Monday, 26 June 2006

Go England, Go! - My World Cup 2006 Journal (Part 8)

Unlike many fellow Hong Kongers, I am never a fan of the English football team. Their 1-0 defeat of Ecuador last night yet again provided a perfect explanation of why the English gentlemen in the football pitch never receive my support, let alone appreciation.

For at least four decades, the English have not abandoned their boring strategy of long passes and sublime parabolic shots. Generations of football players have come and gone, but the English strategy has never changed.

That's why David Beckham is never my cup of tea. Though he may be talented in one way or another, it seems to me that he knows nothing about football other than accurate long passes and parabolic free-kicks. Most of his scores come from free-kicks as a result of fouls of the opposing teams. Previous international tournaments have proved countless times that England's strategy has long lost its silver-lining, and those playing against England will try to avoid as many fouls as possible to minimise England's chance of scoring. And it works. The English don't seem to have another way of kicking the ball into the net.

The key problem for England is, in my opinion, the absence of a world-class striker that has the skills and incentive to score whenever he can. Following the retirement of Gary Lineker who participated in the Mexico World Cup in 1986 - and I bet 95% of my fellow Hong Kong female fans have never heard about him - England has never had any world-class striker that was good enough to win the Gold Shoe Award, a personal award for the top scorer in World Cup tournaments. Although England was ousted in the quarter-finals in 1986, Lineker maintained his status as the top scorer. And, more importantly, he was the only English player in World Cup history to have won this personal glory.

Don't you think it is a harsh irony for England? Don't you think it is ignorant, if naive at all, to claim that the English football squad is the best in 20 years?

Name the best strikers who have appeared in the English Premier League over the past decade or so. Eric Cantona and Dennis Bergkamp, I would say. Cantona is French and Bergkamp is Dutch. Forget Alan Shearer and Michael Owen and even Wayne Rooney. They are at best opportunists in the football pitch with a capability to run 100 metres within 12 seconds.

Having said that, Ecuador was largely responsible for their defeat last night. Perhaps I will never understand why Ecuador abandoned their traditional style of short passes and small group penetration that has worked so well in previous matches, including their first appearance in World Cup this year against Germany. For some unknown reasons, the Ecuadorians seemed to adopt the same strategy of long overhead passes as the English, which was one of the most unwise things I have ever seen. How could the Ecuadorians possibly believe that they were going to beat the English with the strategy that the English have been mastering for decades as an indigenous football heritage? Worse still, this was a strategy the Ecuadorians unfamiliar with. Fans can easily tell from the live broadcast that the Ecuadorian players were far too hesitant. Apparently they did not have any confidence in the strategy. Should they be able to play their own style of football, they would have a much better chance of beating the English and move ahead.

It is perfectly understandable to make slight adjustments, taking lessons from the previous match. But in international tournaments like the World Cup, one can never afford to launch an overhaul of strategy and test it out in the knock-out round. And one doesn't need to verify by experience whether a strategy works or not, if he/she has done a bit more research on his/her opponent.

Go, England. It's time for you to go. Go back and think things through. Think carefully what you have improved over the past decade, or since the retirement of Lineker. Try your luck next time.

Sunday, 25 June 2006

Football Is All About Teamwork, Michael - My World Cup 2006 Journal (Part 7)

While I was delighted to see that Germany has marched into the quarter-finals with two goals against Sweden last night, I couldn't help grunting a bit over the repeated losses of scoring chances on the German side.

Just like what I said earlier, I know I should accept the fact that the German team is no longer the Germans I first came to know, but I still couldn't help wondering how many more goals would have been made should Jurgen Klinsmann be still playing.

Simply put, I just want to make a point to Michael Ballack, the German captain. He shared the biggest blame for the losses of chance for the sake of his individual glory.

Football is all about teamwork, Michael. Remember that you are wearing the black, red and golden stripes on your shirt with three stars that symbolise the football achievements of your country, not yourself.

Don't take me wrong though. There is nothing wrong to play for personal interests, but at the World Cup tournament, there is something more important and should be given priority over personal pursuits.

If you agree with me, please make sure you don't shoot the ball in the middle of the pitch with an aspiration for personal scoring unless you are absolutely sure about an opportunity there. Your team mates are around you, and they may be in a much better position to put the ball in the net.

If you don't agree with me, tell me why you wasted at least two opportunities of shooting the ball way far and high when the Swede defenders were apparently in your way, instead of passing the ball to your team mates inside the penalty box? Don't you think it is your job as a midfielder to think strategically during the match and set up scoring chances for your team? It doesn't really matter who finally kicks the ball into the net, Michael. Excellent midfielders who help their teams win will never be forgotten even if they have no personal goals.

See what happened to your team mate Miroslav Klose. He is a striker. He is supposed to shoot and kill. But he passed two fatal chances to his colleague Lukas Podolski, simply because Lukas was in a better position to shoot than himself. Then Miroslav was elected and recognised as the Most Valuable Player of the match. And I'm sure he will be remembered for his impartial judgment and selflessness.

Before I close the chapter of the day, I would also like to add a few words on the ouster of all Asian teams in the group games this year, marked by Korea's 0-2 defeat by the Swiss on Saturday.

While it is a bit disappointing to see that the Asian miracle could not sustain, this harsh fact also provides football fans and players in this part of the world an opportunity for reflection. At a time when African teams are making really excellent progress, either in terms of national team spirit and personal skills, I have to admit with some reluctance that there is still to be a long way for the Asian teams to catch up. Indeed, we also have Asian players playing in the world-class European leagues, but they are often left on the bench. For those few like Bak Ji-seong who manage to secure their foothold in the leading European leagues, they also fail to promote a significant upgrade in football skills and strategy for their homeland. Just like the top football stars in Brazil and England and many others, they fail to play as well as they are expected in the leagues.

This is painfully disappointing. In the case of China, Korea and Japan, the strategy of employing foreign coaches with highly successful football careers does not seem to work. Even for Korea, since the departure of Guus Hiddink, the Dutch coach who led Korea into the semi-final in the last World Cup, there has not been any sustainable progress in its football team. The success of Bak Ji-seong at Manchester United seems to be a personal achievement rather than a case study for the benefit of Korean football at large.

With the lessons of this World Cup in mind, perhaps it is now time to work out another strategy to promote the progressive and sustainable development of football in Asia.

Thursday, 22 June 2006

A Letter on Bullying

Dear friend,

As always, it was nice speaking to you. I'm really looking forward to having a drink with you some time. Remember, this was what I used to do in the first two years after my graduation. And I enjoy the stress-less, carefree chat with friends.

You are assured of my sympathy when you told me how you suspect you have been badmouthed by someone in your office. To be honest, there is little you can do to stop this, except to carry out your responsibilities dutifully and achieve excellence. Once you have developed some sort of competitive advantage at work, there is little room for people to badmouth on.

Of course, this is something easier said than done. How to deal with one's emotions over something irritating and annoying is always hard. This is especially for people like you and me, who always want to remain true to yourself and the people around us. Disguise is never our profession. We often enjoy drama and movies more than anyone else, but we hate to become actresses ourselves.

Take it easy, my friend. You don't need to jump on irresponsible remarks floating around. We can only manage perceptions of ourselves by behaviour to a minimal extent. There is little we can do to manage prejudices and discrimination in someone else's mind. The thing we should do is to try our very best to disregard unreasonable accusations, let alone making them disturbances that they are meant to be.

Again, this is hard, and requires tremendous efforts in self-convince. I'm not saying this as if I were a sympathetic autocrat speaking benevolently to her subjects. I'm just trying to share a strategy that works well for me all these years.

Believe it or not, I find that those who love bullying or badmouthing are often jealous by nature. They can be jealous of people around them for no reason. They bully or badmouth the others to show that they are better and stronger. Poor souls! They simply don't know what they are doing as human beings. They always think that they are beasts fighting with each other in a colosseum with no way out. For whatever reasons, they are taught the wrong way of life. The ruthless theorem of survival of the fittest has become their bone and flesh, even though people around them are not necessarily competitors as they always think. This is especially true at school and at work, where, at the end of the day, we always compete with no one else but our past. Worse still, those people are often too stubborn to admit that they are not doing any good for themselves by hurting people around them. They think it is glorious and essential to step (stab?) on the back of the others to reach higher, but we all agree that this is unethical and unnecessary. Let our actions speak themselves, right?

While we all acknowledge that this is far from an ideal world, we should also be able to appreciate the fundamental differences in values and beliefs that eventually contribute to the diversified cultures and peoples around the globe. When it comes to fundamental differences in values and beliefs, there is little, if any at all, we can do. It may seem too passive, but why should we bother to change or influence what someone thinks of ourselves when we don't even really care who that guy is? Call me naively optimistic, I'm convinced that even when someone hates us, there are always others who love us. And, more importantly, make sure you love yourself before anyone else does.

Sit back and relax, my friend. The jealous guys don't deserve your attention. Kick them in the ass and move on.

Truly yours,

Cecile

Wednesday, 21 June 2006

Gehen Sie vorwarts, Deutschland - My World Cup 2006 Journal (Part 6)

Really excited over Germany's three straight victories in the first round of group games, I couldn't help saying a prayer of gratitude that the Germans have at least picked up some of the traditional form that was lost in the first two games.

The team played well, with each member playing his role in good condition and enthusiasm. The strikers were hungry for goals, as Jurgen Klinsmann aptly described, and the defenders did a good job in front of the net with assistance from the midfielders from time to time. All three goals were impressive, but I liked the first one most. It seemed that Miroslav Klose was determined to demonstrate through this goal his pride of being a German, as well as his loyalty to the country that he did not arrive until eight years old. The previous match against Poland was indeed an embarrassment for Klose, and his Poland-born team mate Lukas Podolski. This might also be part of the reasons why Germans did not play as good as they should be...

In any case, what Germany seemed a bit weak in its match against Ecuador remained the midfield, where the Germans did not show any significant dominance over Ecuador, which was in fact of no match to Germany in terms of strength and quality.

Interestingly, this was precisely where Germany invited harsh criticisms from my brother and his friends. Jurgen Klinsmann also reportedly admitted in an interview broadcast today that he was not satisfied with the team's performance either. The former German striker was quoted as saying that the German team of his time in early 1990s should beat the current one with five straight goals. The reason was simple: Germans should never allow its opponent to take control of any kind in the midfield, especially when the opponent is by no means a comparable match.

While I respect Klinsmann's dedication and determination to bring the best out of his national team in the World Cup, I don't personally agree with his comments. Indeed, he was one of the great players who made Germany as it was in its heyday, but Klinsmann should also appreciate the fact that Germany is no longer the Germany some 10 years ago. The German team is simply not as good as his generation, for whatever reasons. This is but a sad and disappointing fact.

My worries now go to the reaction of the German players. There has already been too much coverage over disputes between coaches and players in this World Cup, and Germany should never add to the list. I sincerely hope that the players would not misunderstand their coach, and take his criticisms as some sort of positive reinforcement to drive them even harder in the challenges to come.

Fahrt fort, stark zu versuchen. Gehen Sie vorwarts, Deutschland.

Monday, 19 June 2006

And the Disappointment Goes to... - My World Cup 2006 Journal (Part 5)

Now that World Cup 2006 has almost finished the first rounds of group tournaments, I can hardly conceal my disappointment over the performance of the so-called strong teams, which have taken with them the high expectations of countless fans from home and abroad.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not talking about the result. There are so many uncontrollable variables that determine whether a team should win or lose. All I am looking for is respect - respect your opponent, respect your fans, respect the game, and respect yourself.

Sadly, most of the strong teams out there have not demonstrated this essential element of fair play - the motto of World Cup and Olympic Games. Die-hard fans may remind me that the most outstanding members of the strong teams are often over-drafted by national leagues or regional championships. But as far as I could see, there should be some other reasons for their poor performance. Arrogance and complacence are undoubtedly among the most obvious. Tell me which top team in the premier leagues would be satisfied with one sheer goal in the first few minutes and then retract to a defensive strategy for the rest of the game?

Korea was as disappointing as many others in their first appearance in World Cup 2006, especially in the first half. Yet, fortunately, they managed to return to the never-give-up Korea Reds mode in the match against France, which dramatically ended with a 1-1 draw.

Japan was even worse. I watched the Japanese playing against the Croatians last night. Words can't really tell how disappointed I was. Japan was no longer Japan of Kazuyoshi Miura some 10 years ago, when Japan was still struggling to become a prominent team of Asia. J-League was only fledging at that time, and no one really saw Japan as a world-class team. Now that Japan was clearly a football leader in Asia, their performance was bitterly disappointing. Everyone seemed indifferent and refused to run as energetically as they should have. Only goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi managed to keep up his standard and spared a Croatian goal from a penalty kick.

Ironically, some of those from more humble origins gave their very best to enjoy the game, and made each of their appearances a dignified and unforgettable moment for not only the players themselves but also the football history of their country.

One good recent example was Ghana. I just managed to watch the tournament on and off, but their two goals against the Czechs were really impressive. One can hardly hold back their applause having witnessed Ghana's fantastic team efforts.

Another example would be Trinidad and Tobago. They lost one game to England, and had a 0-0 draw with Sweden. But their impressive performance and dedication in turn earned them respect and recognition among football fans across the world.

Come on, guys - Show your respect to everyone by giving your very best. It is as simple as that. Otherwise you will soon find yourself abandoned in contempt and remorse, just like the French and Ronaldo.

Saturday, 17 June 2006

遺忘本土流行文化

很久沒到Anita的留言板去,不是因為覺得沒話可說,而是不想再看那些「我很想念Anita」的無聊字句。這早已是潛意識和心神血肉裡的事情,沒有必要煞有介事地拿出來吹噓。

不過,今天無意中看到網友轉載梁立人本月初在《東方日報》的文章,其中有一兩句提到Anita:

「有人提議博物館內可以放置本地已故歌星的資料,更是屬井底之蛙之見。香港已故歌星有誰值得進入博物館的呢?羅文?不過僅可進入內地一流歌星之末;張國榮?那只是名重一時的偶像,連歌星也算不上;梅艷芳?博物館建好時也忘得差不多了。若建博物館只是為了安置這些名人,那倒不如用這筆錢多建幾個備有金馬桶的豪華公廁,更能讓遊客感興趣!」

這種典型香港「維園阿伯」、「巴士阿叔」式的思維,膚淺幼稚、急功近利,本來不值一哂;但有些Anita的歌迷不甘Anita受辱,於是呼籲歌迷以一人一信的形式,向《東方日報》提出抗議。結果梁立人不得不在6月9日的專欄中致歉:

「最近在一篇文章中提到歌星是否適宜存放博物館一事,因一時筆誤,對幾位香港名歌星確有不敬之處,引來不少歌迷的抗議,尤其是梅艷芳和張國榮的歌迷,更是抗議聲震天,在下坦承錯誤,思之猶悔,經此一事,更感受到流行歌曲對社會的影響是如此深遠。

「作為一個文人,筆下如行雲流水,有時往往隨感而發,未經深思熟慮,文中提到博物館建好時,梅艷芳可能也忘得差不多了更屬個人偏見,原來,香港和台灣以及中國內地仍有不少忠心的梅迷,他們對梅艷芳的思念,是至死不渝的,若在下文章傷害了他們的感情,特在此再三致歉。

「其實,文章中雖看來對梅大姐有不敬之處,那只是個人文風所致,其實,在下本人對梅艷芳亦相當佩服,亦由此想起一段和梅有關的逸事。……(下略)」

Anita迷為梁立人公開道歉感到相當高興,認為是為Anita做了一件好事。不過,同樣身為Anita的 fans,我對梁立人這份道歉的聲明,仍抱著十分懷疑的態度--因為這是一篇礙於輿論壓力,勉強為之的道歉,並非出自真心。字裡行間反覆強調原文的批評只是「行雲流水」的「文風」所至,即使說這是讀者對作者文章風格造成的誤解,並非他真箇意識到Anita和其他香港流行歌手對香港的影響力和重要性有多大,更遑論會認同他們是值得以博物館形式紀念的人物。

且看他說:「原來,香港和台灣以及中國內地仍有不少忠心的梅迷,他們對梅艷芳的思念,是至死不渝的」,這一句,可圈可點。這不僅暴露了梁先生對香港流行文化的無知和輕視,也體現了「out of sight, out of mind」的善忘和無情。

儘管如此,我無意再跟這種「維園阿伯」之流糾纏下去。無論他道歉是真心還是被逼,也不會對Anita的人格和聲譽有半點損害。我只是對他原文中提出的兩點意見不以為然。

「梅艷芳?博物館建好時也忘得差不多了。」

誠然,要在西九龍文娛藝術區興建博物館,仍是遙遙無期。但Anita真的會被遺忘嗎?

都說香港人是善忘的動物,沒有回憶、沒有淵源、沒有根。他們只著重眼前的利益,有奶就是娘,笑貧不笑娼。可是,現在說起流行曲和歌手,很多香港人還是談到八十年代,似乎除此以外,其他的都算不上甚麼。這是香港人最引以自豪的集體回憶,也是最後的文化遺產。儘管時移世易,我們總也不會忘記,更何況現在科技發達,當年的繁華還有唱片、影碟等文物作證?說Anita會被遺忘,很明顯是因為有人自命清高,以「文人」自居,看不起下里巴人的流行文化。殊不知道香港價值最高、最富特色的,便是流行文化。從李小龍到周潤發,教全世界如癡如醉的,只有香港的電影和流行曲。吳宇森、王家衛等人,說到底也只是在吃香港八十年代儲下的老本而已。

從李小龍開始,香港的流行文化一直對外國人極具吸引力,而且獨一無二,無法複製到世界其他地方。從經濟效益的角度而言,流行文化也是最能吸引遊客、最有資格成為博物館和大型旅遊項目主題的東西。可惜我們尊貴的議員和高官,一直沒有正視流行文化對香港的貢獻,只懂得利用部分較有名氣的演員,充當海外宣傳活動的布景板而已。成效如何,大家有目共睹,只是有人十年如一日地掩耳盜鈴。

「若建博物館只是為了安置這些名人,那倒不如用這筆錢多建幾個備有金馬桶的豪華公廁,更能讓遊客感興趣!」

對於這種以小人之心度君子之腹的白癡言論,我不想再花費唇舌駁斥。早前已有調查結果顯示,大多數歐美、日本甚至內地遊客均認為,有關香港歷史、文化和自然景觀的旅遊項目,才是他們最感興趣的。一間經過詳細規劃、製作認真的流行文化博物館,正好符合外地遊客的期望和需要。

我只希望那些把出外旅遊等同購物和吃喝玩樂的香港人明白,你對旅遊有哪些要求,不等於全世界其他國家和地區的遊客的要求也是一樣。很多香港人可能喜歡看金碧輝煌、空調長開的暴發戶宮殿,但想想為何那麼多外國遊客寧願汗流浹背地擠到女人街買東西、到長洲看太平清醮,也對千篇一律的商場和迪士尼樂園不屑一顧,大家總該明白,有哪些東西才是香港獨一無二、「長做長有」的旅遊項目。

不過,對於像梁先生這種視錢財如「糞土」、對流行文化嗤之以鼻的高尚文人而言,這種建議的效益未免太低。嘿。

Wednesday, 14 June 2006

Salute to Aggression - My World Cup 2006 Journal (Part 4)

Football fans shall never forget how the Koreans shocked the world four years ago. Thanks to a miraculous combination of some critical success factors, the Koreans achieved what had been unimaginable among fellow Asians. Like many other football fans left with their jaws deeply dropped, I was tremendously impressed and inspired by the fighting spirit of the Koreans. They deserved respect from both their opponents and football fans worldwide.

It was therefore not surprising if you told me that you were terribly disappointed and upset last night.

So was I.

It makes perfect sense to have high expectations of national teams like Korea to play aggressively, motivated by a genuine determination to win. This is especially true for Koreans who have earned a reputation for their endurance and passion for national glory. Unfortunately, what I saw last night was a team that had no strategy nor confidence, but hesitation and conservatism. While I understand that the Koreans are not as good as they are perceived to be in terms of individual football skills, I never expect that they had to spend at least 45 minutes to sort out how they should play against Togo.

Worse still, midfielder Bak Ji-seong's performance was by no means encouraging. I never watched him play for Manchester United, but he was obviously a target of Togo defenders, most probably because of his fame more than anything else.

Even one of the most experienced players captain Yi Un-jae was terribly restless in the first half of the game. He ran all over the penalty area to pick up the ball, even though the Togo strikers were also running around, ready to take advantage of any unexpected opportunity.

Everything changed, however, in the second half when An Jeong-hwan, the 30-year-old striker who helped his country achieved the miracle in 2002, joined his team mates in the pitch. Even Togo was inspired to play aggressive in the last 20 minutes after Korea's equaliser and winning goal.

Indeed, Korea's aggressive strategy in the second half was not a decision of An, but his calm and enthusiastic performance was undoubtedly constructive to motivate his team mates. Right-wing striker Yi Cheon-su was no longer on his own. Soon both Yi and An scored two beautiful goals with a free kick and a parabolic long shot near Togo's penalty area respectively.

After all, it was not necessarily a bad thing for Korea to lose the first goal to Togo. Otherwise they might have lost the game, and more bitterly.

P.S. In this piece, the commonly used English romanisation of Korean names are replaced by the standard romanisation system promulgated by the Korean government in 2000. Bak Ji-seong is "Park Ji-sung", Yi Un-jae is "Lee Woon-jae", An Jeong-hwan is "Ahn Jung-hwan", and Yi Cheon-su is "Lee Chun-soo".

Monday, 12 June 2006

Where Have All the Shooting Boots Gone? - My World Cup 2006 Journal (Part 3)

The first encounter of the Netherlands and Serbia and Montenegro last night was unexpectedly exciting. The players were much more energetic than the English and the Germans. In high spirits and top shape, both teams were fast, powerful and dedicated. This is precisely something real football fans should appreciate, regardless of the result.

However, there was only one goal, scored by the Netherlands' left-wing striker Arjen Robben. This was disproportional to the number of shooting and attempts to shoot of both sides. Indeed, most of the shootings were not even close to the target, but at least they were conscious attempts to score as opposed to England's obsession of ball possession in the midfield.

A distinctive issue emerged from the matches I have watched so far is the difficulty of scoring, as compared with previous World Cups. I am not sure what the reasons are, but have a gut feeling that there is something more than the elevation of football standard in terms of skills and strategy among various national teams, including defence and goalkeeping. This means the competitive advantages of traditional strong teams, such as Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy and Spain (pardon me that England is not included in this list as I am not convinced that they are the among the first tier of the world's football teams), are no longer as advantageous as they used to be. While many first-time World Cup participants have some difficulty in scoring due to their relatively low level of skills in real terms, the frequent World Cup finalists either have a hard time to keep up the standard of their seniors in previous World Cups or are reluctant to fully utilise their capabilities playing against whom they may consider unworthy. This is, however, why the strong and famous, arrogant and complacent, are often defeated in the first few rounds.

I think the team coaches and managers should start looking for the shooting boots more seriously. After all, football is a scoring game. Too many matches ending up with no goals are bitterly disappointing.

Sunday, 11 June 2006

Hong Kong's English Football Complex - My World Cup 2006 Journal (Part 2)

After finishing my Korean class at 9:30 pm tonight, I went to a pub nearby to watch the second half of the football match between England and Paraguay. Thank God that no one was smoking, and I had the rare opportunity of enjoying a beer and the match in a public catering establishment without any choking or irritating smell.

Unlike many other fellow Hong Kongers, I have never been a fan of the English team per se. My experience just tells me that they are often an overrated team. Even their World Cup championship in 1966 - yes, that was precisely four decades ago, mate - was a controversial one. I can understand why Hong Kong people love the English team so much though, because for generations, we have been exposed to the excitement of football thanks to the eye-openers first brought by the English. The English premier league was the first series of world-class football matches that Hong Kong people watched a few decades ago. Hong Kong citizens have always been grateful to this enlightenment with English characteristics, and their support of England in the World Cup is anything but an expression of heartfelt gratitude.

It may be unfair for me to comment on the performance of both England and Paraguay as I have only watched the second half of the game, but I must say that I was somewhat disappointed. While I have taken the liberty of not to believe in the flattery of David Beckham and other members of the English team, I was surprised to see that my brother’s comments didn’t speak for themselves either. My brother is not only a veteran fan of football but was a player himself when he was a student. He knows much more about football than I do. His insightful comments about football players and team strategies always make sense to me.

In any case, England won the game against Paraguay not because of its remarkable strength but an irreversible mistake of Paraguay. As seen in the second half, the English players were so dull that they did not show any meaningful attacks or organisational threats on the Paraguayans. On the contrary, Paraguay did have a few impressive raids within the penalty area of England. However, the Paraguayans were unable to seize any of these opportunities, obviously prohibited by their overall level of skill and experience in such an important tournament. What impressed me though was the strong defence of England, which seemed even better than the Germans in the opening match.

While the commentators said that England’s performance was somewhat adversely affected by the absence of Wayne Rooney, I am still a bit sceptical about how much he could have achieved at the frontline. The traditional English strategy of long haul transmissions, engineered by captain Beckham in most cases, did not seem to work out properly. If nothing is done to sharpen the edges on the frontline, the English may be doomed for devastation when they meet the Swedes 10 days from now.

Saturday, 10 June 2006

C'est la vie - My World Cup 2006 Journal (Part 1)

As the whistle blew in Munich last night (more precisely at midnight today Hong Kong time), football tournaments at World Cup 2006 kicked off with Germany playing against Costa Rica. Although some Mainland Chinese football fans may still feel the pain over heartbreaking memories that Costa Ricans shattered their arrogance and national pride with two devastating goals in their first World Cup encounter in Gwangju, Korea four years ago, I didn’t have any excitement of revenge when Costa Ricans lost the match to Germany.

As a fan of the German national team since childhood, I have never been so disappointed with Germans on the football pitch, as far as I can recall.

Plenty of media coverage and football critiques have harshly commented that the German national team is in serious trouble. Experienced players are growing old and deteriorating physique, while young players are by all means far from being any match to their seniors in terms of skills, experience, and more importantly, a determination to win. But I was still hoping that under the leadership of manager Jurgen Klinsmann, the former German striker who won the FIFA trophy in 1990 with fellow players such as Lothar Matthaus, Rudi Voller and Andreas Brehme, the German team would be able to make a difference.

But I was tremendously disappointed watching the first match last night. The German team was no longer the group of Germans who used to enjoy a reputation of tough, resolute and mechanical style in the pitch. What I saw on live television, however, was a group of unmotivated school boys reluctantly sent to the fields. What irritated me was not their fledging skills or a lack of experience in international tournaments, but the absence of a resolution to win for their nation.

Over these years I have not watched as much football as I used to be, partly because few football matches are now broadcast on free local television. One key reason is that football is now too commercialised that the leading football stars do not seem to focus on football any more. Once their talent in this old sport of centuries distinguishes them from the others, many of them just turned their back against it so mercilessly. So many out there just wanted to make their names heard and their faces seen in front of the camera, and don't really care what their core capabilities are and what they are paid for. God knows whether they justify the astronomical sums debited into their bank accounts every week or month.

Football betting introduced in Hong Kong in 2003 further eroded my passion for football. Local newspapers are now filled with gambling information every day, which, in my own opinion, is a smear of contempt in the face of it. When people talk about football, they seldom discuss the personal skills and team strategies any more but which team will win and by how many goals. The gambling value replaces the spectacular attraction of football as a form of sports, a demonstration of skills and strategy, and even national pride.

National pride is precisely why I find World Cup tournaments more attractive than other routine league matches all over the world. We have seen on so many occasions that the poor and the powerless could make their way to the central stage of global attention with football. National team members playing for the glory of their homeland often achieved the unachievable elsewhere but in the football pitch. Even if they lose the game, they often gain more respect from football fans worldwide for their courage and determination to stand against the powerful.

Since the first unification of Germany in 1871, Germans have always shown a high level of national pride in every occasion that possibly allows them to do so. This may also be attributed to the mechanical style of German football in the 20th century.

Well, perhaps the game has changed, and so have the people.