What We Learned From The World Cup Finals


Goal Of The Tournament – And The First Shall Be The Best

Tshabalala’s great opening strike was outstanding, not simply for the sheer elan with which he smashed it into the Mexican’s net as for the promise it offered. Here was a goal formed on the playing fields of the best fast-flowing counterattacking sides. A defence splitting pass placed perfectly into the path of a sprinting Tshabalala, who just slammed it into the net. It raised hopes that this World Cup would be about skill and daring and excitement, that someone in Africa would rise to challenge the monoliths (if you can have monoliths that is) of European and South American dominance, that this World Cup would be about the joy of football rather than the stunning negativity, insecurity and fear of most tournament football. Sadly after this moment it was pretty much all downhill.

Not Goal Of The Tournament – Somewhat Spoilt For Choice

We could have Ghana’s non-goal that was blocked on the line by the hand of Dirty Suarez in the Quarter Finals. Or the American’s goal that never was against Slovenia. Or, it might seem, the Italian’s last minute almost-equaliser against the mighty Slovakia. Certainly the FIFA linesmen, who were by and large excellent, seemed to have mislaid their goalmouth specs on something of a regular basis. However, Not Goal Of The Tournament has to go to Frank Lampard’s chip and blip off the crossbar against Germany. Just like an overly imaginative fisherman’s tale, the gap between the line and the ball will only ever get bigger in the telling. However, the failure to give the goal will have two major positive effects on the game, it’s so blatantly a goal that FIFA will have to investigate the use of goalline technology and it won’t be allowed to cover up the myriad of failings of the useless Engerland side.

Best Chant Of The Tournament

Not a lot of choice here as the vuvuzela managed to successfully bloat out pretty much all attempts at chanting. However, the continued booing of Dirty Suarez during the Semi-Final against Holland was exceedingly gratifying. But the winner is the England fans’ reaction to the disallowed (non-allowed?) Not Goal, which was both the loudest and the best chant of the tournament. A World Cup half a world away, broadcast to billions, and the crowd is all singing ‘The Referee’s a wanker’ at the tops of their voices. That was a moment for Sepp Blatter to have nightmares about.

Best Sporting Moment Of The Tournament

It lasted the best part of three days and it wasn’t even in the same continent. John Isner and Nicolas Mahut’s amazing fifth set at Wimbledon was everything that sport should be about, excellence of technique, power of will, composure, discipline, psychological gamesmanship, physical agility and fitness, skill, daring and channelled aggression. They played more minutes in that one set than most players played in the entire World Cup. They didn’t blink, whine, pout, dive, get scared. And it was just a first round match.

Best Least Sporting Moment Of The Tournament

Hands up Dirty Suarez. Sure we might all have done it, it might even have been ‘instinctive’ rather than blatantly deliberate, but you know what, I hope we wouldn’t have. And, yes, almost no one would be bothered if only Gyan had scored the resulting penalty and Ghana had gone through. But this was another example of the extreme cynicism that dominated the World Cup, a moment where the punishment quite patently didn’t match the crime. You have to think that a penalty goal and a yellow card would be a better punishment for this sort of thing. Sure less drama, but quite patently a fairer result.

Best Team Of The Tournament

Most goals, top goalscorer, best young player, most exciting team, and not one, not two, but three four goal thrashings on their way to a Semi-Final loss to eventual winners Spain sees Germany win Best Team. Oh how we laughed when they gave Oztralia the kicking they so richly deserved, oh how we didn’t (well we did but in a crazy schadenfreude sort of way) when they mercilessly dished out the same drubbing to Engerland. And oh how we laughed again when they mullered the crazy Argies. And we can blame it all on divetastic ex-Spur Jurgen Klinsmann. Unlike the useless Engerland, Germany showed all the benefits of ambition, long-term planning, attacking philosophy and preparation. And, unlike pretty much every other team here, Germany came here to win the World Cup rather than simply gain it by not losing. The only team whose matches I’ve bothered to keep.

Least Best Team Of The Tournament

Hmmmm. Where to start? The pitiful inadequacy of both Cameroon and North Korea, neither of whom scored a point. The pulse-draining soul-sapping mediocrity of all those sides hopped up on fear and inadequacy that aimed to stifle the opposition and kill the game. The European giants who didn’t perform, like Italy and France. No, there’s really only one Least Best Team, the now utterly unmighty Engerland. The oldest squad in the tournament should have been chock full of big game, big tournament experience if nothing else, but instead seemed to have cornered the market on fear, insecurity and doubt. They also seemed to have left their footballing basics somewhere else as simple acts like passing seemed utterly beyond them. Apparently riven by strife, inadequacy, boredom and sexual jealousy, they were so bad that their flaccid performances in World Cup 2006 seemed like memories of the Elysian Fields.  If what we do in life does, indeed, echo through eternity, then these guys are going to be hearing the boos that accompanied them off the pitch against Algeria for a very long time.

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What We Learned From Group F Eliminators


The Torture of Human Endurance Italy 2 – 3 Slovakia

They’re still at it. Day 3. The awesome Mahut and Isner are still going. 68 all. And I know this beause I was forced to switch channels and sports because ITV’s spastic half-time drivel is just so unremittingly tedious you have to leave. Anyway, they illustrate the positive power of sport in a way that nothing in the World Cup, this overblown spectacle presided over by grovelling arch-toad Sepp Blatter, has come close to.

The first thing to note is why on earth the Group F eliminators should be played before the Group E ones. Surely that’s morally incomprehensible. I blame FIFA. The second thing to note is that we are in the presence of not one but two sets of imposters. Italy, for instance, bear no resemblance to the team that won the World Cup in 2006, sure there’s the requisite amount of diving, cheating, feigning and general Italian tomfoolery, but no sign of the immaculate defending of Canavaro or the complete control of Pierlo, even though both of them appeared on the field. Ultimately, they just couldn’t rouse themselves out of the torpor that saw them draw with both Paraguay and New Zealand.

The other set of even more improbable imposters was the team pretending to be Slovakia. Now previously we may have given the impression that Slovakia was a made up country where all the stupid people in Czechoslovakia were conned into going which featured none of the benefits and all of the defects of that country; that its football squad was full of 23 utter incompetents led by the thoroughly useless Hamzik, who lacks any sense of control, spatial understanding, positional ability or general footballing skill; that the main thing they deserved was to be horsewhipped naked through town accompanied by the kind of bell-ringing that is normally reserved for residents of the nearest leper colony. So where have they hidden that team today? Even more spectacular than the transformation that overcame the Engerland team yesterday was the revelation that was Slovakia. Crisp passing, good movement off the ball and exciting, attacking play. You wondered why they apparently hadn’t bothered to do this against, say, the mighty New Zealand, who on the evidence of this should have been utterly pummelled. Italy seemed to have no answer to them until it was beyond too late and they then started with all the old Italian favourites, a desperately scrambled goal, a lot of jostling and bashing about and general Italian cheatery (which was matched it has to be said by some pretty blatent Slovak cheatidge), all to no avail. Excellent work. Slovakia go into the easy side of the draw, alongside the Yanks, Mexicans, Uruguayans and Ghanaians, so there’s every danger they could go even further. Italy, on the other hand, take the economy flights home.

Meanwhile Isner and Mahut have finished their war of endurance with Isner winning 70 – 68.  Way to go guys. One suspects Mahut will go back to France for some kind of presidential ovation and general award. Maybe he’ll get to man the guillotine when it deals with the shitty residue of the French football team. Isner meanwhile has got it all to do again as he moves into the second round.

Paraguay 0 – 0 New Zealand

So plucky New Zealand, you scored two goals, played two matches so astonishingly tedious that they were painful to watch and exemplified the kind of pub level ‘committment’ football that we are trying to eradicate in the civilized world. OK that’s as many goals and tedious games as Engerland, but hey, we can pass it around a bit when we really, really have to and have nicer kit. Paraguay play well and probably didn’t have to exert themselves too much here, knowing that there was nothing they could do to avoid topping the Group and thus getting into the shitty end of the draw.

So Bye-Bye Italy And New Zealand

At least New Zealand are certain to qualify for the next World Cup.

42 Down 22 To Go 19 Teams Remaining

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What We Learned From Group D Eliminators


The Absolute Limits Of Human Endurance – Germany 1 – 0 Ghana

By now I’ve watched a lot of World Cup action. And it’s time to talk about ITV’s TV coverage. Aside from the awesome own goal of managing to miss Engerland’s opening goal by having some sort of ad break instead – a none too uncommon occurrence for ITV – their coverage is, frankly, a disgrace. Adequate commentators backed by inept, uninteresting pundits who think that telling you what you just saw counts as insight, they seem more interested in the celebrity spotting camerawork than they do in actually covering the action in any meaningful way. But then again they don’t need pundits, presenters and insight because that all gets in the way of the adverts, which gloriously pimp gambling, drinking and banking, all things that people could do with less of.

Anyway, halfway through the Germany Ghana match, as ITV punditry gave way to another bout of advertising effluence, I was forced, forced you understand, to switch over to the Wimbledon coverage. And it was just too compelling. Two guys, on court for the best part of 10 hours (yes that is ten hours), were at 55 – 55 in the fifth set. And that’s not a tennis score like 40 – 30, that’s 55 games each in the fifth set. And that’s what they’ve played today. I worked it out. Given that to win the World Cup you’ll need to play 7 matches, three in the First Round and four knockout rounds, that’s an absolute maximum of 12.5 hours. To win the World Cup. So these guys, John Isner and Nicolas Mahut, have basically played their way to the World Cup final in one day and they haven’t even finished their tennis match. By the time they stopped (it was getting too dark to play) it was 59 – 59 and there had been a total of 4 (count them, 4) break points in the entire match. Isner looked like he could hardly move, but was still serving aces (97 to date) on demand. Mahut, who is French, is in line for the kind of sporting elevation that only Presidents can give as a grateful France discovers a sporting hero to counterpoint their spoilt dysfunctional football team/squad/federation/manager. I don’t think Mahut has any idea of the hero’s welcome he’s going to get when he finally goes back to France, but he looks fresh. And it was an illustration of how far this World Cup has to go to produce really memorable games that it is being overshadowed in terms of both drama and sporting achievement by a single first round match at Wimbledon. By the way, whoever does, eventually, win this match they will have a second round match on Friday (in addition to actually finishing this match tomorrow).

Anyway, that over I was able to return to the recorded Germany Ghana match, but you know what, it seemed a little dull in comparison to a match where players are literally playing themselves to death right in front of you. So Germany won (as if we believed there was any other outcome) to set up a Round of 16 match with Engerland and you know what, I’m really not that bothered. At their best this Engerland team has the beating of the Germans, at their worst, Engerland deserve to go home. Ghana, meanwhile, become the first (and only?) African team to get through to the Knockout Stages.

Oztralia 2 – 1 Serbia

Yeah, well goodbye losers.

40 Down 24 To Go 21 Teams Remaining

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