While watching the World Cup and broadcasting from South Africa has been refreshing and different, we are not as cut off from the hype here as you might imagine, what with the internet and the availability of Sky Sports News.

I don’t think all the excitement around England, for once, has a downside, either, because the team are getting better while benefiting from genuinely excited, widespread support, instead of labouring to perform while constantly fearing condemnation from the public, as we have seen in the past.

They will need to play better if they are to win the thing, and hopefully transform the spells of great play they have produced so far into something more sustained and controlled, but they should at least now have conquered that nagging sense of failure in shoot-outs and I feel there’s every reason for optimism.

Japan qualified for the last 16 due to having a better fair play record than Senegal

Of course, it’s not so long ago that fans at home were worried at how the yellow card tally might dictate the final positions in the Group G as, for the first time, FIFA relied on a disciplinary points system as a deciding factor, following goals and actual points.

Here in Africa, where they were left with all their hopes pinned on Senegal after the premature exits of Nigeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt, there was a real sense of injustice at Japan going through on the back of this rule, and I totally agree that it’s unfair.

In fact, I really hope that FIFA review it after just this one go, and adjust so we don’t get this in future, because you should never end up with Japan’s staff and players all knowing they could afford to lose to Poland just as long as they had no one sent off during that final Group H game.

There were plenty of weird and wonderful suggestions for alternative ways that came out of nowhere last week to place one team above another when they can’t otherwise be separated by points, goals for and against, or even their head to head.

Punters and pundits came up with all sorts, including a shoot-out between teams in different cities shown on the respective screens and featuring freelance goalkeepers employed for the specific purpose by the organisers. None of that stuff is my cup of tea, and, if you ask me, what’s wrong with going to the most number of shots on target, then most shots and then corners if we really have to?

More reasonable by far than totting up cautions, when we know just how subjective and contentious they can be.

An unpalatable truth represents my last argument against cards dictating who finishes higher or lower: there are certain circumstances when every player must face ‘taking one for the team’.

Yes, there are times that inevitably come along when it would be downright unprofessional NOT to take things into your own hands, and I don’t just mean the so-called professional foul.

No, speaking as a former player, with two World Cups behind me, there were occasions when, by not running the risk of taking a yellow card for slowing up the opposition or disrupting the tempo of a game, I would have been letting my manager and team-mates down, on top of my country, and I’d have fully expected to hear all about it back in the dressing room.

Now we are deep into the knock-out stages, of course, cagey is the name of the game, and often the kind of rip-roaring, open football we all crave can be denied to us until the deadlock is broken after an hour or so, if at all.

My own money is on the winner of a thrilling semi-final between Brazil and France emerging as overall champions, but we will just have to wait and see!



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