World Cup 2010 – A month of Football Heaven or A month of Football Hell?
Well, the end of the 2010 World Cup from South Africa is over and as an England fan my answer to the question posed by the title of this blog may sound, but the 2010 world cup has been football heaven!!!
It has been a fantastic month of football and it is fantastic to see a brand new country (Spain) win football’s greatest showpiece. It took a while to get started, just over a week and a half to be precise, but when the 1st round of matches came to an end, the upsets were on their way with the big surprises being Switzerland beating Spain by a goal to nil and Germany brushing aside Australia in such convincing fashion with their 4-0 win and Mexico being held by the host nation with a belter from Tshabalala. When the 2nd round of matches got started the surprises continued with Uruguay battering South Africa 3-0 and the French capitulation was in full swing after their 2-0 defeat by Mexico. England was held by Algeria after a limp and lifeless performance which was disappointing and frustrating in equal measure but then Wayne Rooney created his own talking point by blasting the England fans who had paid hard-earned cash to support the boyz in south Africa. Slovenia vs the USA provided one of the games of the tournament at that point with a pulsating 2-2 draw, whilst in the other games the Dutch were fortunate as well as functional in their wins and the Argentineans were lighting up the world winning on a canter. The Portuguese also sent out a statement to the football world with a resounding 7-0 victory over the North Koreans who’d fought so valiantly in a 2-1 defeat to the 5-time world champions Brazil in the 1st round of games. So, the 3rd round of games and there were more surprises and the eliminations started coming thick and fast with Cameroon being one of the 1st teams out of the world cup, quickly followed by North Korea who was dispatched with ease by the Ivory Coast, but for them, it was too little too late as Portugal and brazil (am match which promised so much but delivered bugger all) played out a real snooze fest of a match which ended 0-0. The French capitulation was complete with the 2-1 defeat by South Africa, who, by virtue of that result ended up as the 1st host nation in world cup history to be eliminated at the group stage. The African teams were dropping like flies and so were some of the bigger teams of Europe. England squeaked through thanks to a Jermaine Defoe goal and the Italians lost 3-2 to Slovakia which put their traveling wax museum of a squad on an early trip home. The South American teams were not only surviving but thriving and the Argentineans continued to show the big sides such as Spain how to win with aplomb whilst the Blackstars of Ghana were showing great heart, even in defeat against the Germans to ensure their passage through to the second phase along with the last 2 Asian representatives, with Ji-Sung Park leading South Korea and Endo & Honda showing the world that the men from the rising sun were not only the masters of their own destiny (at least temporarily) but also the masters of the unpredictable, but perfectly rounded, Adidas Jabulani ball. Isn’t it a bit ironic that ‘Jabulani’ is supposed to mean rejoice, but the ball has been nothing but a source of not only consternation but frustration to players and goalkeepers alike? I know that was a very brief summation of the group stages but if I went into details I’d be here all day, night and you’d be reading this for a week.
Knockout Rounds (Round of 16)
So the knockout rounds started and due to the USA topping England’s group we had to face the old enemy Germany, and in all honesty, we were shockingly bad with special criticism singled out for Matthew Upson who was the worst of a bad bunch. Ghana showed us how to play with the heart of a lion and Asamoah Gyan showed strikers like Wayne Rooney how to hit the back of the net, whilst the media started to sit up and take notice of the only African team to have made it out of the group stages and the bandwagon jumpers started to get their teeth into the so-called ‘African dream’ that Ghana was moving forward. Spain got the job done against Portugal in a narrow victory and the Netherlands beat Slovakia without getting out of 1st gear and Paraguay played out a goalless match which went to penalties which resulted in the Japanese proving that they didn’t have the best control of the Jabulani ball after all with one of their penalties that smashed the crossbar. Brazil barely broke a sweat when they swept aside Chile but they contributed, through the Luis Fabiano, Kaka, and Robinho threesome a couple of the best (if not most controversial with Fabiano’s 2 handballs for his 1st) goals of the tournament at that point. Uruguay were the victors against South Korea with Diego Forlan impressing again along with Luis Suarez although in a later round Suarez's morals were severely questioned I’ll get onto that in a bit. The round of 16 had great goals but had its controversies with Frank Lampard having a legitimate goal ruled out (cue the Pedro Mendes for spurs goal that wasn’t comparison) by the linesman who left most of us England fans (especially me) wondering ‘who hired Stevie to wonder as our linesmen for this match?’ but later on in the same day Argentina had a stroke of luck with Carlos Tevez being a good yard offside and scoring, but much to the chagrin of the Mexican players the linesman in this game also seemed to have a temporary bout of blindness and let the goal stand, even though the goal was replayed on the big screen and should clearly have been chalked off (again pissing off the Mexican players no end) the match went on and the Argentineans (more specifically Carlos Tevez) started to enjoy themselves with Tevez scoring an absolute belter from 25 yards out.
The quarter-finals provided not only more active, but one of the most controversial moments in football since, well, the last round, to be honest, I would have said a while but football seems to be rife with controversy at times at major tournaments. Holland beat favorites Brazil in an intriguing encounter between the most prolific world champions in world cup history, and the team that was one of the greatest teams never to have lifted the aforementioned trophy. Wesley Sneijder in my view really came of age in this match as the Dutch deserved the win and he was the focal point of most of what was good for the Netherlands on that day. With a continent seemingly behind them and Uruguay in front of them, most people were hoping that the ‘African fairytale’ would see Ghana go through to the semi-finals of the world cup but it wasn’t to be. Sulley Muntari opened the scoring with a speculative (aka my fancy way of saying hit and hope) effort and Forlan equalized with a fantastic strike worthy of winning any game, but then the controversy came in. Last seconds of the match and the ball is going towards the line and that ball crossing the line for Ghana was about to spark scenes of delirium, the likes of which have seldom been seen in Africa before that time, but Luis Suarez aka the new owner of the hand of god mantle (his own words, not mine) intervened and looked like a pro volleyball player when he blatantly batted the ball off the line with his hands, thus giving the referee no choice but to award a penalty to Ghana and send Mr. Suarez off. The resulting penalty had probably the most drama of the world cup so far and every single cliché behind it you could think of, the hopes of a continent, the dreams of a nation, etc... but the resulting penalty (which was the last kick of the game in extra time) was missed by Asamoah Gyan, the game went to penalties and even though Gyan scored in the shootout, the damage had been done with 2 poor penalties from Ghana and a final Uruguayan penalty which was coolly dispatched thus ending the ‘African dream’ in somewhat controversial fashion with the Ghanaians doing what we all do in life at some point...cursing missed opportunities. Spain came out victorious, if not a bit worse for wear physically in their quarter-final encounter with Paraguay whilst Germany (who I’ve called functional, average among other adjectives) took the award for the shock of the round by not only recording a resounding 4-0 victory against Argentina but making the Argentineans look as bad as Burnley away from home by stifling their big-game players and handing them a severe beating.
The semi-finals saw Uruguay dumped out by virtue of a 3-2 defeat by Holland in which Holland once again showed that total football may get you plaudits, but functional football can get you pretty far in tournaments whilst some viewed a potentially offside goal by Holland (offside potentially by virtue of Van Persie flicking his leg towards the ball from an offside position) as karmic retribution for Uruguay who some say shafted Ghana out of a semi-final place, but again the Dutch showed that even in victory, their defense isn’t totally watertight. In the other semi-final Spain, like Holland was not amazing, but they got the job done with a deserved 1-0 win with a goal by the ultimate warrior look-a-like Carles Puyol getting the only goal of the game, with the Barcelona stalwart proving once again that if you leave a defender to get a free header in your box, more likely than not he’s going to bury it.
3rd/4th place Playoff
The third/fourth place playoff was quite interesting but the Germans deservedly took 3rd place with the Uruguayans having to settle for fourth place and an unlucky Diego Forlan scoring another fantastic goal and coming within inches of getting the Golden Boot.
So, we went into the final knowing a couple of things, 1 being that we would have new world champions as the defending champions (Italy) crashed out at the group stage, and another thing we knew was that we were going to crown brand spanking new world champions as neither nation had actually won the trophy previously and that Germany was 3rd and Uruguay 4th. We expected a festival of football and we weren’t disappointed. There were chances for both sides and even though some of the Dutch players bemoaned Howard Webb’s decision making, they were fortunate to have 11 men on the pitch up until Heitinga was sent off anyway, especially after Nigel Je Jong’s fantastic impression of a karate master with Xabi Alonso being his victim. In my humble opinion, the Spanish deserved the win and I am glad that the best pure footballing team won the World Cup and never changed their playing style.
So a month of football heaven is over and deserving world champions were crowned, it may have been a slow starter, but between refereeing controversy, the constant sound of the vuvuzelas, and some truly fantastic goals, it has been a lot of fun and truly entertaining.
But as the Spanish rejoiced, I couldn’t help but be slightly envious. My prediction came true, England disappointed me as usual, but as sad as I am about the tournament ending, I am overjoyed at the spectacle I have had the pleasure of watching.
I'm The Straight Shootin' One, And that's my opinion!!!
Liam Angell aka Straight Shootin’ LJA