Football: No one's been round to check I'm not dead

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AFTER 48 games in 18 days we have now reached the stage in this World Cup tournament where the Optrex has to be bought in bulk and the fake tan deployed to disguise the deathly pallor. Despite the permanently drawn curtains nobody from the Social Services has been round to check that I am not dead on the couch. But I can at least be grateful that my telly does not boast a wide flat screen nor quadraphonic sound. Watching Belgium move slowly across 32 inches of irradiated glass with David Pleat screaming at you from the four corners of the living room cannot be a life-enhancing experience.

The past week has been one of departures, of bags packed, of frustrated dreams. Those who travelled to France in hope seeing themselves as stylish contributors to a great festival have had their inadequacies punished. But now we know that Barry cannot get through to the final having lost out to Motty on the "away vowels rule" - "Oh! Oh! Goooaaal!" and that's before the excitement. Barry at least has a chance of reaching the semi-finals but I fear that some of the other minnows will not go much further than the second round.

Gubba has been in the World Cup on several occasions now and always promises to come through without ever being good enough to do so. Drawn in an apparently easy group, Gubba just failed to show the right sort of spark early doors and ended up pointless. After accumulating more than a dozen red cards for dour and elusive language it will come as some relief if Waddle is expelled from the tournament. Meanwhile Chin didn't really deserve to qualify after many human rights abuses - torturing prisoners with non-stop opinion - but was able to sneak some results thanks to a series of strange refereeing decisions. The authorities are still awaiting the results of a urine test on McCoist.

In the other half of the draw, the Venisons put on an unexpectedly educated display in a fetching new kit of restrained beige, while the ageing Mediterranean squad of Bigron seem rejuvenated, despite falling foul of Fifa's new ban on match-day jewellery. But some fierce tackling from behind and blatant dissent may have put paid to the chances of Fergie progressing much further. The hot favourites, Moore and Keegan, have disappointed so far but may be saving their worst for later. Their interplay has been mostly on the predictable side - too many missed passes, not enough excitement and an inability to read the game.

This means that a couple of the unfancied dark horses Drury and Tyldesley could yet sneak through but that is probably a bit of a long shot. The longer this tournament goes on the less chance there is of taking risks. There wasn't even that much to choose between what we had expected to be the strongest overseas teams, with Ginola and Gullit finishing level on points but with many fewer goals scored than expected. It may yet just be that, as we Brits have always suspected, these foreign oufits don't travel well.

Looking ahead, the quarter- finalists seem sure to include Lynam, Hansen, Lineker and O'Neill from the top half of the draw. O'Neill, in particular, has played with great freedom and seems capable of putting together several effective attacks. So knocking out Chin is a distinct possibility and would surely be good for the game. Lynam has been a bit careless at the back but hasn't really been stretched yet, while Lineker has been playing at a nice tempo but may need to up it to go all the way.

But in the bottom half of the draw I can see some real upsets on the cards. My fear that Wilson may yet make a shock exit, with Rosenthal coming through in a dramatic shoot-out. Wilson tends to play with a flat back four and a sweeper, with nothing much in midfield or indeed up front for that matter. Such a dull, cautious approach could yet bring about a humiliating defeat at the hand of younger, fitter rivals. Don't rule out Reggae Boy Barnes for top honours either.

A similar fate to Wilson's probably awaits Robson, whose legs may have gone after too many previous tournaments and is prone to losing it in midfield. If they are drawn together don't be surprised if the audience switches off. Meanwhile the Venables need to improve their communication, because it is not always easy to understand what game they are trying to play, or indeed whose side they are on.

So, just 16 games left to go and it's still all to play for. At the end of the day, there can only be one winner, and 15 losers. But today, I really must get some exercise and change the battery in my remote control.