The psychic octupus told you so
Is Paul still psychic in a deep fat fryer?
Spain went through the 3,000-pass barrier on their way to another gritty 1-0 win at the World Cup, this time a jolly important one thank you very much, securing their first ever final appearance in the tournament. Despite their countless five-yard square balls it was a good, old fashioned lump into the box that sent them into Sunday's final.
For Xavi, it was the first time he'd hoofed the ball all night. Here's a man who usually likes to wine and dine the ball, stroking its back and whispering fruity sonnets into its ear, but this time he put his little foot through it and Carles Puyol elbowed his team-mate Gerard Pique out of the way to smash his header past Manuel Neuer with the help of some elastic purchase from his bushy Sideshow Bob hairdo. Spain do route one for a change, not just route 1,258 ad nausuem.
Germany seemed to have finally run out of puff, as if the four-goal whippings of hapless England and helpless Argentina had taken their toll. But they are a team who have tasted success in the past. It is astonishing to think a major nation such as Spain have never even made the final let alone won it. If they do suffer defeat, I hope they bring former defender Fernando Hierro back on the pitch to do those doleful 'puppy dog on death row' eyes, like he did at France '98. No-one does footballing despair quite like that chap's mince pies, I'm afraid.
It'll be a tough final to call but I know one man who can do it: Paul the Psychic Octopus (I know, I can't believe he hasn't warranted a mention yet either). The fella's on a roll. Or perhaps he will be on a bed of chips as Calamari after he rightly predicted Germany's demise. His tip for the semi-final was even carried live on German TV. Proof, if any, that 62 games in 28 days lowers some people's defences to such an extent they end up bowing down to molluscs with the 'gift'.
A Dutch of luck
So, the Dutch stumble on, despite playing a brand of football akin to that that employed by Gerard Houllier when he was hell bent on boring everyone to tears at Liverpool. He was so bad it was almost a relief when Rafa pitched up. Anyway, after being gifted their quarter-final win by a Brazilian melt-o-down, the Dutch did just enough to nudge past Uruguay and into their first World Cup final since 1978.
Their new found 'compact, give nothing away' style has attracted plenty of criticism back home from a range of old legends of what I like to call the 'look nice win nowt' brigade (otherwise known as Real Madrid) but will anyone care if they finally win the thing? Certainly not the thousands of Oranje fans going bonkers back home. The fact their two star players are Los Galaticos rejects only adds to the deep sense of irony.
No arguments about Gio Van Bronckhorst's opener mind - that was how to teach the Jabulani a lesson - or Robben's clinching header, but I do still have a rather large, Mark Van Bommel shaped problem with the Dutch. Thankfully, the pest finally got a yellow card after continuing his quest to launch enough nasty tackles, blatant dives and cosy 'I'm innocent' chats with the ref in this World Cup to fill an entire Christmas DVD all on his own. I'm having a few quid on him to be sent off on Sunday - especially if Howard Webb is in charge.
One of the more amusing stories to emerge in the wake of the fallout from England's feeble demise in South Africa is that they may or may not have been approached by Facebook as a new sponsor. It seems the FA (who are soon to be rebranded Frankly Atrocious so I'm told) were banking on a bunch of blue chip firms falling over themselves to offer mega-money after the national team's glorious campaign in South Africa. The only two words to accompany such a lunatic notion are 'ha' and 'ha'.
So, existing sponsors Nationwide declined to renew their deal, leaving the door open for social networking giants Facebook. They have supposedly sent a friend request to head honcho Sir Geoff Thompson, who will reply once he's figured out how to switch his laptop on. The suits in the FA boardroom apparently still think Bluetooth is a condition of eating too many Smurfs.
This Facebook line is a dream for a tired hack like me and his chronically fatigued gag book, so allow me to interpret the England team's news feed for hilarious comic effect: Wayne Rooney is off quad biking tomorrow - yippee! Shaun Wright-Phillips Likes this. Fabio Capello is attending basic defending from set pieces tomorrow. Stuart Pearce Likes this. And finally, John Terry is lording it up at Disneyland and has just spotted Lamps, Stevie G and Rob Green in big clown suits! 62 million English people DO NOT LIKE THIS.
Maradona's reverse mirth
It's interesting to note the differing reactions to the return of South America's two footballing giants after their humiliating exits in the quarter-finals. Brazil's players, and Felipe Melo especially, were made to run for cover as they landed back in Rio de Janeiro after a narrow 2-1 defeat to Holland. One angry punter even labelled Melo the 'father of defeat,' showing a deftness of touch for a supposedly livid man.
Meanwhile, Argentina returned to a cheering 15,000 strong crowd even after they were spanked 4-0 by Germany. Apparently, Maradona was so teary in the wake of Argentina's brutal demise that he even rejected a call from President Cristina Kirchner. Even after that, when he'd pulled himself together, he rebuffed an invitation to visit the presidential palace, saying his team weren't worthy of it. Perhaps he is growing up after all.
It was hard not to feel sympathy for him as the camera zoomed in on his disconsolate, puffy face at the end of the Germany match. Except if you are English, in which case, you were dancing a jaunty jig of delight and toasting some mild form of recompense for the 'Hand of God' in 1986. That might sound bitter, but you ask any Ghanaian if Luis Suarez still hacks them off in 24 years and you'll get the same answer.
As for his future, according to Argentina's football chief Julio Grondona: "Maradona is the only person in the country who can do whatever he wants," which given Diego's past, might well be the most misjudged thing anyone has ever said to the little maestro.
Third place who cares?
Holland's triumph meant Africa could finally rise up as one to scream "in your face" at Uruguay, the World Cup's ultimate party poopers. Not only did they rob South Africa of their dream, but they also denied the entire continent of Africa when Luis Suarez turned goalkeeper in the tournament's most breathtaking denouement.
He's been wandering around with an extra few hundred bodyguards ever since his goal-line save, and he even managed to ramp his hate figure status up an extra 10% by declaring himself the 'Real Hand of God'. He sat on his hands looking forlorn during the semi-final as Diego Forlan tried his level best to carry his country's attacking hopes on his perma-tanned shoulders.
Uruguay will now play Germany in the most pointless game in world football. I'd honestly rather watch the Johnstone's Paint Trophy northern area semi-final than a game between two losers whose players are desperately trying not to get injured ahead of the new club season. Still, it does give FIFA one last chance to wring a few extra quid out of the tournament, or squirm with embarrassment at the amount of empty seats on show. I'm betting on the latter.
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