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.

What We Learned From Group A Eliminators

South Africa 2 – 1 France

Oh my how South Africa will rue a moment of defensive madness. Not the moment when they allowed Ribery to get goal side of his defensive marker and set up Malouda for the goal that totally deflated Bfana Bfana, but the moment in that first match when they played not one, not two, not three, but four Mexicans onside for the tap-in that allowed Mexico back into the game and dropped two vital points for South Africa. How different things would have been had South Africa won that as they really should. They might have gone into the Uruguay match on a high with a bit of momentum and got some kind of result. As it is they are down and out having just beaten the losing finalists from 2006 and in some style until the last 20 minutes when they began to tire and the French scored. It’s sad, they could have had an easier Group (with say North Korea, Nigeria, and Honduras for instance), but the truth is that they were a poor side who survived on enthusiasm and optimism rather than skill and whose top man, Pienaar, never found the form that made him so effective for Everton. Only the supercool Tshabalala really impressed and he missed a number of opportunities to increase South Africa’s lead.

France, meanwhile, go out on something of a high, they have done marginally better than they did in 2002. Sure they finished bottom of their group, which included Uruguay, they played three, lost two and drew one, and they had a goal difference of -2, but this time at least they scored a goal. And quite a nice one it was and Malouda will want to keep that in his scrapbook. They also outdid themselves in the uniquely Gallic sulking stakes. Whereas in Japan in 2002 they were merely grumpy, stroppy, miserable tossers, this time they’ve added a whole new contemptuous angle to their behaviour. The players it seems prefer their bling and sloppy-mouthed gangsta verbidge to actually training or playing or anything. They seem to have no shame. Henry performed another blatant handball takedown, hoping maybe for that to become his signature move in the luscious advertising filled world he will now inhabit now he has renounced football for socca. Dominatrix, meanwhile, showed that he genuinely has no class whatsoever by refusing to shake the South African manager’s hand after the match. So, winners in their own special way, the French have elevated being sporting c**ts to something of an art form. They cheated to get to South Africa and were miserable, unpleasant tossers the entire time they were there. Thank f**k they’re leaving on a jet plane this evening.

Uruguay 1 – 0 Mexico

Who’d a-thunk it? Two teams who only required a draw for both to go through produce a result with honest to goodness shots and goals and the like. Having spent the time watching the South Africa vs France match, I’ve no idea who started it but it seems like one of those playground arguments that got seriously out of hand – “Miss, Miss, he’s tooken my ruler”, “No I didunt”, “Cheater”, “Liar” etc – before the nuclear option of “Your Mum” is played by one of the little brats and things go massively downhill. Given that Uruguay would have topped the group if things stayed at 0 – 0 and thus avoided Argentina in the next round (which has to be the reason for this no draw score),  you have to think that it was Mexico who first employed the playground tactic of actually having a shot on target, after which the Uruguayans must have immediately dished out the “Your Mum” response and gone for goal. I can particularly see Diego Forlorn as the messy-haired belligerent toddler ever anxious to take offence an given his performance so far he’s a dangerous man to upset.

So Bye-Bye South Africa And France

Two teams who fundamentally weren’t good enough to get out of what was a eminently winnable Group. South Africa just weren’t given the breaks they needed by FIFA, France were just shocking.

34 Down 30 To Go 27 Teams Remaining

Extra Extra What We Learned At The Halfway Point

The Competition Has Kicked Off

Yes, the Second Round of Group matches were certainly better than the First Round. Most teams understood that they couldn’t simply defend all the time and play for a draw, even the Swiss, whose adoption of an almost ‘Neutral Country’ option has seen them regularly top both the Haven’t Conceded and the Haven’t Scored tables, realised that at some point they’d have to come out and have a shot, although to be fair they did have something that vaguely resembled a shot in the First Round and it paid off handsomely. The games got faster and more meaningful as we saw Matches That Mattered and teams realised that there was a very real danger of their World Cup ending later this week.

The Goals Are Coming

As teams threw off the shackles of defensive cowardice and started attacking we began to see more goals. Few teams were content to sit on a one goal lead and continued to press their opponents. Some goals were even good, although few of them were up to the Tshabalala standard. However, I distinctly remember exclaiming, “What a goal” more than once during Round 2.

The Cheating Has Started

Grab and Dive, with or without pirouette, is the order of the day. Compulsive penalty box wrestling at every set piece. Not that much deliberate diving, but plenty of subtle blocking and writhing around. All in an attempt to cheat your way to a free kick or some colour of card for the opposition, or both. Not good. I think if it continues, we will see some kind of tv replay system introduced on the fly, if only because the whole world is watching.

Lots of Empty Seats

Now that it’s getting serious I suspect we won’t be seeing too many empty stadiums, but I’d lay money that there will be empty seats at the Uruguay Mexico match, where both teams need only to draw to go through (0 – 0 anyone?). However, too many venues have been conspicuously less than capacity.

Who Has Been Naughty?

It’s goodbye to South Africa, France (very naughty), Nigeria, Greece (very bad),  Algeria,  Oztralia (awful), Serbia (painful). Cameroon, New Zealand (rubbish), Slovakia (tedious), Ivory Coast (unlucky to get Group of Death for the second World Cup in a row), North Korea, and Honduras. You are all officially too crap for the World Cup. Book your flights now.

Who Has Been Nice?

And it’s hello to Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, South Korea, Ghana, Germany, Holland, Paraguay, Italy, Brazil, Portugal, and Chile. Nicely done South America.

And Who Is Bricking It?

Group C is totally up for grabs with two of Engerland, USA and Slovenia, the permutations are excruciating, but basically all teams have to win to be sure that they will qualify. In Group E Japan and Denmark will duke it out, a draw being enough to take the Japanese through. Group H is so complicated that Spain, Chile and Switzerland could all end up with 6 points and theoretically identical goal differences and goals scored, in which case as Spain will have beaten Chile, who have beaten Switzerland, who have beaten Spain lots would have to be drawn.  Makes penalty shoot outs seem tame by comparison.

And Who Is Really Bricking It Most?

Has to be ever-optimistic no-hopers Engerland, who just seem utterly unable to cope with the pressure of having to play a few matches away from home in front of large television audiences. Basking in unwarrented media acclaim and with performances getting more inadequate by the day, Engerland are a disaster waiting to happen. And while the French are imploding with a farcical degree of hilarity, Engerland can’t even manage an effective internal coup d’etat. One thing is clear, Wednesday could be the most excruciating game of football ever played.

What We Learned From Uruguay vs South Africa (3-0)

And So It Begins…

A bit like the second half of Gladiator, it started off slowly but now it’s time for Maximus Gladiatorius Violentius to walk out alone and stab a whole load of bastards to death. This round of matches matter. There will be those who will effectively be out of the running by the end of this Round, so unlike the first match, where not losing was, apparently, more important than actually winning, winning is everything. Let’s say it again, Losers Will Go Home. Starting now.

Who Was The Star Of The Show?

Anyone remember Poborsky, the topiary-haired Czech winger Man U bought on the back of Euro 96, who stumbled and fell and never quite managed to live up to the promise of a couple of good matches in the Euros? Well imagine everyone’s surprise when a player who was deemed even less successful at Old Trafford (no not Eric Djemba-Djemba or Juan Sebastian Veron) appears to be the Star of the Show here in Aferica. Yes, while Rhino, Ronalda, Messi, Kaka, Juan Sebastian Veron, Uncle Tom Cobley and all, misfire like a bunch of badly converted starter pistols, the one-time useless boy of the Stratford End has become the tournament’s top scorer and the influential lynchpin of Uruguay’s campaign. He scored a fantastic long range whammer, then helped cement the victory by whacking in the penalty to make it 2 – 0. Who’d have thunk it?

That’s The End Of South Africa Then

Despite the blaring noise of vuvuzelas and the overwhelming enthusiasm of pretty much the entire non-Uruguayan world, a distinct lack of footballing talent wasn’t quite enough to get South Africa through this game. Unless they achieve the super-double-bonus miracle of having France and Mexico draw and then beat France in their final match by something like 4 – 0, South Africa are on their way home. Fortunately for them as the tournament is being held in South Africa, they won’t have far to travel. Sadly for them they will be the first host nation to fail to make it through the Group games.

17 Down 47 To Go

What We Learned From South Africa vs Mexico (1 – 1)

Initial Prophecies Were Inaccurate

Thank fucking Christ we don’t spend all our time internet spread betting or we’d be double super poorer. The ITV commentary team didn’t even wait til the match started before they apologised for the sound of the vuvuzelas. It won’t be the first. As usual the in-house ITV team are craptastic.

I also said I’d watch every minute. However, some of the first half was so thoroughly tedious I was compelled to watch it through closed eyelids in a state of somewhat unconsciousness. When I was actually awake, it did reek of a classic Blackburn/Bolton confrontation where you simply lose the will to live and quality football seems like an optional extra. It says something that the BBC highlights of this game didn’t start until the 50th minute.

The Vuvuzela Is A Rubbish Instrument

It looks like a poor quality plumbing product and it sounds like a broken kazoo, but the real failing of the vuvuzela is that it doesn’t leave you with anywhere to go. And as Shakespeare says (admittedly in Shakespeare In Love and not in any of his real works), “Where are you going to go when you meet the love of your life?” In the case of the vuvuzela your only real option is to shut the fuck up.

South Africa Should Have Been Braver

In the one good move of the entire match (all of three passes), South Africa gutted the mexicans and scored a genuinely class, smashed straight into the back of the net type goal. If only they’d have spent a little more time being a bit more ambitious and actually attacking Mexico, they would surely have won. Drawing this game won’t help them get through the Group stages. It looks like grabbing the game is the only acceptable strategy.

Mexico Are Lightweights

Like most of their boxers, Mexico are small, nippy lightweights. To succeed in football, they have to move the ball fast and with great control. South Africa didn’t give them the space behind the back four to run into and Mexico simply ran out of ideas. If South Africa hadn’t totally slept out the Mexican’s corner, they’d never have got back into the game.

Neither Of These Two Are Going Through

I can’t see either of these two getting past France or Uruguay, unless those two really fuck the pootch (which isn’t totally inconceivable).

One Down 63 To Go