Aftermath

Posted: July 31, 2010 in Uncategorized

It’s barely three weeks since the end of the World Cup and it feels so much longer. It also feels a little as though the whole tournament has been brushed aside as the Premier League machine begins to click through the gears – Spain had barely held the trophy aloft before Sky Sports News were showing highlights of Ipswich Town’s 9-1 friendly win over Shit East Anglian FC.

That, along with three weeks of cool-off, makes me wonder just how good a World Cup it really was. It doesn’t really feel like there were many “seminal” moments, although maybe England getting smashed will prove to be one in the long (long long) term. There were some great goals and a handful of truly memorable games (Uruguay v Ghana, I’d love to sit through the full 120+ minutes of that again) but I don’t know how fondly I’ll look back on the whole thing.

What I am looking forward to is re-reading this whole blog and remembering. Remembering how, on one cool Wembley night at the end of May, I watched England beat Mexico and thought “hey, we could have a fun World Cup”. Remembering being in Trafalgar Square when South Africa took the lead against Mexico. Remembering the sheer anger on that District Line tube back from West Kensington. Remembering… some other stuff that I forgot.

That’s it from me. I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed writing. I’m thinking I will be back to do an Ashes blog this winter, I haven’t quite thought through the logistics of that yet but I imagine it will involve some very strong coffee and a few half-days off work.

Enjoy the new football season. Unless you’re playing Sheffield United.

Sorry, had problems getting near a computer in the last week or so. Fear.

Anyway, in the second of my closing articles on this blog, I’d like to take a look back at the players I picked as 10 to watch waaaay back on June 9. This was not a normal “10 best players” or “10 players set to make an impact” – I would have been massively shown-up on either count, to be honest – but 10 players I’d heard of but knew f-all about, or players I thought were shit and yet seemed to have gone and reinvented themselves elsewhere. Here’s who they were and here’s how they did.

Luis Fabiano (Brazil)

Let’s be honest, we’re all surprised Brazil went out when they did, just 5 games into the tournament. But in that time Luis Fabiano had hit the net 3 times, twice in a highly-impressive showing against the Ivory Coast. The first of those was a storming strike into the roof of the net, the second a virtuoso series of flicks and a thumping finish, although a handball may have been used. Overall he was impressive and could well have had a share of that Golden Boot had Brazil stuck around a little longer.

NDJD Rating: 8/10

Theofanis Gekas (Greece)

All I knew about him was that he was the top scorer in the European qualifying zone, and he had a lot of hair. Then I actually saw him play, and he was arse. In a Greece side more concerned with stopping goals going in – even when they’d already conceded – he was never going to have much chance to show off, but he was lame against South Korea in the opener and then I remember him fucking one up in that zany game against the Nigerians – the first part of two extraordinary misses at either end inside about 10 seconds.

NDJD Rating: 3/10

John Dahl Tomasson (Denmark)

He looked ok against Cameroon, but then Nicklas Bendtner scored in that game. Against Japan he was utterly, hilariously poor – just like he was for Newcastle all those years ago. You may remember my astonishment that he actually managed to score his penalty, but even that was on the rebound. Dog-dirt, basically.

NDJD Rating: 2/10

Luis Suarez (Uruguay)

Must admit, when I saw him in that first game against France, I thought he was Turdsville, New Mexico. He was offside more frequently than Jermain Defoe. But after that he looked the business, scoring 3 times and being a constant pest whenever Uruguay attacked. He was helped, of course, by the World’s Best Player (officially) Diego Forlan, but there were plenty of times when he showed enough control and skill to plow the lone furrow, whatever that means. Unfortunately he made himself look like a bit of a tit with his punch off the line and then subsequent celebration, but that aside he was one of a handful of players to emerge from this World Cup with their reputations greatly enhanced (Ozil, Khedira, Eduardo, Coentrao, Gyan – to name a few).

NDJD Rating: 9/10

Juan Sebastian Veron (Argentina)

An elder statesman at the heart of Diego Maradona’s midfield. A couple of comfortable performances in the group stages, where he was able to stroll around in a playmaker’s role not dissimilar to the failed Juan Roman Riquelme experiment of 2006. But then he missed out against Germany (was he injured/suspended? Surely Maradona didn’t just drop him), Diego picked precisely 0 midfielders to play alongside Javier Mascherano (unless you count Maxi Rodriguez as a midfielder, which I don’t) and Argentina were taken apart. So not his fault.

NDJD Rating: 7/10

David Silva (Spain)

The bugger barely got a game. He started the 1-0 defeat to Switzerland, but was replaced by Jesus Navas after an hour. Thereon Navas was the wideman of choice whenever Spain needed to change things. The rest of the time they played a sort of 4-2-2-2 (really 2-4-2-2 with Capdevila and Ramos so far forward whenever Spain had possession) and thus rarely required a winger. He has now signed for Man City though so we’ll see a lot more of him next year.

NDJD Rating: 4/10

Hugo Lloris (France)

Lloris is one of the few players to escape without any real censure following the shambles that was France’s World Cup 2010 campaign. He looked occasionally shakey but can’t take much blame for the 4 goals shipped and his side’s carcrash.

NDJD Rating: 5/10

Marek Hamsik (Slovakia)

Considering Slovakia drew their opening game to (supposedly) lowly New Zealand, it was remarkable that they made the second round where they lost 2-1 to Holland. Along the way they humbled Italy in one of the best games of the tournament. Hamsik’s involvement was pretty minimalist to be honest, he was outshone by the impressive Vittek who stole the glory with 4 goals. Hamsik showed a few odd glimpses of skill but ultimately it was all about his stupid hair.

NDJD Rating: 4/10

Humberto Suazo (Chile)

Another outshone pick. Suazo did fuck all the way through, with Chile’s Alexis Sanchez a far more appealing player. About the only thing he did was huff and puff about the place looking injured. Zzzz.

NDJD Rating: 3/10

Sami Khedira (Germany)

Ah, the quiet one of the German side. The rest of his team grabbed headlines at stages – Podolski, Klose, Muller, Schweinsteiger, Lahm, Friedrich, Neuer, Boateng, and of course Ozil – but Khedira was classy in central midfield. Playing less of an attacking role than some of the names above, and a far more disciplined one than the free-floating Ozil, he was excellent and looks a real find for the Germans. Him and Schweinsteiger could be one hell of a midfield partnership for the next World Cup and the next 2 Euros.

NDJD Rating: 8/10

PLAYER OF THE TOURNAMENT

I won’t disagree with the popular opinion: Diego Forlan deserves his Golden Ball. Uruguay overachieved in reaching the semi-finals, but through it all one man was consistent where so few other talents succeeded. 5 goals, four of them absolute belters, and a constant menace and inspiration to his side. His control is excellent, he linked up brilliantly with Suarez and Cavani, and looked so much more dangerous from freekicks and corners than anyone else.

GAME OF THE TOURNAMENT

Look no further than the glorious quarter final between Uruguay and Ghana. All of Africa behind the Black Stars, this match had it all with two teams going for it. Throw in two brilliant goals, the Luis Suarez “Hand Of God”, Gyan’s missed penalty, and a dramatic shootout, and you have a classic. Like I said.

GOAL OF THE TOURNAMENT

I’ll do a top five, in reverse order. You want links, you know where Youtube is.

5) Friedrich v Argentina: Schweinsteiger swaggered into the box, past three defenders, committed the keeper then cued up Arne Friedrich for his first ever goal for Germany.

4) Villa v Honduras: outstanding skill to beat a couple of men, duck inside another, and then clip his shot into the net. If the keeper hadn’t got a hand to it, it’d probably be the best goal here.

3) Honda v Denmark: the first, and best, freekick goal of the tournament. Ronaldo-esque… except this one hit the target and went in. A complete bolt from the blue in a really classy individual performance.

2) Tshabalala v Mexico: the World Cup’s first goal; a brilliant counter-attack and an emphatic thump into the top corner. Great stuff.

1) Maicon v North Korea Van Bronkhurst v Uruguay: as pure a strike as you’ll ever see. All of 40 yards, on the angle, smashed into the top right corner with Muslera grasping at thin air.

BEST CELEBRATION

The African sides’ dance routines were fun, but Slovenia’s weird mass finger-wriggly thing against the USA was outstandingly daft. The USA temporarily losing their senses after Donovan scored against Algeria was good too.

TEAM OF THE TOURNAMENT

Spain might have won it, but they did so in unconvincing fashion relative to the ridiculous talent that their squad possesses. With Brazil tumbling out in the quarters, it was a complete stroll for Xavi and co, although the final hung in the balance for a while as a result of Holland’s cynical tactics. Four 1-0 wins was really the bare minimum they should have achieved as they swept to victory, after losing their opening game to Switzerland.

Far more impressive were Germany, who also lost one of their games, to Serbia. However, even down to 10 men as they were during that game, they were a vastly superior side and should probably have won – Podolski missed a penalty and countless other chances were squandered. They comfortably overcame Ghana, smashed four past Australia, demolished England by the same scoreline and then rounded it off with the most emphatic result of the entire tournament (North Korea aside) against Argentina. They were always going to be up against it vs the Spanish midfield, but this was the team to watch and by far the most impressive, scoring more than double the goals of the eventual champions. Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and Miroslav Klose were stand-out players in a young, fluid and perfectly-counterattacking side. They’re unlikely to take so many teams by surprise again (witness how easily Spain negated them) but for four weeks they were the team that were a joy to watch – even against England.

WORST TEAM

Some might say England, but in the literal of the word, surely there was never less of a “team” than the bunch of whingers, moaners, wusses and cowards that Raymond Domenech took to South Africa. 0-0 v Uruguay in one of the worst games in the tournament, a meek surrender to Mexico in the second game, and then a total white-flag in the final match against South Africa as the hosts overwhelmed them. Gutless, spineless, a bickering mess. So much talent. So little desire. An embarrassment to the extent that the French press expressed relief when it was over. A no-contest, never mind being the worst team at the World Cup, this French squad might just be the worst team of all time.

THE “OH FUCK” AWARD

Second place: Asamoah Gyan’s penalty. In terms of magnitude, practically on a par with Roberto Baggio’s divine skier in the 1994 final. Actual winner – who else – Rob Green. The moment that I knew England were fucked, half an hour into our World Cup. England 1-0 up, pretty comfortable thanks to an early goal, then Clint Dempsey tries his luck from 30 yards. Carrying little more menace than a firm back-pass, Green simply missed it and then scrambled in slow motion to try and desperately redeem it from his net. Given what happened in the second round v Germany, in retrospect it might have been worth Green’s while pulling it out of the net and attempting to play on. He might just have got away with it.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

There are a few contenders here. The final, for example – but I had low expectations for that. The ball maybe, or the bleating about it. The defensive football. The failure of Spain to demolish anyone (their biggest win was 2-0, against Honduras). But the real disappointment is a personal one – England, and Wayne Rooney in particular. I wasn’t expecting much from England – to win the group, win a second round game and then get beaten comfortably by a decent team. In the end we only managed the last part – and how we were beaten. Limp against the USA, abysmal against Algeria, just enough against Slovenia and then comprehensively exposed as footballers barely fit for the world stage – at that point, pretty much any team here would’ve fancied their chances against us.

BIGGEST FLOP

Kaka second place, albeit mitigated by the fact that he was clearly unfit after a stop-start season with Real Madrid. Wayne Rooney takes the cake – hyped up by everyone in England and plenty of people outside of it, he was isolated, shot-shy, out of form and eventually driven to rage against his own fans, at which point – for the first time in his career – I actually thought to myself “you know what Rooney, fuck you”. My favourite non-United player, reduced to that (and eventually replaced by Diego Forlan…)

BIGGEST BALLS

You have a chance to put your side, indeed your whole continent into a World Cup semi-final for the first time. Last kick of the game, 12 yards. You’ve already scored 2 penalties this tournament. It’s easy. You know where the ball’s going to go and you know the keeper’s not going to reach it. Glory awaits. Immortality. You step forward. You shoot. Everyone’s breath is held. Virtual silence as the ball smacks against the bar and away, silence broken only by the referee’s final whistle.

You are inconsolable, and it gets worse as you watch Diego Forlan rifle the first shootout penalty into the back of the net and your side is 1-0 down when they should have been celebrating. All this is on your shoulders, in your mind. But you’re taking that penalty. You’re taking the next one. You step forward. You shoot. The ball heads high, into the top corner of the net. You are Asamoah Gyan, and you made every would-be footballer around the world, every man who considers himself worthy of that title, look at themselves and go “fuck me, fair play son”.

THE “BE A MAN” AWARD

Fabio Cannavaro, his football career over, hauling Quagliarella to his feet and comforting him with a camera pressed in his face. Heroic, a true captain.

THE “WTF WAS THAT” AWARD

John Terry’s diving header block attempt. Seriously John, WTF was that.

THE “ON YOUR OWN” AWARD

Terry again for his solidarity stance against the tyrannical Fabio Capello. “I’ll do what’s necessary!” he roared. “Who’s with me!”

No-one, John. Not a one.

BIGGEST SURPRISE TEAM

Uruguay are an obvious contender. Ghana were surprising in how enjoyable they were to watch, brilliantly organised in defence, strong in midfield and possessing one of the tournament’s outstanding strikers in Gyan, usually playing as the loneliest of lone strikers to great effect. But the real winner is New Zealand, brilliant in defence against three teams that would have expected to turn them over comfortably. The draw with Slovakia was a dramatic surprise with its last-gasp equaliser, but the (deserved) draw with Italy was remarkable. They even had a chance of qualification going into the last round of games, but a draw with Paraguay wasn’t quite enough. The only side at the whole World Cup to go unbeaten, don’t you know.

BIGGEST SURPRISE RESULT

Switzerland 1-0 Spain. Don’t think many of us saw that coming. Looks even more ludicrous in the context of the entire tournament, although saying that, this was the only time that Spain conceded the first goal (they only conceded 1 more in the rest of the World Cup) and thus the only time where their patient game didn’t deliver the result. But if you’re going to lose a game, the first one’s a good time to do it.

MOST POINTLESS

Greece. Why even bother turning up if you’re just going to try and draw every game 0-0, or, in the case of the Argentina game, lose it 1-0. This was in a do-or-die game and Hitzfeld’s tactics were to contain for 80 minutes and then go from there. By that point they were a goal down and already cooked. Stay at home next time. At least England tried and failed.

BEST NEWBIE

Mesut Ozil. Who now? I knew sod-all about him before we kicked off, and I’m willing to bet that neither did you unless you’re German, Turkish, or just fucking smart. Now he’s probably one of the most coveted midfielders in the world. Even if he does have weird eyes. Although if there were a Weird Eyes Award that would be taken by Twi-hard Jesus Navas. Nightmarish.

THE “TACTICS ARE FOR PUSSIES” AWARD

Diego Maradona’s stance of “just go and play” was admirable although eventually bent over by Germany’s slick midfield. Up to that point it really had been enough to play five attackers and Javier Mascherano and hope for the best. But the real winner is North Korea in the game against Portugal. It was a surprisingly even game up until the first goal, but then all hell broke loose. The more Portugal scored, the more North Korea pushed forward and every goal after that was scored with half the NK team scarpering back towards their goal. Admirably ballsy, perhaps, but bone stupid too. Especially when you’re 5-0 down.

THE “BETTER YOU THAN ME” AWARD

Howard Webb. You poor bastard. “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t” has never seen so appropriate. Punish the Dutch by sending off a couple of their players before half-time for shocking challenges, doing justice to the letters of the law but becoming forever-known as That Referee That Ruined The World Cup Final in the process? For what it’s worth Howard, I thought you did a brilliant job in the most thankless task imaginable.

THE “HOW DOES HE DO THAT?” AWARD

Paul the Octopus. He even got the Germany v Serbia result right. The octopi are coming, folks. They’re coming for us.

THE TV GOLDEN TURD AWARD

I managed to pretty much avoid James Corden throughout via cunning deployment of the Mute and Off buttons on my remote. The fucker really was everywhere, how did he get such access to the England squad? Why didn’t an overzealous security officer taser his ass and reduce him to a fat, dribbling mess? Moreso.

The BBC run into second place with their ridiculously condescension of Diego Forlan winning the Golden Ball (voted for by journos, who know more than ex-pros as a general rule), and their frankly appalling lack of respect for the viewer. Shearer/Lineker (I forget which) took the piss with their “we don’t know much about Slovenia” comments before the Slov v Algeria game, and Hansen’s constant joking that “someone must have fed you that” whenever a pundit had the temerity to produce an informed statistic was just pathetic. It sat nicely alongside Hansen’s disgust that he was being paid to sit in South Africa watching arguably the biggest sporting event in the world. Fuck you Hansen.

But ITV. Oh dear, ITV. Where to start. HD viewers missing England’s goal against the USA and enjoying a Hyundai ad instead, thus missing 33.3% of England’s total goals in the tournament, maybe? “Bye bye big American sigh”? No, not even that could match the utter shitstorm of Peter Drury’s one-man show during the Uruguay v Holland semi-final. Truly a low point for television, a man talking to himself for the sheer sake of it. By comparison the vuvuzelas were a soothing hum.

LEGACY MOMENT

Perhaps I’m being naive, but I think that the one moment that we may look back on South Africa 2010 for will be Frank Lampard’s “goal” and the potential for bringing technology into the beautiful game at last – for right or wrong. It’s difficult to think otherwise, Sepp has already undergone a mini-180 (a 160, perhaps) on his “no fucking way” stance and agreed to discuss it. We’ve seen clangers of this scale before (Pedro Mendes v Man United springs to mind) but this was on a global scale. I knew it was in watching live on television, it was that bloody obvious, how could the referee or linesmen not have seen it?

Not every goal-line decision is going to be as clear-cut as that, of course, and therein lies the problem. It’s very easy to say “that would only take a few seconds to clarify” but what about instances like Skrtel clearing Quagliarella’s shot off the line in equally-important circumstances in the Italy v Slovakia game? No angle could definitively say one way or the other on that, the game could easily have been stopped for 10 minutes or so. The Germans’ obvious superiority in this match should not mean that the issue is swept under the carpet – it should at the very least be re-opened for debate.

Coming in the next couple of days… a review of my “10 to Watch”, a NDJD’s Team Of The Tournament, plus a few final words…

The absolute worst possible outcome. I’d bet on the crushing inevitability of Spain to win 1-0 in this match, not realising that the fuckers at Sky Bet don’t pay out if the result comes after extra time. Rupert Murdoch, I’m coming for you. I’m coming for all of you.

“A victory for football”? Fuck off. So this is football is it? Have Spain actually been at this World Cup, or have I just been watching a recording of them playing on a loop since Game 2. Every game is the fucking same, except this time someone other than Villa scored. No team in World Cup history has won the thing with a lower goal tally. In fact, Spain finish 3 goals shy of the next lowest-scoring champion. They won all four knockout games by a score of 1 to 0, after the comparative goalfests of a 2-0 win over the mighty Honduras and 2-1 against 10-man Chile. Six years ago Greece won the Euros doing much the same thing but most people seem to have erased that from history on the grounds that it was apparently very boring and defensive to watch. Watching Spain during this tournament, I’ve been desperate for one of the ballboys to lob an extra Jabulani on so we can have a proper game.

Can I just break off from my tirade here to say how wonderful the BBC’s MOTD end-credits were just now. District 9 pastiche, very very good. I would also like to say that DIEGO MOTHERFUCKING FORLAN HAS BEEN NAMED THE BEST PLAYER AND WHO AM I TO ARGUE! Get in there my boy!

Back to Spain. What the hell is their problem? I couldn’t work out whether Del Bosque had brainwashed them into thinking that games are won by the number of opposition players they can get sent off. Granted everybody was kung-fu fighting but what was up with Xavi, haranguing Howard Webb every time someone fell over. Iniesta was on the turf howling in pain until he realised that no freekick was forthcoming, so he leaped back to his feet and sent Van Bommel flying instead. Xavi did likewise except he launched himself up wagging an imaginary yellow card. Really, a bunch of moaning twats. Magnificent players, an incredible squad, probably the best couple of midfielders I’ll ever have the privilege of seeing play, but Jesus Navas they’re so bloody unlikeable.

Maybe their problem is that they’re too good. They honestly believe that 1-0 is as safe as 4-0, given how easily they keep the ball. It’s this no-risk safety about Spain that I really dislike. It must be great if you’re a fan but when you want to see their squad of devastatingly awesome footballers flourishing on a world stage, demolishing a team of cloggers (plus Robben and Sneijder) like Holland, they just aren’t interested.

Oh my lord but Holland were dirtier than a Soho sex-shop. This was terrible. Sort of brutishly entertaining during an opening hour in which nothing else happened apart from Van Bommel somehow avoiding a red card or two, Nigel De Jong trying to insert his leg studs-first through Xabi Alonso’s chest like Alien in reverse, and countless other niggles, stomps, trips, crunches and general shenanigans. The Spirit Of Warnock had descended on the Oranje.

And yet Holland had the best two chances in normal time. Sergio Ramos aka The Ugly Horse had seen his header well saved by Stekelenburg, but that was pretty much that for Spain. For the Dutch, Sneijder played a simply brilliant through-ball that set Robben away with just the keeper to beat. He took his sweet time about it, Casillas dashed out and in the end saved with the stud of his right boot. With just a few minutes remaining, a flick header from Van Persie saw Robben make an absolute mockery of Puyol’s ability to run as a 10-yard headstart was quickly erased. Puyol tugged on the worryingly-bald Dutchman and a red card would surely have been forthcoming had Robben gone down, but he kept his feet and eventually bundled the ball into Casillas’ arms. The way he reacted suggested he was probably trying to wait until he’d got into the penalty area to fall over.

Extra-time only ever looked like producing one result as Spain were in several times, Fabregas fluffing a chance (Navas was square for a tap-in) before Jesus himself had a shot deflected this wide and into the side-netting (“half the ground thought it was in”). Johnny Heitinga received an inevitable red card for tugging down Iniesta, and it was that wee baldy himself who got the decisive goal, controlling a neat ball by Fabregas and smashing the shot into the net. The Dutch protested slightly justifiably that they should have had a corner and a freekick moments prior but come on lads, hard to feel sympathy when you’ve spent the game engaged in Mortal Kombat.

Let’s be honest; Spain deserve to win this World Cup. I don’t think they’ve been the best team here (more on that in a couple of days) but they’re undoubtedly the hardest to beat, and the hardest to play against. Xavi was absolutely incredible today, I read on Zonal Marking earlier that he completed 39 out of 40 attempted passes in the semi-final against Ze Germans so I was watching him closely during this match. Hell, there wasn’t much else going on half of the time. He just does not give it away. It is generally all simple passes but the way he twists, turns, and slaloms away from pressing defenders is remarkable. I wonder if I’ll ever see a better, purer midfielder than him. A joy, genuinely, for all my bitching.

Alongside him Iniesta is almost as good, and Sergio Busquets has been quietly efficient in letting that pair flourish in advanced positions while he and Alonso sit deep. Sergio Ramos has played as a right-winger, and although Capdevila got some abuse at the start of the tournament I’ve not seen him put a foot wrong from left-back. In mitigation that abuse stemmed from him being an apparent “weak link”, but when you’re as good as Spain your weakest link would stroll into most other sides in the world.

Despite only conceding 2 goals in the whole World Cup, I always felt their defence was vulnerable, although Puyol and Pique counterbalance each other quite well. One all muscle and no pace, the other quick to anticipate and move. Iker Casillas has proved a rock whenever called upon – today was probably his most active game and he made two superb saves from Robben when 8 times out of 10 you’d expect the forward to score. His penalty save against Paraguay was one hell of a turning point.

David Villa is the man that got them this far, but I felt that Spain were vastly improved by the introduction of Pedro in place of Torres. Pedro looked like a little dynamo, and was one of the better players on show tonight – like Villa, always available and always able to twist away from a marker and advance the play. In fact the real evidence of how good Spain are comes from the players who have cameoed; Pedro, Llorente, the excellent Navas (even if he does look like he should be in Twilight, as the missus correctly pointed out). Every other side in the world should be green with envy. They’ve achieved what their talent merits.

How Holland got to the final, I’m not really sure.

So the 2010 FIFA World Cup has come to an end. A slightly dissatisfying denoument for someone with a dislike of tika-taka and a love for an upset. A World Cup with surprises, a few shocks, perhaps too few “classic” encounters and some big-name flops but a new breed of footballers springing through. No-one was shot or attacked or anything like what was being predicted. Goals were scored. Gaffes were made. And on the night the best team won.

I’ll be back on here at some point in the next couple of days with the NDJD awards for the whole tournament, plus a few other final words.

Goodnight.

You see? Fun. A highly-enjoyable caper which will probably put the final to shame tomorrow, given the comparative goal records of the two pairs of teams. Holland (the side that don’t concede) v Spain (the side that don’t concede, and very rarely score) compared to Uruguay (the side with Diego Forlan’s rippling muscular awesomeness) v Germany (goal after goal after goal…except against Spainzzzzzzzzzzzzzz).

This was great, to the extent where you didn’t want it to end, which isn’t the first time I’ve said that about Uruguay this tournament. They really have been good to watch, Arevalo and Perez all snarling bite in midfield, Fucile and the surprisingly-effeminate Caceres playing superbly adventurous full-back roles, Muslera prone to a clanger between the sticks along with the odd awesome save, and then I haven’t even mentioned Forlan and Suarez. Apart from the latter two, I’d never heard of the rest of the names above and yet they’re now imprinted in my consciousness, so that’s saying something.

I was actually a bit surprised with the amount of abuse Suarez got. I guess Ajax won’t be arranging any tours to Africa anytime soon. He didn’t let it get to him though, playing with the same verve as he has done all along and linking up with Forlan and Cavani to great effect. He should have had at least one goal, missing a great chance when played in on the counter.

My opinion of Suarez and “that incident” is as follows: I think anyone bleating about it needs to move on. What was he supposed to do, let the goal go in? He knew exactly what he was doing when he punched that ball off the line, he knew that he would miss out on a World Cup semi-final, perhaps his one shot at that in his entire career. So he gambled that on the slimmest possibility that Gyan might not score his penalty. He didn’t ask Gyan to miss. Sure, he looked like a bit of a wanker celebrating and then banging on about “the new Hand Of God”. But it’s not cheating. It would have been cheating if he’d got away with it. He was punished. Ghana should still have won the game. The comparisons with Maradona were inaccurate, apart from both acts brought joy to the nation that perpetrated them.

Germany took an early lead when Schweinsteiger’s swerver was spilled by Muslera, and Thomas Muller became the third man to hit 5 goals at this World Cup. He really does look a prospect, Ozil might have the purists drooling but I’ve spouted about Muller’s simple effectiveness on here before. Uruguay got an equaliser thanks to a really neat finish from Cavani, who spent much of the semi-final fucking about with the ball instead of shooting.  Here he shot calmly across Butt and into the corner.

Then came Diego Time. A cross from the right, and Forlan was there to steer a bouncing volley into the back of the net from the edge of the area, becoming the fourth chap to hit 5 in the process. This was his closest goal of the tournament by about 10 yards, apart from the penalty v South Africa. He really is a great, great striker. And yes, I love him. Diego, if you’re reading, you can get in touch by commenting below, and we can take it from there.

Unfortunately for Uruguay, Muslera then went into meltdown – first diving under a cross from the right wing and allowing Jansen to score “with his left earhole” as Craig Burley quite beautifully described it on ITV. Then Ozil’s corner was allowed to bounce around the six-yard box like a pinball before Sami Khedira showed impressive coolness to loft a header into the top corner. 3-2, and that was that. Or was it? With seconds remaining, Suarez won a freekick on the edge of the German box and Forlan stepped up. If anyone could do it, Diego could. He struck the ball high, hard and true – and straight against the crossbar. The final whistle had blown before the ball landed on the turf. Forlan stood there with a rueful smile that rather nicely summed up the enjoyment that most people must have taken from this dark horse during World Cup 2010.

So no record for Miroslav Klose then. Maybe he’ll be back in Brazil, but don’t count on it. However, he goes down as one of the great World Cup strikers, in every sense of the phrase given that his international goalscoring is more prolific than at club level. Perhaps the greatest example of a “big game player”.

Final match tomorrow. Four players on 5 goals; Sneijder, Villa, Forlan, Muller. Interesting that all each of those are from the four semi-finalists. I suppose you could say that’s only natural given that they get to play 2 games more than every other team, but they’re notable for their consistency rather than one man hitting a hat-trick and then bagging a couple of others (Higuain, for example) – only Muller and Forlan have scored more than once in any game. A four-way tie would be cool.

Whereas the Championship Playoff Final is The Richest Game In Football, the World Cup’s 3rd Place Playoff is arguably The Most Pointless Game In Football. So much so that we Europeans don’t bother with it at all at the Euros; if you’re out, you’re out, now fuck off home ‘cos we don’t want to see you again for four years, minimum.

However.

Tonight’s match between two very likeable sides (IMO) has plenty on it. For starters, Miroslav Klose has one last shot at the two goals he needs to become the all-time leading World Cup scorer (an opportunity I completely forgot about when Spain beat Germany the other night). Both Mesut Ozil and Diego Forlan are up for the “Golden Ball” award which is in fact not one of David Beckham’s testicles, cryogenically frozen and presented in an ornate wooden box, but the award for the best player at the tournament. David Villa will presumably clean that up whatever happens so Forlan might be better off setting his sights on a couple of goals that would put him in with a good shout of winning the Golden Boot, which is a far-more talked-about achievement.

That and Luis Suarez is likely to be playing, and he is Public Enemy No.1 in Africa right now. I’d say “expect some abuse” but the likelihood of being able to distinguish booing from a vuvuzela is pretty slim.

I have reasonable memories of the 3rd Place Playoff. In 2002 Hakan Sukur scored the fastest goal in the history of the World Cup (11 seconds if I recall), and then four years ago everyone was delighted to see Germany smash Portugal after the whole world had surprisingly turned on Cristiano Ronaldo for his “winker” effort against England. I say surprisingly because a) England were shit in that World Cup as well, and b) it wasn’t Ronaldo’s wink that made the ref send off Rooney for stamping on Carvalho’s balls. But anyway, 2010 and Germany have a chance to beat another team containing someone who a lot of neutrals think is a bit of  a wanker, justified or no.

On to the final then, which in contrast to the 3PP is played between two teams that I don’t like. All I hope for is that both teams score – if Holland got the first goal it would be interesting to see how/if Spain react. If Holland got an equaliser, see above.

Of course, Paul the Octopus has called a Spanish win, so lump on 1-0.

Gah.

Sorry Spain, I just don’t feel it. Sure, part of me is jealous that you’re in the World Cup final. Part of me is jealous at how ridiculously good pretty much all your players are. But why do you have to be quite uninteresting to watch? I’m not sure I’d go as far as to call you boring (again), but where’s the drama? There is none. Score, win. Zzz.

It seemed only fitting to watch this game in the same place I watched the Euro 2008 final, featuring the same two teams: the F3K in West Ken. That and I really love that pub as a place to watch the match. Two years ago I was very firmly rooting for Spain, this time I was behind Germany. Surrounded by Spaniards.

I remember during Euro 2008, F3K was the pub of choice for Spain, and the same was definitely true here. I don’t know if West Kensington is just a hotbed of Spanish or something, but there was a lot in – outnumbering Germans probably 20 to 1 judging by the noise. They had pretty much said “Germans down here, Spaniards up there” but we were in the Spanish section – the logic being, we can take ‘em. They were mainly women anyway.

Something about the Spanish. They don’t ingest, and they don’t excrete. Considering that the place was basically pretty busy, I was extremely disturbed to notice that a) no-one was drinking, and b) no-one was going to the toilet. I strolled into the Gents moments after half-time and the place was empty. It was a complete contrast to England games (or, for that matter, any night out in an English pub with a predominantly English clientele) where it’s basically a conveyer belt of beer and piss.

Anyway, the game. Well, it panned out pretty much as I expected it to, with Germany’s counter-attacking set-up more or less nullified by the fact that Spain have a midfield, unlike Argentina who neglected to play one and unlike England who just had four blokes in red shirts stood in the middle of the pitch but unable to run or pass or shoot or tackle. On the basis of this World Cup, Germany thrive when they are able to crowd the ball centrall with Khedira, Schweini (I feel comfortable calling him that now) and Ozil, whereupon they can spring a counter. Spain are simply too good for that. With Xavi and Alonso sitting deep as their de rigeur positions, Germany’s midfield never had any time and as a result the entire team created very little.

In mitigation, neither did Spain; a neat ball from Pedrito (still don’t like the fact he’s graduated to the more grown-up Pedro) played in Villa but Neuer was quickly out to block, and then Iniesta’s centre was a fraction ahead of the sliding Villa when a goal looked certain. Other than that, it was all from range, albeit increasingly close to hitting the net with Neuer flinging himself every which way. Germany will presumably be livid in that they restricted Spain for the most part (as have pretty much every team at this tournament) and yet conceded from a corner, a Real Man’s header from Puyol, thumped past Neuer. I really think Puyol should be given some spandex and a guitar and invited to join a hair metal band, but here he did the job.

A shame for Klose, I really wanted him to get the record. Maybe he’ll be around for Brazil 2014 but at 36 years of age I kinda doubt it. Hopefully they’ll have got shut of Mario Bloody Gomez by then anyway, that man is ass.

So that’s probably it for me during World Cup 2010, in terms of watching it out-and-about. Only 2 games left and I’m pretty sure I’m busy for both of them. It’s been fun. I’ve probably been a bit too “safe” and visited a few places on repeated occasions, but I suppose that’s inevitable when England are involved as it’s a bit harder to transfer your allegiance when you’re looking at teams going “shit, this could have been us” (in some sort of weird fantasy world where our players are comparable with the top 10-12 teams here, which they’re currently not by some distance).

Onto the final. A first-time winner awaits. I sort of hope Holland wins. Lesser of two evils. But for all the talk of South American dominance, we have two European teams in the final. Europe>>>> Rest Of World.

Goodnight.