The World Cup 2010 in South Africa drew to a close at the weekend with a brutal display from both the Netherlands and Spain, that led to 14 yellow cards, including two for the duly sent off Dutch defender, John Heitinga. It was quite unbecoming of two sides that had previously played some of the best football in the tournament. The game was won in extra time by a single goal from Andrés Iniesta after others had missed numerous earlier chances for both sides. Sadly, it wasn’t just the final that let down this largely disappointing tournament.
Before the tournament started people were anticipating that some of the world’s greatest footballers such as Kaká, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Franck Ribéry, Fernando Torres, and Wayne Rooney would shine. None of them lived up to their star billing. Kaká, Ronaldo, and Messi all had some limited success, but Ribéry, Torres, and Rooney were largely anonymous and ineffective. Arguably the biggest name stars to really play well were Arjen Robben and David Villa.
But some of the biggest success stories were somewhat of a surprise. Uruguay’s Diego Forlan, who had memorably failed so miserably in the Premier League for Manchester United, was one of the leading strikers in the tournament. Ghana’s Kevin-Prince Boateng played a significant part in his team’s passage through to the quarter-final and their place as the top African nation in the tournament. Young Germany forward, Thomas Müller, also proved impressive.
Just as the star names were having trouble so were some of the star teams. England, Brazil, and Argentina all failed to hit the expected heights. Even the eventual winners, Spain, had lost to Switzerland in their opening match, rekindling memories of so many past tournaments where they have arrived amongst the favourites to win and then gone home early.
But it was Italy and France who shared the booby prize. Both finished bottom of their groups, arguably making Italy the poorest reigning World Champions ever. France, meanwhile, self-destructed. It was a campaign that saw in-fighting, Nicolas Anelka sent home for insulting coach Raymond Domenech, a player strike, an embarrassing loss to the hosts, and then a presidential investigation when they arrived home into what went wrong.
It wasn’t just the star players and some of the big teams who were having a bad time of it though. It was also a tournament that was riddled with game-changing, and arguably tournament-changing, errors by officials. Some would argue that Howard Webb’s performance in the final contributed to the dour spectacle, but there were several far more shocking displays. Probably the two key decisions occurred in two games on the same day in the round of 16.
The first one saw Frank Lampard’s apparent equaliser for England against Germany ignored by the linesman and referee who were the only ones who didn’t see it cross the line by a long way. It would have been 2-2 going in to the second half of the game and the momentum would have been with England. The smart money would have been on them to win it. Instead it was 2-1 and when England pushed forward more they got caught on the break twice and lost 4-1.
Then, in the very next match, Argentina opened the scoring against Mexico with a clearly offside goal that was then beamed in all its inglory on the stadium’s big screen to the disgust and disbelief of the world. This clearly put off the Mexicans. It was a highly embarrassing day for FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who had steadfastly refused to introduce the technology that would very easily and very quickly have cleared up both of these decisions and led to possibly very different outcomes in these matches, which would then have affected later rounds as well.
Still, there were some positives in the tournament. It was terrific to see Africa host its first World Cup successfully. I’m sure many of those who doubted their ability to pull it off will have been forced to eat their words. On the whole the facilities, the organisation, and the atmosphere appear to have been good. Personally, I could have done without the constant drone of the vuvuzela horns that largely drowned out the chants, interfered with the players talking to each other on the field, and even affected the commentary, leading to many complaints to the BBC. I really hope they don’t spread to the UK.
The Way Ahead
Anyway, it’s all over, and we are all slowly adjusting again to normality. So what have we learnt from the tournament? Certainly that many of our heroes aren’t that great after all. Perhaps that blowing 30000 plastic horns simultaneously in simulation of a swarm of angry mosquitoes isn’t very pleasant. Hopefully that refusing to use technology that is already available, easy and quick to use, and has already been implemented successfully in many other major sports, is very stupid indeed. But despite all the gripes there really is nothing like the World Cup and I am looking forward to World Cup 2014 in Brazil with great anticipation. Honestly.