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Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Nine best moments so far

Wednesday, 8:10 a.m., somewhere in the Hollywood Hills.

Oh my Dark Lord, Switzerland has just scored a phenomenally strange goal off what can only be described as a cartwheeling assist from the groin of Eren Derdiyok. The Swiss chaser, Gelson Fernandes, slots it home after Gerard Pique, the Spanish Beater, fails to clear the Quaffelani. The Spanish players are in shock, the crowd is stunned, and suddenly I can even hear the roars of the crowd over the "Parp" of the horn-that-must-not-be-named.

One of the great joys of living part-time in Los Angeles is getting to watch so much soccer without having to get out of bed. From August to early May, English Premier League and FA Cup games start at 4, 7 and 9 in the morning. And here I am again with my Daily Express World Cup Wall Chart folded out next to me like the Constitution, my laptop and plenty of coffee.

I have been lying here, under the covers, for more than four hours watching soccer and eating Frosted Mini-Wheats. I watched Chile play Honduras (salivated over Alexis Sanchez and started imagining what he'd look like in a Chelsea shirt), have checked my Twitter, the U.K. papers and read everything there is to know about Tim Howard's ribs on And you know what? A lot of people are very down on this World Cup. But me? I'm in heaven. And what a game this has turned into.

Seventieth minute. A young player to watch -- the crossbar -- makes a fantastic save from Xabi Alonso's missile from outside the area.

Seventh-fourth minute. Not to be outdone, the player of the tournament so far -- the post -- makes a stunning goal line save/clearance from the man with the most accurate, cartwheeling groin in the world, Eren Derdiyok.

Despite all the negativity about the Jabulani, the horn-that-must-not-be-named, the weather, the defensive mindset of many of the teams, empty seats, not enough goals, Sepp Blatter on Twitter and Gervinho's haircut ... that cartwheeling, groinally assisted goal becomes, by my count, one of the:

Ten (well, maybe nine) genuinely memorable moments of the opening round of the World Cup so far. (Brought to you by the Vuvustraw (tm pending) -- when you want to slurp and parp, reach for the straw worth clutching!)

1. Siphiwe Tshabalala's goal for South Africa in the opening game.

A beautifully taken shot at speeeeeeed on the run, and as my partner in blog and pod, Roger Bennett, has said -- the Jabulani for once behaved and sat up for destiny. For this moment to have happened in the opening game of the first African World Cup, in a nation just 20 years removed from apartheid, completed on the run by a young man from the former township of Soweto, the epicenter of the struggle against apartheid, is both symbolic and meaningful in a way that we can never fully comprehend.

2. Robert Green's Hand of Clod

Not necessarily the worst goalkeeping error in the history of the World Cup but certainly the highest profile. The only thing more remarkable than the gaffe itself is the phenomenal way the West Ham United (for now) keeper has handled himself, the press and the criticism.

3. Cristiano Ronaldo's completely unjustified yellow card against Ivory Coast

Totally unwarranted card from referee Jorge Larrionda, but richly deserved. Guy Demel brought down Ronaldo with a sliding foul in the 21st minute and the ref gave them both yellow cards -- for exchanging words with each other. "I did nothing and he gave me a yellow card," Ronaldo said. "I do not understand." Here's a clue, Ronaldo -- you dive, you pout, you cheat, you whine. You are one of the most talented footballers in the world, but no one likes you.

4. North Korea's goal against Brazil

An instant classic from Ji Yun Nam that is likely to be the game winner on North Korean television. As ESPN's Kenny Mayne tweeted after the game, "Now who looks smart for putting Ji Yun Nam on his fantasy team?" Fantastic run, fantastic finish, fantastic for the tournament that so many of the favorites were made to look -- or actually were -- beatable in the opening round.

5. Serbian midfielder Zdravko Kuzmanovic's ludicrous protestations after obvious handball witnessed by millions.

Enough said, Z-Kuz. Watch the highlights. Read this.

6. Keisuke Honda's 39th-minute goal against Hyundai.

FIFA is furiously protective of its official World Cup of WiffleSoccerParity sponsors. Thirty-six female Holland fans were thrown out of their country's game against Denmark at Soccer City after FIFA officials accused them of wearing orange minidresses to promote an unlicensed beer brand. Two people have now been arrested in connection with the whole affair. So no one at FIFA could have been happy when official and exclusive automobile category sponsor Hyundai was upstaged by a distant relative of its massive rival, Honda.

7. Winston Reid's header in injury time against Slovakia

Yes, he might actually be Danish, yes the goal was actually scored by the player of the tournament and Golden Shoe recipient-in-waiting -- the post -- but the half-Maori's injury-time header for New Zealand was the most dramatic moment of the tournament so far. And if he had actually led his entire team, pied-piper style, into the moat surrounding the pitch it could have been the "fail" moment of all goal celebrations.

8. Martin Tyler: "There is a lot of Emile Heskey"

There is much to like about Martin Tyler -- his meticulous research, attention to detail, grasp of the game -- but it's his understated turn of phrase at key moments that simply makes him the best. After Emile William Ivanhoe Heskey had clattered into Tim Howard's ribcage at full force (mass x acceleration), Tyler's summation had us nodding in agreement and laughing at the same time.

9. The Cartwheeling Groin of God

See above.

Honorable mention? Maradona's suit. Please send me your comments below or on Twitter if you can think of any moments I've missed. There's the final whistle. No one caught the Golden Snitch. What an upset. Somewhere in Los Angeles Pau Gasol is crying. And the World Cup of WiffleSoccerParity continues ...