Half a cheer for Formula One

I’ll say one thing for Bernie Ecclestone: he may be a greedy, ruthless, vindictive, amoral little shit and a panderer to tyrants; but as far as I know, he’s never come out with any self-serving pablum about how Formula One brings the world together in peace and harmony, and thus promotes understanding and brotherhood amongst all mankind.

Unlike FIFA and the IOC.

Which doesn’t make him any less of a foul-smelling turd, but at least he isn’t a hypocrite about it.

Belated World Cup food blogging: Algeria

I wasn’t going to do World Cup food blogging for the Algeria gam, because I was out that night at a friend’s house, but as it happens I did a somewhat appropriate dish yesterday because I happened to have the right ingredients. It’s lamb meatballs in an aubergine sauce, and it’s based on a couple of dishes from Claudia Roden’s Tamarind and Saffron. I don’t actually know which part of North Africa or the Middle East they were from, but it’s close enough.

I know it looks a bit underwhelming in that snap from my phone, but actually it was nice; the aubergine made a sort of creamy sauce and it was quite a delicate sort of dish.

The meatballs are just lamb mince with egg and a bit of cumin and allspice; the sauce is roasted, mashed aubergine with a bit of yoghurt. And, you know, some of the brown lamby bits deglazed from the pan and some salt and pepper.

England vs Algeria: my diagnosis

England are suffering from the world’s biggest collective case of the yips.* It seems like the only explanation for how much worse these players become when they pull on an England shirt.

Sigh.

* Well, not quite the biggest: that must be the one that afflicts the All Blacks every four years at the Rugby World Cup.

England vs USA: my diagnosis

My overall feeling was that there just wasn’t a critical mass of players in that team whose game lends itself to composed possession football. Gerrard and Lampard can’t do it on their own.

So for example, I’m a big fan of Aaron Lennon, and I think he could be an important player for England at this tournament, but he’s not someone who you would immediately associate with patient, methodical build-up play. The same goes for SWP.

I thought the best period of control England had in the friendlies was in the second half of (I think) the Japan game, when Gerrard, Lampard and Joe Cole were all on together; the more of those kinds of players you have on the pitch, the more likely it is that there will be a pass available, the more likely you are to maintain possession.

Not that they have to be midfielders, of course: I think England missed Rio Ferdinand, not for his defending, but for his willingness to carry the ball out of defence and link up with the midfield. And of course Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson can help; so can the forwards, particularly Rooney. But I think the midfield was a problem. Given how well Rooney played alone up front for his club last season, I would have been tempted to play a 4-5-1 / 4-3-3 with Joe Cole taking Heskey’s place. Or just to play Joe Cole on the left wing.

The good news is that Gareth Barry should be back for the next game, which will help.

World Cup food blogging: USA

Well, that was a bit depressing: not so much because of the result, but the tendency to revert to long balls hoofed up the front, the lack of involvement of England’s wingers, the lack of controlled possession in midfield… all the usual England failings, in fact. Not to mention the further undermining of confidence in England’s goalkeepers. Ho hum.

However, World Cup food blogging must carry on. And so, my USA-themed food: cornbread and creole fried shrimp. The cornbread recipe I used was this one. Partially because it’s a British recipe, so I can weigh my ingredients rather than all that measuring quantities by the cup that American recipes do. And partially because it suggests substituting yoghurt for buttermilk, which is what I was planning to do anyway. I cut down the quantity of chillies slightly and cooked it in a pre-heated cast iron frying pan, though. It turned out rather nice, I must say:

The shrimp was a bit of an improvised recipe; I covered the prawns in a homemade creole-type seasoning mix — chopped thyme, dried oregano, paprika, crushed garlic, a dribble of pepper sauce, black pepper — and left for a couple of hours (the duration of the Nigeria-Argentina game, in fact).

Then I basically did the standard flour-egg-breadcrumb thing except with a mixture of cornmeal and cornstarch instead of breadcrumbs, and deep-fried them. Came out looking quite impressive:

But actually, although it tasted OK, the coating was a bit coarse and not very crispy. I don’t do a lot of deep-frying, so I don’t really know why… oil not hot enough? I think if I tried to do a cornmeal based coating again, I would use a wet batter rather than dry cornmeal coating. You live and learn.

I’d definitely do the cornbread again, though. Yummy.

So, roll on Algeria!

Football advertising

As all the sportswear manufacturers unveil their big ad campaigns in the run-up to the World Cup, the one which has been the biggest hit is Nike’s epic Write the Future.

And don’t get me wrong, it’s certainly impressive, if only for the sheer amount of money thrown at the screen. And while it’s conceptually and narratively a bit chaotic, it has some amusing moments and striking images. But it’s all about fame and glory and money and glamour and even more fame. It is the self-importance of football writ large. I miss the days when ads used to make football look, you know, entertaining. Even fun.

So I prefer this one, for Puma:

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika

So, the World Cup is almost upon us, and inevitably our attention has been narrowed in on the nervy minutiae of squad selections and injury worries and tactical arguments. So before the action starts, can I just take a moment to say how fucking marvellous it is to see the World Cup being hosted in Africa.

I do understand that there are commercial and practical reasons why the USA and Japan both got to host the tournament before an African nation, but it’s not particularly edifying to watch a desparate FIFA trying to break America like some bloated, bombastic Robbie Williams.

How much nicer it is to see the World Cup finally go to the third great heartland of football, somewhere where the locals will be hugely excited to have it. And having seen the ICC manage to host a cricket tournament in the West Indies without any Caribbean atmosphere, let’s hope that the clammy corporate hand of FIFA doesn’t manage to drain all the Africanness out of the experience.

Today’s big question

What did Materazzi say to Zidane to provoke such a violent reation?

EDIT: I’ve had a bit of a spike in traffic because this blog is the top-ranked result on Google for “what did materazzi say to zidane.” Welcome to my blog, but I’m afraid I don’t know the answer. I’ve seen people confidently claim it was “dirty Muslim terrorist” and “son of a terrorist whore” as well as other things, and it’s always claimed as coming from ‘a high ranking FIFA official’ or ‘a friend of Zidane’ or similar. It all sounds like speculation to me. I think I read that Zidane is planning to make a statement over the next couple of days, so perhaps we’ll learn then.

Semi-finals

Well, a proper good Germany/Italy game, and a pretty dismal France/Portugal one. I’m still hoping to see Zidane take the final by the scruff of the neck and win it gloriously for France, but at this point I’d be happy just to see an attacking game with a few goals.

England out

Well, it’s been a dreadful World Cup for England. Normally, despite the disappointment of going out, there’s some glorious memory – beating Argentina in 2002, Owen’s wondergoal in 98, Gazza and Platt and Lineker in 90 – but this has been grim. No classic matches, no great new players, no win against a good team. Joe Cole scored a fabulous goal, but even that was in the context of a draw against Sweden in a game we didn’t need to win anyway. This World Cup, for England, is going to be remembered for a couple of injuries and a sending-off. Oh goody.

:(

Bookings, red cards and the sin bin

Having seen several matches at this World Cup mucked up by sendings off, I’m increasingly persuaded that it’s time to reform the yellow and red card system.

I just don’t think the progression of punishments is very well worked out. The free kick for minor fouls makes perfect sense. Sending a player off for genuinely dangerous play or blatant cheating also makes sense. The problem is with the yellow card.

On the one hand, it doesn’t have enough immediate impact on the game to be much of a deterrent. It’s marginally more effective in the World Cup, where you only need to be booked in two games to be suspended for the next match and all matches are important, but in league football bookings are a bit of theatre with minimal real significance.

But at the same time, the sudden stepping up of the punishment if you get two yellow cards seems catastrophically out of proportion. Two marginal bookings can force a team to play with ten men for much of the match. It also seems like what should be a personal punishment has a disproportionate effect on the rest of the team. That is, a team can receive seven bookings and have no-one sent off, or have someone sent off after just two. The impact on the likely result is unbalanced.

The alternative would be a five minute sin binning for each yellow card, however many of them you get, and the red card being reserved for straight sendings-off. Obviously, that would make a yellow much more serious than it is now, and the refs would need to learn not to be slightly more sparing with them; but they’d suddenly be a much more efective deterrent. Take shirt-pulling, for example. As much as I’m keen to eliminate it, sending someone off for doing it twice seems disproportionate. Having them miss ten minutes of the game seems quite reasonable. You could even have five minutes for a first booking and ten for a second, but actually I think that would be unnecessary.

Would it work better? I don’t know. It makes sense to me. It would be an interesting experiment, anyway.

England vs Ecuador

Sorry, I know it’s been all football all the time here recently. I promise I’ll resume the normal diet of half-baked arts commentary soon.

I seem to be the only person who was vaguely cheered by the Ecuador game and was left with an impression that England are getting better, even if only in teeny increments. Obviously we’ll still need to be much better against Portugal, though.

World Cup blather

And so we reach the knock-out stages. It might have seemed like an intense, pressurised competition already, but now all matches are between two decent teams playing for survival, and the field starts getting thinned out very quickly. I almost feel there should be some kind of ceremony at this point to mark the transition. The groups stages are like an extension of qualifying – you just need to get through them – but now the trophy itself starts feeling like it’s almost within reach. Each match is another step up the mountain, and the air gets thinner, and and everything is sharper and brighter and shinier.

I think I might have exhausted that metaphor now.

World Cup food blogging – Sweden

I’ve been trying to keep optimistic about England’s chances in the World Cup, but it’s not easy. Michael Owen was the only forward in the squad with a history of scoring lots of goals, so that injury is a real blow. Crouch actually did OK today in midfield areas, but I just don’t think he’s a real goalscorer. At least Rooney gave a couple of reminders of just how good he is. But mainly: we still haven’t seen a performance of conviction or cohesion from the team as a whole. As long as they’re still in the competition, there’s a chance that they’ll suddenly get their act together, but at the moment it feels like they’re just limping from one crisis to the next.

Anyway. The food blogging. I didn’t fancy herring or akvavit, so I poked around on the web and found a recipe for pepparkakor (ginger biscuits). I just don’t get why Americans insist on measuring everything in cups. I mean, flour – OK, although I’d still personally prefer to measure it by weight. But butter? Why would you measure butter by volume? They turned out quite nice, a bit like gingernuts. Apparently they improve if you leave them for a bit, as well. I doubled the quantity of spices, because it just didn’t seem very much, and they certainly aren’t overpoweringly gingery.

Argentina, Angola, and Africa

Argentina played the most beautiful football yesterday in thrashing Serbia and Montenegro. That’s the kind of play that you watch the World Cup to see – great individual flair combining in a great team performance. Great goals, great skills. It was like a highlight reel. The only thing it lacked to be a true all-time classic was a great opposing team.

You don’t win the World Cup by playing beautiful football in the group stages, of course. No team produces that kind of quality every time they play, and they’ll face tougher opposition. For the time being, you just have to watch and marvel and take joy in the moment.

I also enjoyed watching Angola scrap out a 0-0 draw with Mexico. We’re always told that Americans will never accept football because it’s too low-scoring and they won’t watch sports that end in a draw; and to be fair, it’s not a lot of fun watching a scoreless draw between Fulham and Middlesborough. But on the right day, between the right teams, 0-0 can be a brilliant and exciting result.

And I always like to see the African teams doing well. There aren’t many circumstances in which African countries get to be portrayed in a positive light, let alone compete with the world’s richest countries as equals, but football is one of them. The great African players – Eusebio, Weah, Eto’o – are legends. The assumption always seems to be that an African team couldn’t win the whole tournament, and there’s not (yet) an African footballing superpower to compete with Brazil, Argentina, Italy and Germany, but over the past few World Cups, they’ve consistently produced at least one team that has mounted a serious challenge. And as more and more African players play in the top European leagues, they’re only going to get better. Who knows what they would have achieved already if so many of their countries weren’t having to deal with poverty, corruption and war.

The consensus seems to be that this time, the best teams in Africa haven’t made it to the World Cup, and that the two strongest teams, Ghana and Ivory Coast, were very unlucky in the draw for the groups. So probably this isn’t their year. But as long as they’re in the competition, I’ll be cheering them. Against everyone except England, obviously.

EDIT:Hooray for Ghana, who just whupped the Czechs. That was such a fun game to watch. If they play like that again I’d certainly back them to beat the USA in their third group game, which would probably mean they qualify for the knock-out stages.

World Cup food blogging – Trinidad and Tobago

Thankfully, we did manage to beat T&T, despite the fact that Peter Crouch just isn’t good enough to play for England and Sven seems to have sucked all the creativity out of the players like some Swedish football-vampyr.

Anyway, I cooked some Trini food today to mark the occasion. The recipe was from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian Cookbook which I think is excellent despite being non-veggy myself. The idea was something caled ‘doubles’, which is a Trinidadian fast food consisting of chickpeas in a sandwich between two deep-fried flatbreads (like puri). The breads are called ‘fry bakes’ in Trinidad, apparently, because they’re fried instead of baked. I didn’t feel like deep-frying bread today, so I made some T&T-style roti instead.

There were actually two Trinidadian chickpea recipes in the book; both are obviously based on Indian food, but the one I did was probably the less distinctively T&T of the two. The other one used rather un-Indian ingredients like thyme and chives; this one was made with chickpeas, onion, garlic, green chillies, tinned tomato, cumin, coriander, ground ginger, curry powder and turmeric.

The roti were made from half-and-half plain flour and bread flour, some baking powder, water, and a smidge of turmeric for colour.

So, roti and chickpeas. Have ’em with some mango chutney and pepper sauce. I rolled my roti into a burrito-y thing, which was messy (though delicious), but I didn’t get a picture of the rolled version.

Cult of Brasil

I wish the BBC commentators wouldn’t be quite so uncritically fanboy when they talk about Brazil. Yes, they have produced some brilliant players; yes, Ronaldinho is the world’s best player at the moment; yes the current squad is extremely talented and deservedly favourites to win the tournament. But they aren’t superhuman. Today, they looked pretty ordinary, and if the commentators had stopped drooling long enough to actually watch the game, they would have noticed that much sooner.

No wonder England looked so intimidated by them in 2002 – all the players have been brought up on a diet of pro-Brazilian propaganda that even Nike’s marketing department would be hard-pressed to equal.

Togo vs. South Korea – live blogging!

With their glowing pink shirts and white shorts, the South Koreans look like they’re starring in a washing powder advert. The dazzle effect hasn’t stopped Togo taking the lead, though.

EDIT: the Rutherford kiss of death comes into play: almost immediately the Togolese have a man sent off and the Koreans score with a cracking free kick.

EDIT: SK won it pretty comfortably in the end. I was vaguely supporting Togo as underdogs, but I was very impressed by the number and volume of the Korean fans. It’s a long way to come.

FIFA London Cup 2006

I was thinking the other day that it’s surprising and slightly disappointing that, while London is covered in England flags for the World Cup, you don’t see many flags from other countries. Something like 25% of people resident in London were born outside the UK, so there must be plenty of people supporting just about everywhere.

But I went to a friend’s house in Oval yesterday. Oval is ‘Little Lisbon’, the Portuguese centre of London, and Portugal were playing their first World Cup game that evening against ex-colony Angola. Everywhere were people wearing Portugal shirts, or the Portugal strip, or Portugal scarves, or waving the Portuguese flag. It was great. There was even some banter between Angolan and Portuguese fans on the bus (at least I think it was banter, but I don’t speak Portuguese).

I love that. I loved the fact that when South Korea won some key match at the last World Cup – beating Italy maybe? – hundreds of Koreans turned up in Trafalgar Square singing and waving Korean flags.

I suppose a comment about England’s first game is in order. it wasn’t that encouraging, let’s be honest. But we got the three points; we’re clear at the top of the group; it’s a marathon not a sprint; it’s a game of fourteen halves; it’s still a while until the fat lad sings.

Soccer, soca, and similar

I was getting antsy waiting for the footy (an hour and twenty minutes build-up before the match clearly isn’t enough, dammit), so I thought I’d try and buy some music from each country England plays in the World Cup.

I already have a fair bit of Swedish pop, thanks to Catchy Tunes of Sweden. Trinidad and Tobago was easy enough; the team nickname is the ‘Soca Warriors’ after all, and so I looked up soca on Wikipedia and bought a few tracks from iTunes, some old (Lord Shorty, The Mighty Sparrow, Lord Kitchener), and some new (Shurwayne Winchester, Machel Monatano).

Paraguay, on the other hand, seems a bit tricky. Calabash, everyone’s favourite fair trade world music mp3 shop, doesn’t have anything from Paraguay. Wikipedia was useless. iTunes mainly offers me traditional harp music which, to be honest, I’m not getting enthusiastic about.

Can you tell I’m killing time here?

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