Goodbye waka waka
The “Cup of Life”, which visited the rainbow nation for a month, is over. And we have a new champion in Spain. The golden generation of Spanish football added the World Cup title to their collection after having won the European Championships in 2008.
Though it wasn’t tiki-taka football at its best, the best side on paper proved their class in the end. Spain are also the first ever side to win the World Cup after losing their opening game 0-1 against Switzerland.
Spain dominated most of the games, but they often overdid their combining football, trying to combine into the goal and without a sharp David Villa the Spanish team would have had their problems. Also interesting to note is that Spain scored only eight goals in the tournament — they are now the World Cup champions with the least number of goals to their name.
The new Germany
It was, however, Germany that impressed us the most. The world was surprised to see a multi-ethic German team in the World Cup. It seems many people still have a wrong notion about Germany due to its Nazi past.
Germany was the most entertaining team to watch in South Africa. The system changes within the national team and emphasis on youth development — which were brought in after the Euro 2000 debacle — are finally showing their results. In 2009, Germany was the first ever country in Europe to have won the Under-17, U-19 and U-21 European Championships in the same year. Now this talent is also moving into the senior national team with players like Manuel Neuer, Sami Khedira and Mesut Oezil to name a few.
Then there was the young sensation of Thomas Mueller. The 20-year-old not only won the “Young Player of the Tournament” award, but also finished as the Golden Boot winner having scored five goals (like David Villa, Wesley Sneijder and Diego Forlan). Incidentally, only 18 months ago he had visited West Bengal as part of the FC Bayern Munich II team and played against East Bengal and a Siliguri XI.
Germany played and worked as a team. This was their biggest strength. The young side was led ably by Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger who themselves are in their mid-20s, but have years of experience on their side. For Schweinsteiger, in particular, it was the breakthrough tournament. And a lot more can be expected from this young German team. Their heart-warming football has won Germany many new fans across the world.
A great host
The first ever World Cup on African soil was overall a success. The feared problems in infrastructure, security, transport and public participation were quite efficiently handled by the locals. And they made up for other deficiencies through their passion and friendliness, but some visiting fans surely underestimated the cool winter climate. As for the games, some pitches were not up to the standard of a World Cup and others quickly fell apart as the tournament went on, which didn’t help the cause of the actual game.
And then there was the pain for the ears — the Vuvuzela. Before the tournament began, most people thought this would manifest the distinct African cultural identity, but this plastic horn turned out to be something that the world could do without. Over the first few days one could only hear the constant noise of the Vuvuzela, a monotonous sound. Such was the noise level in the stadium that one could hear no fan chanting; not even the national anthems could be heard. The local organisers did discuss whether to ban the Vuvuzelas or not, but FIFA didn’t come forward to take a decision in the interest of the fans in the stadium and those watching the game from across the world.
The biggest disappointments in South Africa were defending champions Italy and runners-up France. Italy came into the World Cup with no win in 2010 and also left with their negative record intact. Two draws and a loss in their final game against Slovakia meant Italy would finish at the bottom of Group F — behind an unbeaten New Zealand. Coach Marcello Lippi didn’t read the signs well before the tournament. He, therefore, decided to stick with the old guard and it backfired in a big way. But Italy’s woes don’t end here as no real talent is coming through their system. Qualifying for Euro 2012 might become an issue now.
As for France, it was a national catastrophy and shame in the way the “Equipe Tricolore” behaved and played in South Africa. France could just sneak into the World Cup through Thierry Henry’s controversial handball against Ireland last November. This ‘Les Blues’ squad had individual class, but was never a team which coach Raymond Domenech could control and guide.
It all culminated in Nicolas Anelka abusing his coach during half-time of the match against Mexico, and then the players refusing to participate in training sessions. Maybe France should have stayed home and not gone through such an embarrassment. In the end, even French President Nicolas Sarkozy had to get involved.
And then there was Africa. The host continent hoped to see a team go as far as possible, maybe even reach the final. Some pundits even said it would be the African World Cup. In the end, however, Africa must be happy and proud that Ghana, as the third African nation, reached the quarterfinals. Had Ghana been lucky, they could have reached the semifinals. It was the ominous 120th minute, the last minute of extra time against Uruguay, when Luis Suarez blocked the ball on the line with his hands and Asamoah Gyan missed the chance by whacking the ball onto the crossbar. Uruguay then went on to win the match in penalties.
Other African sides did shine in patches: The host South Africa did well, so did Ivory Coast and Algeria; but more was expected from them.
The phrase that there aren’t any small or big teams anymore in world football is becoming more and more standard. One cannot go into a match expecting the bigger side to win for sure. Often they do win in the end, but they have to play hard as the smaller sides from around the globe are catching up. This will make future World Cups even more interesting to watch. Hopefully, Asian and African sides will work hard to successfully challenge bigger nations in the near future!
An interesting piece of statistic is that New Zealand remained the only unbeaten team at the 2010 FIFA World Cup with their three draws. All other sides had at least lost one match over the duration of the tournament. And who would have thought that the minnows from New Zealand would be the unbeaten team.
None of the overhyped pre-tournament stars could shine, be it Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Wayne Rooney or Fernando Torres. None of these players, who had had good seasons for their respective club sides, could shine at the World Cup. The star in most cases was the team. After all, team-play was often more important than individual brilliance. In an ideal scenario the individual brilliance was an added bonus to the team.
But new stars emerged. Like Dutchman Wesley Sneijder, Germany’s Mesut Oezil or youngster Thomas Mueller and seasoned Uruguayan Diego Forlan, besides the Spanish geniuses of Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez.
Indeed, there was a superstar at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, but it wasn’t a footballer. It was Psychic Paul, an octopus at the Sea Life Aquarium in Oberhausen in far away Germany. Paul didn’t play at the World Cup, but rather predicted the results of all Germany matches and the final. And Paul scored an incredible eight out of eight correct. No mistakes in any of his predictions even though there were threats to his life. Towards the end of the World Cup, the frenzy around Paul had reached unbelievable proportions. More than 120 journalists covered Paul’s predictions for the third place playoff and the final live from Oberhausen.
Sadly for the legion of global Paul fans, the Sea Life in Oberhausen has said that Paul has now retired from football match predictions. But who knows if he could be tempted to come out of retirement!
Rise & fall of Latin America
After the group stages everyone was talking about a South American country winning the tournament, with Europe giving a weak and disjoined picture of itself. In the quarterfinals there were four South American nations, only three from Europe and in Ghana one from Africa. It looked likely that a South American nation could go all the way. Numerous experts and fans were already talking about a Brazil vs Argentina final, with the Netherlands and Germany not seen as serious opposition.
After the meteoric rise came the harsh crash, as reality once more set in. The stats of the last few World Cups prove it: Argentina hasn’t gone beyond the quarterfinals in the last 20 years, and Brazil has lost at the same stage over the last couple of World Cups. As talented as the Brazilian squad are, they failed the first real test and crumbled under pressure against the Netherlands, who fought back as Brazil also looked overconfident that the Dutch wouldn’t be able to score or endanger their one-goal lead. A big mistake and they had to pay a heavy price for it and fly home.
For Argentina it was all about their coach Diego Maradona and star player Lionel Messi. The tournament showed that Maradona has a long way to go to become a coach. At least, he needs assistants who are excellent at their work and Maradona would have to be willing to listen to them. As for Messi, he is as good as his teammates. At Barca he has Iniesta, Xavi, among others, who play for him; and, he was missing those guys in the Argentinean squad, which had a depth in top class strikers but overall wasn’t the team to worry stronger opponents.
Asia arrives, finally
It was a good sign to see Asia showing that they are closing in on the other continents in world football. South Korea and Japan, in particular, showed what they are capable of, but when it mattered most in the pre-quarterfinals they just couldn’t get past South American opponents.
The South Koreans were known to be physically fit, able to run for 90 minutes and more, but now with more and more South Koreans playing in Europe they have gained in international experience which is helping them as a team. Also, the side was ably led by their captain, Ji-Sung Park.
Japan’s coach Okada had said before the tournament that his side aims to be in the semifinals. Many laughed about it, but after their pre-quarterfinal penalty shootout loss against Paraguay, many said the sons from the Land of the Rising Sun could have achieved more. Also, Japan have a new star in the making in Keisuke Honda. As always, Japan was well organised, but if they had a more creative midfielder or a top striker, then they could have worried bigger opponents.
Australia’s tournament, meanwhile, ended before it had even started with the 4-0 trashing at the hands of Germany. They did draw Ghana one-all in a game which they could have won with 10 men and in their final game beat Serbia 2-1. They, however, lost out on the pre-quarterfinals due to goal difference.
North Korea were the surprise qualifiers and the lowest-ranked nation in the tournament. In their opening game, the players from the communist state held Brazil goalless for 55 minutes and then lost 2-1, which did raise many eyebrows. Many hoped for further surprises, but the North Koreans were trashed 7-0 by Portugal and then lost 0-3 against Ivory Coast.
– The writer is an international football expert and consultant, who worked for Times Now and ESPN India during the 2010 FIFA World Cup