Football/Soccer

Kenny Archer: Familiar themes emerge in both World Cup and Championship

Mexico shocked Germany on Sunday but the World Cup-holders are still fancied to advance to the quarter-finals at least.

WITH almost exactly the same number of countries/counties involved, it's hard not to make comparisons between the World Cup and the GAA inter-county championships.

Don't worry, this isn't going to be one of those 'Dublin are Germany', 'Kerry are Brazil' malarkeys - not least because Germany actually lost a major match. In this game of 'compare and contrast', there's still doubt about which teams will make the last four of the World Cup, whereas no one (sensible) is in any doubt that the Dubs will reach the All-Ireland semi-finals - at the very least.

Some familiar themes do arise from both competitions, though:

The rush to judgement:

It would be harsh to say that what we've witnessed so far in Russia has been akin to the McKenna Cup/O'Byrne Cup/McGrath Cup/Connacht League, but it's been no more meaningful in the greater scheme of things than the early rounds of the National Football League.

Teams tend to build slowly in both competitions but some seem to expect five-star showings from the start.

OMG! The top teams haven't all won their matches. Indeed, only two of the top seven ranked teams competing in this World Cup won their opening games.

True, but only one of them lost. Admittedly that was World Cup-holders Germany, but Mexico have been one of world soccer's great under-achievers; the Germans perhaps deserved a draw, but in a low-scoring sport like soccer there's always a greater possibility of upsets.

Brazil could only draw with Switzerland, but the Swiss are ranked sixth in the world. Sure they somehow managed to get past Northern Ireland so they're obviously brilliant.

Similarly, Mayo and Tyrone lost their first matches, but only to neighbours and teams that actually finished above them in the League, Galway and Monaghan respectively.

There's only surprise expressed by some at such results because of the following regular rant...

Rankings being rubbished:

The FIFA rankings are soccer's equivalent of League placings. Every year, off the back of some admittedly surprise results (Carlow beating Kildare, Fermanagh edging out Monaghan, Mexico beating Germany) we're told that such standings are meaningless when it comes to 'the real thing'.

And every time most of the big guns still make it through to the latter stages.

The luck of the draw comes into it, of course, but we can still expect the majority of Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, England, France, Germany, Portugal, and Spain to be involved in the quarter-finals, just as Mayo, Monaghan, and Tyrone (unless they meet each other in the qualifiers) should get through to the Super Eights along with Dublin and Galway, and Donegal and Kerry (probably). All Division One teams...

Part of the reason there's so much fuss made about upsets is that, in both competitions, everybody loves an underdog. Which leads me on to...

Unbalanced player ratings:

Nothing illustrated the love of the underdog more than the fact that, after a public vote on the BBC website on Saturday, every single Icelandic player received a higher rating than any Argentinian.

Clearly that defies logic. Even in such a low-scoring sport, such apparent dominance should surely have resulted in a comfortable victory for Iceland, bunt in fact they only drew thanks to Argentina failing to score one penalty kick and being denied another obvious one.

Much as I love Iceland, such assessment is daft, but it happens in the GAA too.

Apparently we (and by that I mean my colleagues) gave Fermanagh far higher total marks than Monaghan following their incredibly closely-contested Ulster Final.

That comes down to what I used to call 'Peter Canavan syndrome', the expectation of certain levels of performance. If PTG played really well, he might receive and '8'; yet had the same performance been produced by any other player on the pitch, he'd have got at least a '9'.

Even in soccer, different levels of expectation mean that draws can be regarded as moral victories. A snippet of American commentary declared that 'Iceland beats Argentina'. Those who love to bash Yanks scoffed again, oblivious to the fact that this was a reference to a headline after an unexpected draw in a Yale-Harvard American football game.

And it's Americans who supposedly don't have a sense of humour...

Another factor is that people see what they want to see. Just as they truly think that little Iceland played better than mighty Argentina, so their inherent biases lead to...

Criticism of officiating:

We chuckle at foreign commentators and their incredibly partisan 'GolGolGolGolGolGolGoooooooooooooooooooooolllllllllllllllllll!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!' celebrations, but everyone is the same in watching matches through their own country/ county coloured glasses and commenting accordingly on officials.

Even with the introduction of VAR there can still be intense debate about decisions, depending on who you support (or don't support). France's penalty against Australia? The defender got a touch, but he also then connected with the forward. Touching the ball first doesn't mean it's not a foul but contact with the attacker doesn't mean it is a foul either.

English TV pundits were getting their St George's flag boxers in a twist on Monday evening about the non-use of VAR, but they were only looking at fouling ON their players, not BY their players.

None of them seemed to notice John Stones clearly shoving his marker in the back AT EXACTLY THE SAME TIME as Harry Kane was, admittedly, wrestled to the ground.

Even the second half penalty claim they kept showing looked like Kane had learnt the GAA forwards' trick of grabbing his marker's arm and then falling forward. If he was only trying to get clear of the defender then why was Kane holding onto the Tunisian's arm?

Talking of arms, had a Tunisian swung his into an English forward's face then they would have been calling 'stonewall penalty'.

It's the same in the GAA: one fan's 'dive' is an opposition supporter's 'clear push'.

The big difference now is that GAA referees don't see replays.

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