Upsets put underdogs in spotlight

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The Independent Football

The World (turned upside down) Cup continued in Japan yesterday with yet another defeat for one of the favourites. Italy, three-times winners in the past, lost to Croatia 2-1 and now face a tense fixture against Mexico. Defeat would send them back to Rome for the kind of reception reserved for people who have combined selling state secrets with cruelty to animals.

The World (turned upside down) Cup continued in Japan yesterday with yet another defeat for one of the favourites. Italy, three-times winners in the past, lost to Croatia 2-1 and now face a tense fixture against Mexico. Defeat would send them back to Rome for the kind of reception reserved for people who have combined selling state secrets with cruelty to animals.

They are following in the bootsteps of world champions France (no goals, no wins), two-times champions Argentina (trounced by England on Friday), and three-times winners Germany (who must avoid defeat against Cameroon to progress to the next round). Consider also the little-fancied Japanese holding Belgium to a draw, USA beating Portugal, South Korea's win over Poland, and Senegal's victory over France, and already this tournament has provided a series of upsets unprecedented in World Cup History.

No one can explain why this glut of shocks is occurring. Theories range from the excessive amount of competitive matches played by top European clubs, general improvement in standards of play throughout the world due to decades of coaching schemes, and footballers from far-flung lands playing in the top European leagues. There is also the levelling nature of unfamiliar conditions found in Japan and South Korea, both countries well off the conventional football map.

Croatia's victory sparked the kind of hysterical street celebrations which, until yesterday, would have been regarded in Britain as typical behaviour of foreigners. But, after the scenes of unbridled jubilation that swept England, the Croatians' revelry seemed, rather reserved.

The Italians were anything but restrained. Their FA is now considering a protest over the performance of English referee Graham Poll after they had two goals disallowed in the second half of the match. The Danish linesman would also be well-advised to avoid Italy for his holidays this year. In the day's other big match, Brazil managed to buck the current trend by beating China 4-0.

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