World Cup Football 2006 Germany

World Cup Diary

Day 31: 9th of July

Here we are - the sixty fourth match of this tournament and it all boiled down to two teams with impressive records. A thoroughly exciting match which lived up to expectations and turned on a moment of controversy was a fitting climax to the most important sporting event on the planet. France versus Italy was about to begin.

No pedestrian start to this match as France were awarded a penalty after just 6 minutes when Materazzi (only just back from suspension) was adjudged to have impeded Malouda. Zidane chipped the spot-kick in off the bar to give his side an early lead and become the first opponent to score against Buffon in the process. It wasn't to last, however, as the Italians quickly regrouped and were on level terms within fifteen minutes as Materazzi the villain-turned-hero headed Pirlo's perfectly placed free kick past Barthez to level the scores. The pace continued at this high level and Italy continued to threaten from dead ball situations and France kept their own hopes up with Henry in lightning counter attacking mode.

The tempo did not wane in the second half either as both sides looked for a winner and both keepers were pressed into almost constant service, but there were not to be any further scores in the ninety minutes and extra time loomed. Throughout the extra time, it seemed that Italy, who had used all three substitutions in normal time started to tire as France had the better of the posession. However, the incident of most importance in extra time was down to Zidane. After exchanging words with Materazzi, and with the ball nowhere near either of them, Zidane turned and butted Materazzi in the chest, knocking him to the ground. While the incident was displayed in action replay, the officials conversed and Zidane was, correctly, shown the red card.

With no further goals in extra time, the drama of the shoot-out was upon us and with memories of 1994 still fresh in Italian minds, and France now missing their general and talisman, who would hold their nerve? It was Italy who won the day through Pirlo, Grosso, Del Piero, de Rossi and that man Materazzi completing the perfect five spot kicks. Cannavaro lifted the trophy high and Italy were once more champions of the world.

Day 30: 8th of July

Today we had the match which nobody wants to play in - the third place play off. These have historically been one-sided affairs with the one team which believed it really should be in the final stomping all over the plucky underdogs who were happy just to be in the semis. 2006 was to be no exception. Germany outplayed Portugal in almost every department and always looked assured. Portugal, by contrast, seemed weary and ineffectual and it was a shame that this would be Figo's last competitive international fixture.

For all of Germany's poise and commitment, it wasn't until the deadlock that they finally broked the deadlock through Schweinsteiger and shortly afterwards they had a three goal cushion. Nuno Gomez grabbed a consolation late on to spare Portugal further embarrassment, but you feel that both sides would have taken their final positions had they been offered before the tournament began. An interesting enough appetiser, but the main course will be served tomorrow.

Day 27: 5th of July

The second semi final saw France take on Portugal in another all-European clash. It could have been a pulsating encounter with fast, free-flowing, attacking football from both sides just as yesterday's match had been. However, two semis of such quality was always going to be asking too much and this had little of the fizz and sparkle so evident in the previous match.

From a bright enough start, Portugal were soon driven back into defence with little chance of an outlet when they did have possession. Pauleta still looked lost up front, and with Ribery and Henry patrolling the wings, France had plenty of service themselves. It was Henry's quick turn which earned a penalty from Carvalho's mistimed challenge which Zidane coolly converted just after the half hour. Although they had a couple of chances after that, France seemed happy to go into the break with the single goal advantage.

In the second half, the French seemed content to soak up what pressure the Portuguese could muster. Even after the substitution of Pauleta their best chance came not from their own incisive move but by a piece of trademark Barthez foolery. The single goal ended up deciding this match and we can only hope that the final will be more entertaining.

Day 26: 4th of July

The first semi-final was between the hosts Germany and the quietly businesslike Italy. A great match in prospect, given the all-conquering German front line and the seemingly immovable Italian defence. Who's record would stand?

It started relatively cagily, with neither side willing to commit too much to all-out attack, but as the first half wore on both teams started to spread the ball wide and the game opened up. Neither side was able to take advantage, though and they changed ends all square. The second half saw more of the same, but with the Germans having the lion's share of the attacking opportunities while their opponents seemed more content to play a counter-attacking game. Neither side could force the breakthrough and so we entered extra time.

Given their record, the Germans must have thought that they would be favourites in a shoot-out, so they seemed a little more relaxed during the first period of extra time, while Italy started to become more adventurous and comitted more men forwards. Again the halfway point was reached without any goals being conceded. It took until the final minute for the deadlock to be broken by the unlikely hero of Grosso, steaming in from the wing to fire the ball past Lehman. This released most of the tension which had been building to fever pitch throughout extra time, and any hope that Germany had of a comeback was extinguished by the subsitute Del Piero in stoppage time with a sublime finish to secure the victory.

Day 25: 3rd of July

Come on, when are the semis?

Day 24: 2nd of July

No football today, but the papers seem to agree that Rooney is a cheating red scuzzbucket. Can't argue with that, really.

Day 23: 1st of July

After the carnage of the Holland match, how would Portugal calm themselves down for a meeting with enough baggage as it was? Not only had they already put England out of the European Championship in 2004, but only a few weeks ago the Football Association had tried to poach the Portuguese manager. Tempers might flare, and we know just who would be the most prone to see red.

Luckily for the game as a spectacle the Iberians seemed to have learned their lesson and there was much less "simulation" (that's diving to you and me) and accordingly a lot less violence. What there was not was goals and an interesting if not exactly pulsating first half did not give a great indication of the drama to come. It was after the break that Rooney decided that the best course of action would be to stamp on another player's genitals. Thankfully the referee saw it and did the right thing by sending him off.

This is where Sven lost the plot. With your side down to ten men, and being notoriously shocking at penalty shoot-outs, you would think that this might be the perfect time to send on your last remaining fit striker. Not for Sven the logical or the simple way, oh no. So, instead England persevered with Crouch up front while Portugal steadily increased the pressure, but all to no avail and finally we reached the lottery of the shoot-out.

Except that where England is concerned, it's never really a lottery, is it? Only Hargreaves managed to score for the men in white, and Portugal proceeded into the semis.

The last of the quarter-finals saw a mouth-watering clash between the winners of the previous two tournaments as the aging France took on the still-not-quite-firing-yet Brazil. The "samba superstars" still looked to be slightly out of sorts, but this time they were up against a stern defence who were in no mood to concede cheap goals. Even Barthez looked capable of saving the long-range shots from the likes of Kaka. So, with the Brazillian threat seemingly neutralised, the question became - could France score?

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. It was Thierry Henry who broke the stalemate just before the hour, with the run-and-shot that we know he can do so well. Although, in truth Zidane and Ribery had threatened for a while as well so it only seemed like a matter of time since the more Brazil pressed, the more vulnerable they left themselves to the counter. In the end the single goal decided it, and we ended up feeling that we may not have seen the best of Cafu, Roberto Carlos and others who may not be back on this stage again.

Day 22: 30th of June

The quarter-finals are here and it's only going to become more tense and exciting as the days go by. Today we saw how the hosts fared against the hotly-tipped Argentina. It looked like the blues would only be stopped by a defensive juggernaut given that nobody so far in this tournament seemed to show the prowess to out-score them. While previous German sides may have defended like a brick wall, it remained to be seen whether the current crop had fully taken on board the lessons of their opening day frailties.

The Europeans started well enough and managed to keep their opponents at bay throughout the first half, but eventually the deadlock was broken by Ayala shortly after the restart. The Germans then upped their attacking threat and had the lion's share of the chances throughout the rest of the half. Finally Klose managed to find the net with ten minutes to go and both teams held on for extra time.

More goals looked certain, but the efforts of both sides in regulation time seemed to have taken their toll and with no further scores, it all came down to penalties. We all know what happens when Germany are in a penalty shoot-out - they win. Today was no exception, and they progress to the semis. It is a real shame to have lost Argentina; they certainly enlivened the competition and gave us some of the best moments of this World Cup.

The other match saw Ukraine take on the might of Italy, when they would need to step up more than one gear from their dismal showing against Switzerland to have any chance of progressing. The odds were shifted seriously against them when a highly energetic Zambrotta danced his way around the defence to slot home an early goal. Ukraine looked shell shocked and there was little that Blokhin could do to change things.

While it could have turned into a rout, the Ukrainians held on until the second half when finally, finally the much vaunted Luca Toni managed to pull on his scoring boots and netted a brace to put the tie beyond the men in yellow. It was another impressive display from Italy and it will be interesting to see how today's victors match up in their semi-final.

Day 21: 29th of June

Still no football. How odd.

Day 20: 28th of June

No football. At a total loss.

Day 19: 27th of June

With the final two slots in the quarter-finals to be decided today, the four contestants had everything to play for. Ghana led the line for Africa, but were up against the fancied might of Brazil who gave glimpses of what they can do when the mood takes them. An early goal from Ronaldo settled any fraying nerves and from then on it was really a stroll. The samba superstars ran out three-goal victors, but yet again did not really get going. Everyone believes they have an incredible match in them, we just hope they don't leave it too late.

The last place was to be contested by France and Spain - two giants of the European game. And quite a tussle it proved to be. Spain had by far the best of the opening 30 minutes. They did not allow their opponents any time on the ball and when they went forward it was with purpose. They finally got their just desserts when David Villa converted a penalty. However, this only seemed to enrage the slumbering French beast which started to show some fight of its own. Before half time they were level through Ribery who, having scored, seemed to have the weight of the world lifted from his shoulders and really started to play.

Ribery continued to impress in the second half as the French pressed for a winner and Spain were forced to hang on. Finally Vieira put France ahead and it seemed that the Spaniards had nothing left to give. The final goal from Zidane flattered the French a little, but again it was Spain who underachieved at a major championships.

With the quarter-final line-up now complete, there are some mouth-watering ties to look forward too. However, for the first time in this compettion the players, officials and supporters alike have a couple of days off. We will all just have to bide our time as the tournament eases its way to the inevitable climax.

Day 18: 26th of June

Back to real football, and a match with some fiesty underdogs. Australia couldn't really hope to upset the stylish Italian football machine, could they? Well they certainly went very close. On a hot afternoon, when nobody on the pitch really wanted extra time, it was going to be a game of patient build-ups and then fast finishes, particularly from the Italian side who looked to be much happier playing at a tempo more usual to Serie A. As the game wore on, however, they started to become increasingly agitated that they had not broken down the Australian defence and that their opponents had had the audacity to take a few shots themselves. When Materazzi was shown a straight red in the second half, their concerns only deepened.

So, just when it seemed like everyone was settling for a further 30 minutes in the sun, the luckless Lucas Neill was ajudged to have brought down Grosso in the box and Totti stepped up to take the kick. By the time he had scored it, there was no chance left for the Australians to respond.

The evening match promised much - a fascinating tactical battle between the well-drilled Swiss defence and the free-flowing attacking runs of Shevchenko et al. What a shame that it never materialised. The impartial observer would have been incredulous to learn that a place in the quarter finals of the world cup was up for grabs here, such was the lackadaisical approach by both sides. No invention, no spark, not even very much spirit or effort. Watching Millwall would have been better.

And so we dragged on into extra time. Still no goals, no action, almost no reason to keep watching. Finally a little excitement arrived in the penalty shootout - but where were the Swiss? Not a single one of them managed to score. Despite reaching the last 16, they cannot really hold their heads high after a display such as this. The worst game of the competition? Probably, but to the Ukraine, the spoils.

Day 17: 25th of June

After the brilliance of yesterday's Latin American clash, today was never going to follow, and so it proved. Ecuador failed to reproduce the incisive attacking edge which they had shown throughout the group matches allowing England to scrape through by a lucky Beckham free kick.

The other match, however, was memorable for all the wrong reasons. It started out being hotly contested and just ramped up from there. The referee was clearly not going to let anything slide, and the players of both sides began the goading process in earnest. It is a real shame that two sides capable of great football such as these had to resort to underhand tactics.

Maniche scored the only goal of the match mid-way through the first half - another one of his rasping drives from just inside the area. After that, it all fell into disarray, with cards of both colours being shown with alarming frequency. By the end it was 9 against 9 and Deco and Costinha will miss the quarter final. The Dutch were uninspired and disappointing, but Portugal held on to their lead for a win that was only just deserved.

Day 16: 24th of June

The knockout phase is finally here. From this point onwards every match means everything for the teams involved. The anticipation is high that the quality is only going to improve.

Sweden had not been overly impressive in their group and the predicted hatful from Ibrahimovic and Larson had not materialised. Today might have been the day, but against the rapidly improving German back four it seemed unlikely. Podolski finally emerged from Klose's shadow to get too goals early on and from that point on Sweden always looked second best.

On paper, the match between Mexico and Argentina looked quite tasty, but given the latter's impressive performance in the group and their standing as one of the tournament favourites, the result should never have been in doubt.

But in doubt it was, from as early as the 4th minute when Marquez swooped in at the back post to give this (for once) highly-motivated Mexican side a surprise early lead. The game had already started brightly, but this filip made Argentina step up a gear and what followed was a fantastic match of passion, skill, determination and very, very high quality. Argentina probed and probed as their opponents managed to soak up the pressure and hit hard on the break.

After Crespo's quick response (actually Borghetti getting the final touch although he knew little about it) there were no more goals in regulation time, despite the skill and entertainment on display. The resulting deadlock was finally broken by a wonder goal from Maxi Rodriguez in the first half of extra time. From outside the area on the right side, he stepped in and unleashed a vicious dipping volley into the top-left corner of the net. It was a fitting way for this, the best match of the tournament, to be decided. If the rest of the competition lives up to this, we'll be in for a real treat.

Day 15: 23rd of June

The last day of group matches saw Luis Aragones field a completely changed Spain side against Saudi Arabia. Despite resting the entire first team, they still managed to nick the only goal of the game to stretch their winning run to three in a row in this World Cup.

Ukraine just needed a draw against the hard-working Tunisians to keep their dream alive, and the way they played in the first hour of the match, it looked like it. Only seeming to break on the counter attack their finishing let them down badly until Shevchenko was awarded a penalty (correctly) which he duly converted. With only ten men left on the pitch, Tunisia could not really threaten to score twice and ended up going out with a whimper rather than a bang.

Switzerland continued their good run of form by beating South Korea with goals from Senderos (who received a bloody nose in the process) and Frei, scoring controversially after the linesman had flagged for offside but the ref (correctly, as it appears) waved play on.

That result meant that France just needed a win against Togo to go through. They certainly made heavy work of it, but with two goals in the second half managed to secure the result. They have not looked good enough to trouble the latter stages of the competition so far, but maybe once the adrenaline of the knockout phase kicks in we will start to see a bit more from them. Let's hope so.

Now that the group stage is complete, there are four teams with 100% records: Germany, Portugal, Brazil and Spain. Of these, only the Spanish have been consistently impressive, with good, flowing, attacking football and a willingness to take on anybody. The two teams topping the "Group of Death" - Argentina and The Netherlands look good enough to give anyone a game. This is where it all starts to get serious.

Day 14: 22nd of June

Despite not really flourishing yet, Italy rose to the top of Group E with a solid 2-0 win over the Czech Republic. Baros played, despite not being fully fit, but the Czech threat never materialised. What a difference Koller might have made to their progress had he not suffered that injury in the first round.

Ghana have pleased everyone (except the USA) by ensuring that at least one of the African nations has progressed to the second round. Their victory over the States was enough to see them through as runners-up in the group. Their reward for this endeavour? A date with Brazil!

The Brazilians themselves finally turned on the style despite allowing Japan to take an early lead through a great goal by Tamada. Finally we started to see what Ronaldo can do as he equalised with a close-range header just on half time. The second half was all Brazil with a fearsome shot by Juninho beating the otherwise solid Kawaguchi, a great individual goal by Gilberto on a rare excursion forward and a second by Ronaldo - a lovely turn and shoot. They may not yet be up to full speed and Ronaldinho has not quite pulled on his playing boots yet, but the worry for every other team is that they only look like they're going to get better.

Brazil's win meant that second place would be decided between Australia and Croatia. In a match that was never going to be hearts and flowers, the referee, Graham Poll, made a howler by showing Simunic three yellow cards. It was all very bad-tempered and there were plenty of wayward shots, but the Aussies managed to come from behind twice to secure the draw that they needed to go forward to the knockout phase.

Day 13: 21st of June

Maniche unleashed another screamer to put Portugal ahead in their top-of-the-table clash against Mexico in Frankfurt. It didn't take long for them to double the lead either with Simao converting from the spot after he had been brought down in the area. It was always going to be an uphill struggle for Mexico after that, but they gave themselves a chance with Fonseca pulling one back just before the half hour. In the second half, Portugal closed ranks and effectively shut out the game, with Mexico reduced to ten men.

Unfortunately for Angola, they were unable to take advantage of Mexico's loss as they were held to a draw by Iran in the other Group D match. The group table at the end seemed a fair reflection of the performances of all the sides.

In Group C, however, the Netherlands and Argentina managed to cancel each other out in a match where the South Americans were always a threat - particularly Tevez, who will prove a handful for any side.

In the dead rubber it was a no-holds-barred affair with Serbia & Montenegro quickly establishing a two goal lead. Not to be outdone, Côte d'Ivoire came back with two penalties and a great goal from open play to seal their first win in a World Cup. They'll be back next time.

Day 12: 20th of June

In the first dead rubber, Poland finally gave their fans something to shout about as they squeezed past Costa Rica by the odd goal in three. Too little, too late, unfortunately.

While Ecuador decided to rest some key players, the Germans went all out to win the group and ended up coasting through the match, with Miroslav Klose netting twice more to bring his goal tally to four for the championship.

Group B was much more exciting. Although England were sure of their place in the next round, they had three good reasons to try to beat Sweden. Firstly, they had not beaten their opponents today for almost 40 years. Secondly, their head coach is Swedish and wouldn't want to be seen to be anything but favouring England. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, they didn't want to meet Germany in the last 16. Things didn't go to plan, however, with Owen retiring injured in just the second minute, and the Swedes equalising twice for a share of the points.

In the other match, Trinidad & Tobago had it all to play for as only a win would give them any chance of progressing. Unfortunately for them, Paraguay decided finally to show us all what they are capable of, and ran out comfortable winners.

It looks as though Owen will now miss the rest of the tournament, giving Eriksson just two and a half fit strikers from which to choose. The press will have a field day. One can only hope that the last ringing reminder of his tenure is not the baying hacks of Fleet Street chorusing "We told you so!".

Day 11: 19th of June

It hasn't really been Togo's tournament. Having thrown away the lead in their first match, today saw an enthusiastic performance, but they just couldn't keep out Switzerland who looked very accomplished. This result means that the Togolese will only be playing for pride in their final game, but pride can be a great fillip.

Ukraine put all thoughts of their dismal start behind them and instead decided to show everyone what they can do when provided with a competent set of officials. Poor Saudi Arabia were on the receiving end of a masterclass today, with Rebrov's screamer the pick of the bunch.

In the last of these second-of-three matches, Spain took on Tunisia hoping to continue where they left off against Ukraine. Things didn't start too well for the European side, however, as Mnari put Tunisia ahead with only 7 minutes on the clock. It was a full hour later before Spain could respond and in that time, the introduction of Raul had a surprisingly rousing effect on the Spaniards. Three goals in the last quarter of an hour helped them to their second victory and qualification for the last 16.

Day 10: 18th of June

Croatia certainly stuttered against Japan today. Following on from their resilience in the first match, they looked much less likely to threaten a goal here and the draw suited neither team, in reality.

By contrast, Australia seemed well up for their match against the holders and the 2-0 scoreline does not do justice to their effort and enthusiasm. It will be a surprise if they don't get enough out of their final match to progress to the last 16 (and maybe beyond). Brazil, however, were still somewhat unconvincing. Ronaldo was still out of sorts (and was subbed again) and although there was a bit more sparkle than in their first outing, it was nothing like the dazzling displays to which we are used. Early days yet, though.

France were uninspired in their opener and against South Korea today they started much more brightly and even managed a goal through Henry within the first 10 minutes. Then, slowly but inevitably, it all began to fall apart again. Zidane picked up another yellow card and will miss the final game and the Koreans managed to grab an equaliser to bring them crashing down to earth.

So who has disappointed more so far: France or Ronaldo? Recently we have become used to the French malaise, so it has to be the Real Madrid frontman. Has he been this listless all season? Does he not realise that this is the world cup? Or is he actually injured and Parreira is just too scared of the backlash to drop him? Whatever the reason, the lack of any goal threat from him (and only a little more from Adriano) has meant that the rest of the team have had much more attention from the opposing defences and the entire eleven have suffered as a result. Will he start against Japan? Nobody knows, but on current form it would be no surprise to find that the Japanese actually hope that he does.

Day 9: 17th of June

Today we saw the biggest miss by a referee so far. In the first half of Portugal's match against Iran Luis Figo was clearly kicked in the face leaving stud marks across his cheek. No action was taken by the ref, but this incident seemed to spur on Portugal and Figo in particular. At the time of the incident it was all square, but the Portuguese ended up two goal winners in the second half, with Deco's perfectly placed curling drive the pick of the day's goals.

Shock of the day, however, went to Ghana who completely outplayed the Czech Republic to win 2-0. Ghana scored in the second minute to set them on their way, but the Czechs could offer nothing by way of reply. They looked toothless in the absence of Koller, and even Rozicky could not find his range. When Ghana slotted in their second late on, it was all over and the Czechs will have to do much, much better if they are going to progress.

The USA certainly made the group interesting by thwarting Italy in the other group E match today, although it took an own goal and some top-drawer defending to earn them a precious and unexpected point. After Zaccardo had turned the ball into his own net for the equaliser, it all went crazy with three sendings off leaving the Italians with a one man advantage and almost half the match left to find a winner. They couldn't manage it, however, thanks largely to a world-class save by Keller from del Piero. Today's results mean that nothing has been decided in the group and the remaining two matches are mouthwatering contests in themselves.

Day 8: 16th of June

What a goal. It seemed unlikely at the start of the tournament that we would see anything to come close to "that goal" by Carlos Alberto in the 1970 final. However, Argentina's second goal of six today against a shell-shocked Serbia & Montenegro was right up there. A sequence of 24 passes involving almost all of the Argentinian outfielders culminated in an exquisite exchange inside the area and was finished with a shot by Cambiasso in appropriate style. The other five goals weren't bad either. Both the result and the manner will have made all the other competitors take notice of this much vaunted side, and with good reason. The "make an impression" ball is now firmly in Brazil's court.

After that feast, we were treated to the more earthy offering served up by The Netherlands and Côte d'Ivoire. The Dutch started much more brightly and quickly established a 2 goal lead. By contrast, the Ivorians then dug in, became much more earnest and clawed one back before half time. In the second half they had a number of chances and hit the woodwork, but just could not find that extra bit of class which would have brought them back on to level terms.

Mexico proved unable to break down a resilient and steadfast Angola side who have given themselves a life-line in a group which seemed to be beyond them. They will still need a favour from Portugal in their final match to progress, but they've impressed many neutrals with their defensive qualities in the tournament so far. If they just possessed a potent strikeforce then they could be mounting a much more serious challenge.

Day 7: 15th of June

Ecuador are looking really good now. Having totally outclassed Poland in their first match, they continued in the same vein against Costa Rica today, albeit that the Ticos were nowhere near as sharp as they had been in the opening fixture. It was particularly good to see that, as before, the Ecuadorians did not sit back to defend their lead when they went one or two up. They are probably the side which have produced the most entertaining football so far.

The same could most certainly not be said of England who looked just as out of sorts against Trinidad & Tobago as they had against Paraguay. It looked very much as though the Caribbean side had sneaked the first goal, but replays showed that John Terry managed in desperation to hook the ball away before it had crossed the line. What a difference that might have made.

In the UK, there has not been a single news bulletin over the past 6 weeks which has not mentioned Wayne's foot. Finally he came on (to a rapturous reception) early in the second half. He did look tentative, didn't create very much but at least emerged unscathed from the contest. The change which made the difference was Aaron Lennon coming on for Joe Cole. Lennon injected a sense of pace and urgency which had been mysteriously lacking up until that point, and eventually England capitalised.

The other teams in group B didn't look like world-beaters either. It took them the whole match, but finally Sweden scored and then kept the ball in the corner as the clock would down the last couple of minutes. Worryingly, Ibrahimovic came off at half time with a groin strain. Again, Paraguay were somewhat disappointing, although they did create a few chances, the minority of which actually ended with a shot on target. Today's results mean that they cannot not qualify for the knockout phase and will just be playing for pride in their final match.

Day 6: 14th of June

A particularly tasty match seemed to be on the cards when the flamboyant Spain took on the fastest qualifiers Ukraine in the early kick-off today. Alas, it was not to be so. Early on, Shevchenko was called off-side when the replays showed he was clearly not, and in a potential goal-scoring position as well. This set the standard for some very dodgy decisions by the officials and when Ukraine were reduced to 10 men and conceded a penalty in one moment, the game was ended as a contest. Such a shame.

Contrarily the match between Tunisia and Saudi Arabia did not seem on paper to be a must-watch game. However, we were delighted by a very exciting match which swung one way and then the other, some inspired substitutions and a last-gasp equaliser. I hope the officials from Leipzig were watching - this is how a match should be officiated.

Thankfully Poland were nowhere near as unimaginative as they had been in their first group match and so the possible thumping at the hands of Germany never materialised. Instead we had a gripping encounter with the Germans dominating the possession and the Poles looking decidedly threatening on the counter-attack. It took an injury-time strike from little Oliver Neuville to settle things, but at least Poland managed to salvage some pride. If results go against them tomorrow, however, they could be on their way home.

Day 5: 13th of June

Looks like Jung-Hwan Ahn is set to have another cracking World Cup. South Korea looked decidedly second best to an accomplished and determined Togo side who went a goal up before he came on. Once the substitution had been made they were much more threatening, pulling back an equaliser before Ahn netted the winner. They are maybe not favourites to qualify, but they don't seem too shabby either.

At Stuttgart, however, it was more a case of quel horreur as France were held to a goalless draw by Switzerland who looked the more likely of the two to break the deadlock. None of the French team looked remotely sharp, but at least Zidane threw in a few tricks to liven things up. He also had some strong words for his colleagues. Another bout of Gallic self-destruction? Place your bets.

Enter the Brazilians to a highly expectant audience. After much build-up and hype, however, they were somewhat fortunate to scrape a 1-0 victory over Croatia, who nullified almost all of their attacks. As everyone seems to be saying just now, the three points is the most important thing, but the manner of this result perhaps says more about Croatia than it does about Brazil.

Easily the biggest let-down of the tournament so far was our old friend Ronaldo. Far from his first visit to the World Cup, when he did not even play but was the subject of many rumours and seemed just to enjoy the being there, this performance today was lacklustre and seemingly lazy. There was no fight, no spirit and apparently no inclination to sprint more than about five metres at a time. If this awesome foursome that we keep hearing about is going to make a difference in this competition, then he's going to have to get his playing boots on and quickly.

Day 4: 12th of June

The socceroos are here, and they mean business. Traditionally one of the most laid-back of nations, we all know how the Australians love their sport. After going a goal down against Japan they rallied in the second half, with Hiddink throwing on three strikers (in addition to Viduka who was already there). It was not until 6 minutes from time, however, that the bold move started to pay off. Three goals in eight minutes meant three points for the green and gold and left Japan disconsolate.

The most accomplished performance of the tournament so far saw the Czech Republic cruise past the USA by three goals to nil. More worrying for them, however, was the loss of Koller to injury towards the end of the first half. If the hamstring problem proves to be serious, it could be the end of the big man's competition.

Italy also had a reasonably comfortable victory over Ghana as was widely predicted. For once, it seems, the Italians will not be such slow starters. The Czechs will provide a sterner test.

Luckiest player so far? Tim Cahill, who was very lucky not to receive a second yellow card shortly before netting a brace. Doubtless arguments will rage about the performance of the officials in this tournament as they have done for decades past, but perhaps the ref decided that leaving Cahill on would make up for allowing the first goal to stand as well. We'll probably never know.

Day 3: 11th of June

Phew - just for a moment it looked like Angola might just catch Portugal on the break and nick an equaliser. Fortunately for the bookies, they didn't quite manage it, but they certainly made the match into a real contest, much to the surprise of many of the pundits beforehand. Only Pauleta's early strike separated the teams at the end.

Elsewhere in Group D, Mexico managed a rally despite losing Borghetti to injury to clinch victory over a useful-looking Iran side by three goals to one.

Before that, however, we were treated to a rousing match in the early afternoon sunshine which saw the Dutch team thrive on the pace and inventiveness of their younger players to outplay and outsprint a solid but workmanlike Serbia & Montenegro.

The matches are coming thick and fast now and the skill level has been very high over all. The major disappointment (as usual) has been the coverage of ITV. The Peter Drury/David Pleat combination is particularly risible with Pleat not even being consistent in his pronunciations and giving analysis which is either insultingly obvious or just plain wrong. And why have they not learned that covering part of the picture with a massive redundant caption is never a good idea, least of all when the ball is in play? ITV: please just give up and let the Beeb have all the matches in future.

Day 2: 10th of June

Another day, another upset. It was almost unthinkable that the plucky minnows of Trinidad & Tobago could take any points at all off Sweden, but that is precisely what they proceeded to do - and with only 10 men for half the match as well! Admittedly they only created a couple of chances compared to the Swedes who were constantly peppering the goal with shots, but the defensive resilience of the islanders was a spectacle in itself.

The other match in Group B was a little anticlimactic. Playing in the thirty degree heat of Frankfurt sapped England's drive somewhat and the withdrawal of Owen in the second half virtually ended their attacking threat. However, Paraguay were no better. With Santa Cruz not fully fit, it fell to Valdez to provide the main attacking thrust, which he certainly did in the second half. They can consider themselves unlucky to go down by a single own goal.

The final match of the day saw Argentina assert their authority by reaching a two-goal lead against Côte d'Ivoire only to suffer a very nervous last ten minutes after Drogba showed what a handful he can be and clawed one back. Group C is shaping up to be a fantastic contest already. We'll have to wait and see how The Netherlands fare against Serbia & Montenegro tomorrow.

Talking points of the day: the awarding of several foul throws and a foul for the six-second rule in the England-Paraguay match, not to mention the welcome reappearance of the Birdman on the world stage. There were a large number of speculative shots from outside the area as well. It seems that many of the players watched Frings's fantastic shot yesterday and thought, "I could do that!". And spare a thought for Justo Villar who played a mere six minutes of the world cup, only to concede an own goal and then have to be helped off the pitch. It's a cruel game, sometimes. Let's hope he can make a swift recovery.

Day 1: 9th of June

Finally, the football actually starts. After all the build-up which has seemingly turned the whole country into a nation of metatarsal experts we can get round to the real thing at last. In a reversion to prior tradition it was the hosts, rather than the holders, who featured in the very first match. The world was about to discover just how well Jürgen Klinsmann's Germany would fare in a competitive fixture.

I have to say that they performed pretty well. Against a talented, but not 100% fit, Costa Rican side, they started brightly, full of confidence and Lahm's opening goal was a textbook example of how delicately to place a ball in the top-right corner. Soon after, though, we saw the frailties of the Germans at the back. A killer pass and a perfectly timed run by Paulo Wanchope undid the German defence and with a quality finish we were all square. There was still another goal to come in the half with Miroslav Klose opening his account for the championship - clinically effective.

The second half was just as exciting with another Klose goal seemingly putting the tie beyond the reach of Costa Rica before Wanchope again nipped round the back four and steered a true striker's finish past the helpless Lehmann with the outside of his right boot. With only one goal in it, there was everything to play for until Torsten Frings fired in a Gerrardesque wonder-goal from about 30 yards. The ball moved so far in the air, the keeper could not quite get a hand on it.

So, will the Germans manage to plug the leaks at the back, and did Lehmann put in such a poor performance that Kahn should supplant him? I think the answer to each is "probably not". This looks like a team which is quite different to those traditionally fielded by Germany - one which is more likely to win 3-2 than 1-0 at every opportunity. Perhaps Klinsmann has been talking to Keegan?

Costa Rica looked pretty good, if occasionally a little kamikaze in defence. With a fully fit squad they could give anyone a run for their money.

The other match in Group A promised a tantalising clash of styles between the free-flowing one-touch South Americans and the pragmatic stone-walling well drilled Europeans. Despite fears about playing outside their natural environment, it was the Ecuadorians who made the brighter start, with smoother posession and more incisive runs culminating in a set-piece goal inside half an hour. A long throw, a near-post flick-on and Carlos Tenorio ghosted into the area to provide the headed finish well past the outstretched arm of the Polish keeper.

Now, Ecuador are not a team to sit back and carefully guard a single goal lead like their opponents are wont to do. No, instead they kept on plugging away, which made for a fascinating contest. The height and stamina of the Poland midfield and forwards started to tell late on as Ecuador tired, and when Hurtado had to go off injured, they suddenly looked much more vulnerable at the back too. The second goal from Delgado settled them somewhat, but this also seemed to be the catalyst for the Poles to go hell for leather, throwing the kitchen sink forward. It almost worked. Twice in the last 5 minutes they hit the woodwork and although the final score slightly flattered Ecuador, the result was a fair one.

What a fantastic start: 8 goals in two matches, open and attacking football, no sendings off, no crowd trouble to be seen and one triumphant underdog already. Poland must be worried about their qualification chances now and if they play against Germany like that, they will get slaughtered.

Only a month to go. Buckle your seatbelts - it's going to be a hell of a ride.

World Cup Stories