Memorable World Cup saving Blatter
Sepp Blatter is a very, very lucky man. His allies might have turned against him, the British media might have gotten their claws into him, the Qatar World Cup might be an unlanceable boil, but FIFA's unimpeachable president may yet leave Brazil next month smelling of roses.
The protests that marked the opening day of the tournament have died down, the goal-line technology hasn't gone wrong, everyone loves the shaving foam and thus far nothing big has fallen over and killed anyone. And long may that continue. But most importantly for Blatter, the football has been blow-your-spectacles-off-and-singe-your-eyebrows amazing. As distractions go, the 2014 World Cup has been a complete success.
Blatter's position is as precarious as it has ever been, which is to say that it's only slightly precarious. But if this World Cup had been a disaster, or even just dull, his hopes of claiming a fifth term in the top job would have been seriously damaged. Instead, it seems that he'll now be able to brag about high viewing figures, particularly in the United States, and whopping advertising revenue, and he'll have a wave of feel-good factor that he can surf all the way back into power.
We've all been arguing over who has had the best World Cup, but I'm afraid that Sepp's been winning all along. A few of the highlights so far:
• Even by the standards of this tournament, the clash between Germany and Ghana was something special. After a first half that would be diplomatically described as "tactically intriguing," both teams flicked off the safety catch and ran at each other with little thought to trivialities like defending.
Germany took the lead. Ghana laughed in their faces and snatched it back. Germany brought on Miroslav Klose and somewhere in Brazil, Original Ronaldo's blood ran cold. With good reason, too. Within a matter of minutes, someone was on his Wikipedia page, adding the word "joint" to his bit about all-time leading World Cup goal scorers. Neither side could secure the win, but then neither side deserved to lose, and that has been something of a trend in this tournament.
• Just like their rivals Brazil, Argentina have made a surprisingly slow start to the World Cup. On Saturday, they could easily have lost to Iran in Belo Horizonte having spent most of the game bouncing off Carlos Queiroz's shrewdly deployed back line. Lionel Messi, for the second game running, saved them with a wonder goal, but serious questions must be asked of Alejandro Sabella's men.
This is not the first time that a traditional football power has been troubled by Iran's defence. But it was certainly the most entertaining, at least for everyone outside of Argentina and particularly for schadenfreude-loving Brazilians. Across the host nation, yellow-shirted supporters urged Iran on, desperate for them to complete the job. But while Queiroz's side had a resilient defence putting in the performance of their lives, Argentina had an off-colour Messi, and there's really no contest there.
Messi is making a habit of playing badly, but scoring crucial, world-class goals when they're needed, in what could be a most energy-efficient method of winning the World Cup. But for all the credit that the Iranians deserve, their failure to waste time at the end of the game was as much a factor in their defeat as Messi's left foot.
• Poor Bosnia-Herzegovina are out of their first World Cup, just six days after their adventure began. They will take a number of lessons from the experience. First, like Iran, they've found that you cannot legislate for Messi. Second, they have discovered that one refereeing decision, in this case a contentious offside ruling, can ruin everything. Finally, they now know that if you want to survive more than a week in a World Cup, you really can't sleepwalk through the second half of a must-win game and then leave it all down to Edin Dzeko in the dying moments.
• Bosnia could be joined on Washout Lane by Algeria if the north Africans lose to South Korea on Sunday. Belgium will have another chance to live up to their pretournament hype when they face Fabio Capello's soporific Russia, but the game of the day is the rumble in the jungle of Manaus, where the United States face Portugal. A win for the Americans would send Cristiano Ronaldo and friends home, while even a draw would leave them praying for victory over Ghana, a German win in the last game and a five-goal swing to boot. It's not quite "win or bust," but it's not far off.