Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Whose World? What Cup? (Day 05)

Having dealt with Slovenia and Slovakia in an earlier post, I found myself at a loss for clever commentary on the first match tonight: New Zealand meets Slovakia. Then I realised one thing: most people know about New Zealand, but few people realise that it is one of the most isolated places on Earth. The nearest continent to New Zealand is also the nearest major piece of land — Australia. The next nearest is Antarctica.

If you sailed eastward from New Zealand, you'd end up in Chile after a long stretch of empty sea in which you would cross the International Date Line. That's an interesting fact, considering that the Queen of England, Elizabeth II, is still New Zealand's Head of State. The sun still hardly sets on the British Empire, it seems.

New Zealand gets its name from one of the Dutch provinces, Zeeland. Those Dutch were everywhere in the bad old days — even New York used to be called New Amsterdam. Its Maori name is Aotearoa, 'The Land of the Long White Cloud'.

Also playing tonight are Côte d'Ivoire (officially) and Portugal. The Ivory Coast is so named for a long-gone ivory trade; since then, coffee and cocoa have dominated exports. Civilisation in the region has long flourished; evocative names like the Muslim Empire of Kong and the Agni Kingdom of Sanwi were trading with Timbuktu and other Sudanic powers even up to the late 19th and early 20th century.

Portugal, on the other hand, is the only remaining state in the Iberian Peninsula that hasn't become part of Spain (much to the envy of Catalans, Basques and other formerly independent peoples). The Portuguese retain their own language, approximately shared with their largest former colony, Brazil. It seems a long time since the Treaty of Tordesillas in which Portugal and Spain divided the entire globe between them.

Speaking of Brazil, they play against the Hermit Kingdom (or is that a Hermit Crab?) in the last match of the day. Sounds like fun.

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Well, two very entertaining draws there. New Zealand must be happy to have their 1-1 against Slovakia; I'm not sure who is happier between Côte d'Ivoire and Portugal at their 0-0 'blockbuster'. Probably Portugal: towards the end, the Ivorians looked really dangerous, compared to the rather soft-looking Portuguese.

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Hmmm. The Hermitage scored a consolation goal as the Samba netted twice. But the Hermitage was impressive. Generally stingy and very hardworking.

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