YOU know there's a World Cup on the horizon when you spend a Monday night being assailed by "friendly" football from around the globe. England 3-1 Mexico from Wembley, South Africa 1-1 Bulgaria from Soweto... not to mention Portugal drawing 0-0 with the erm... Cape Verde Islands and Argentina beating Canada 3-0.
But perhaps the big pre-World Cup story of the night comes from the greatest island in the world, where the vast Melbourne Cricket Ground witnessed Australia pipping New Zealand 2-1 in a friendly marred by appalling tackles.
Bearing in mind these two nations are generally expected to excel on the cricket and rugby fields, anticipation is high Down Under. But Aussie coach Pim Verbeek slammed his own players - Everton's Tim Cahill and Blackburn's Vince Grella - for a pair of awful tackles, both on Kiwi Leo Burtos.
Both would have been red card challenges in the World Cup and a fuming Verbeek said: "Vince's tackle was worse than Timmy's ... I can't find any reason why they should do what they did. I wanted to take them off immediately but you have to be a bit careful in a game like that.
"If I was the other side, I would have been a little bit mad and might have done something. But New Zealand were very professional and I applaud them - my players were not professional.
"It was a good lesson and I cannot accept what [Grella and Cahill] did. This is not how you should play the game. If it had been a World Cup game there would have been two red cards."
The South African game against Bulgaria was hardly a friendly either. Though all four Premier League stars missed the game in Soweto (Dimitar Berbatov, the Manchester United striker has retired from international football while South Africa’s trio of Benni McCarthy (West Ham), Steve Pienaar (Everton) and Aaron Mokoena (Portsmouth) were all rested) there was no quarter given.
England’s final appearance on home soil before flying out to Rustenburg on Monday was pretty competitive too.
Boss Fabio Capello chose to rest his four Chelsea stars (John Terry, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and Ashley Cole) after their FA Cup final exertions and went with Tottenham’s injury-prone Ledley King next to captain Rio Ferdinand in central defence.
King promptly scored his first international goal in six years, latching on to club-mate Peter Crouch’s astute far post header. Crouch made it 2-0 from a standing position on the line and though Mexico’s limping Franco pulled one back just before half-time, Liverpool’s Glenn Johnson produced the moment of the match to wrap things up.
A quick one-two with an impressive Theo Walcott saw Johnson break through the Mexican line to bend a shot beautifully into the top corner. Superb.
Quotes of the night though came from World Cup organising committee chairman Danny Jordaan in Soweto. He said: “With the fans here tonight, and the performance on the field, it’s all going well. We can look forward with some optimism to the opening match.”
South Africa’s Brazilian boss Carlos Alberto Parreira said: “They had one shot on goal and they scored. The perfect result is always to win. But I’m happy with the performance. The Colombia friendly, our next game, will be different.”
That opening match sees the hosts take on Mexico at Soccer City on June 11. There were clues to how that would go from London and Johannesburg tonight. And some hard evidence. My advice to Parreira. Keep an eye on former Spurs man Giovani dos Santos, now playing in Turkey. He has lovely hair (permed and hair-banded) but don’t be fooled. The 21-year-old from Monterrey can play.
Okay, hints and allegations, incidents and accidents. I visited the Kiwi World Cup base at the Serengeti east of Johannesburg today. Stunning. But in truth, Argentina, Portugal, England, South Africa, Mexico, New Zealand and Australia have no real idea what to expect out here. And that’s how it should be. The World Cup is nearly upon us.