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.
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.
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.
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.
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…)
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.
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.
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.
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…