn’t even bleeding qualify for the World Cup. Having said that, England shirts are now available for £20 or less, if you’re happy to be seen wearing one.
If you hunt around various sports retail stores in the Manchester area, you can buy a replica shirt for just about any team at the tournament. I was very impressed – and slightly surprised – to discover Japan, Greece, South Korea and Slovenia tops hanging from the rails. I was slightly less surprised to see a whole range of Italy and France tops.
The straw poll I did was not in any way scientific, but if I were to rank the four semi-finalists in order of replica shirt availability on the high street – easiest first – I would go: Spain, Holland, Germany, Uruguay.
You can’t walk into a sportswear store without falling into a Spain kit, while Holland shirts are fairly easy to come by. Germany shirts are, for some reason, a little trickier to find. But could I get my hands on a Uruguay shirt anywhere? I’d have had more chance getting hold of a Dukla Prague away kit for Half Man Half Biscuit.
Maybe your local sports store is full of Uruguay replica shirts. But to me, it seems that if you want one, it’s an internet shopping job. I imagine that was how the bloke representing Uruguay on James Corden’s human World Cup wallchart got his.
Now it could be that all the Uruguay tops sold out after they beat Ghana on Friday night. But I’d be more inclined to believe that UK sports shops in general didn’t order any in because they didn’t expect to sell any. After all, who was talking about Uruguay at the start of this World Cup?
They were the last nation to qualify for South Africa, and little was expected of them – but a defensive mean streak, coupled with some moments of inspiration from Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez, got them to the last eight.
And then Suarez’s late handball – coupled with Ghana’s collective loss of nerve from the penalty spot – got them into the semi-finals for the first time since 1970.
Ah yes, the Suarez handball, surely worthy of an episode of The Moral Maze to itself. Was it cheating? Or was he just doing what any professional would have done to help his team?
The latter, I would say. I would also add that Uruguay deserved their semi-final spot – which appears to put me in the same camp as Cuba’s former president Fidel Castro.
The BBC and ITV both failed to include Castro on their World Cup panels – which is a great shame, as I would have liked to see him discuss the Cuban Missile Crisis with Alan Shearer (“You just can’t legislate for things like that at international level, Fidel.”)
That didn’t stop Castro chipping in with a bit of punditry ahead of tonight’s semi-final against Holland in Cape Town, though. Castro expressed his strong support for Uruguay, claiming that referees at this tournament have been biased against the South American nations and that an all-European final would be a big bore.
“A final now between two European countries will be as colourless and unhistorical as any since the sport was born,” he said.
Ah well, ‘I want’ doesn’t get, eh Fidel?
A strange game, this one. Bags of incident, yes, but also long periods of not very much. I saw a few Championship games like that last season.
I didn’t see any goals as spectacular as Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s opener for Holland, though – a shot thumped into the top corner from 30-odd yards with such force that even Suarez wouldn’t have saved it. Diego Forlan’s long-range equaliser for Uruguay owed rather more to goalkeeper error.
While Uruguay were missing the suspended Suarez, ITV were also suffering with an absentee. Co-commentator Jim Beglin had to pull out due to illness this afternoon, so Clive Tyldesley had to do the match on his own. Tyldesley, to my great disappointment, resisted the temptation to put on an Irish accent over the slow motion replays.
(That’s not as daft as it might sound. Years ago, a newsreader on a local commercial radio station needed a reporter to voice a story, couldn’t find one – and so did it himself in a Scottish accent under a false name. Incredibly, none of the listeners seemed to notice, although the newsreader’s bosses did, and gave him an almighty telling off.)
Tyldesley, though, didn’t sound thrilled at the prospect of extra-time, and so was grateful to Wesley ‘give me the goal, FIFA’ Sneijder for restoring Holland’s lead with yet another of his deflected efforts. Arjen Robben made it 3-1 with a header shortly afterwards, and that seemed to be that.
Over on Radio Five Live, Alan Green grumped his way through the match as Alan Green does come World Cup semi-final or Carling Cup third-round tie. But he almost wrote Uruguay off too soon as the game moved into stoppage time. “Two goals for Uruguay to score to take us through to extra-time,” he said. “It ain’t going to happen, folks.”
He was right, as it turned out – but only just. Maxi Pereira scored within seconds. “There’s still time for Uruguay,” Green backtracked. Then followed a frantic finish, when it genuinely looked as if Holland might blow it. But they didn’t.
Bert van Marwijk kept up his remarkable record of having won every competitive game in charge of Holland – eight World Cup qualifiers, six games at the finals. One more, and they will be on top of the world. Watch the sales of Holland replica shirts in the UK rocket then.