10. This was a great World Cup
Martin Kelner, writing in the Guardian, called this World Cup right. “It has probably been the worst World Cup in modern times,” he said. There were no great teams and few great players.
Most of the famous stars had a poor tournament. Drogba and Ronaldo each scored once. Kaka, Messi, Ribery, Rooney and Torres didn’t score at all. There were few exciting games which swung to and fro; comparable, say, to the 1970 England-Germany quarter-final or the 1970 Germany-Italy semi-final. In the 16 knockout matches, only three had five goals or more.
9. Spain were a great team
The pundits loved Spain, and apart from Germany and Argentina they were the best of a poor bunch. They were a clean and sporting team with only 8 yellow cards and no red cards (compared with Holland’s 22 yellow cards). Although everyone went into raptures about their passing and the star-studded midfield, they won the World Cup thanks to their defence and to Villa. They only conceded two goals in the entire tournament. On the other hand, they won all four of their knock-out games 1-0 and only scored eight goals in the entire World Cup, fewer than any of the other quarter-finalists apart from Ghana and Paraguay. Who will remember any of Spain’s games by 2014?
8. The Orange myth
Most of the pundits predicted an exciting final for two reasons. First, the Dutch had two of the great players of the tournament, Snejder and Robben. Second, everyone loves the Dutch teams of the 1970s. This was the worst Dutch team to have played in the World Cup in recent decades. But nothing that went before prepared us for the thuggery of the Final. Thirty years of affection was spoilt in one nasty match.
Until the final the Dutch played only one really good side, Brazil, who were all over them until they conceded an extraordinary own goal and got one of their key midfielders sent off. There is only one rational explanation for what happened to Brazil in that match and that is libellous. Brazil tend to either win or go out in bizarre circumstances—think of the 1998 final against France.
7. It’s forwards who win World Cups
World Cups are won by defenders. TV pundits go on about strikers, and Forlan, Villa, Robben, Muller and Klose all had good World Cups. But the real stars of this World Cup were the defenders: Puyol and Pique for Spain, Lahm and Mertesacker for Germany, Fucile for Uruguay, Lucio for Brazil, the Swiss and Portuguese defences. Spain, Ghana and Paraguay only conceded two goals each in the entire World Cup. Germany only conceded five goals in seven games, the Netherlands six. Add two (and often far more) defensive midfielders and it’s hardly surprising there were so few goals.
It is usually defences that win World Cups. In 1966 England didn’t concede a goal until the semi-finals and only let in three in the entire tournament. The great French defence of Barthez, Blanc and Desailly let in only two goals in 1998. In 2006 the great Italian defence led by Cannavaro also only conceded two goals; France the beaten finalists only let in three. The great exception, of course, was Brazil in 1970 but then the team of Pele, Jairzinho and Tostao scored nineteen goals in their six matches.
You can see why England never had a chance with its ill-assorted crew of crocks, has-beens and full backs who think they’re wingers.
6. The World Cup went smoothly
It is hard to think of any World Cup which has had so many terrible refereeing decisions. Lampard’s ‘goal’, Tevez’s first goal against Chile which was way offside, the sending off of Kaka and Howard Webb’s failure to send off either de Jongh or van Bommel were just some of the worst decisions.
FIFA’s bizarre insistence on introducing a new ball for every World Cup always creates mayhem but this time was made worse by the obvious unfairness of letting some countries practice with the new ball while others couldn’t.
According to BBC 2’s Newsnight there are investigations into allegations of cheating by Nigeria. This World Cup had more than its fair share of bizarre twists and turns, astonishing errors by goalkeepers and inexplicable bouts of madness from individual players. It remains to be seen whether these were just oddities or something more sinister.
5. “Africa’s World Cup”: the pundits
Both BBC and ITV got very misty-eyed about anything to do with South Africa and Africa and often treated the World Cup as a tribute to Nelson Mandela. This piety was nauseating, not least because it didn’t fit with the channels’ own practices. Could the BBC not have found an African pundit to replace Adebayor when he returned home? Its all-white four man panel for the Final, plus the all-white commentary team made you wonder quite what all the soft-focus stuff about Africa was about. Garth Crooks might have some interesting thoughts on the whiteness of the BBC’s coverage. ITV did no better, settling for Marcel Desailly, who left Ghana at the age of four, as their nominal African.
4. “Africa’s World Cup”: the players
Africa had a shocking World Cup with only one African team making the last sixteen. The other five failed to make it past the group stages – three of them bottom of their groups. Ghana scored five goals in five games and hardly set the tournament alight. Ivory Coast and South Africa were both unlucky to be put in such hard groups and the former might well have done better if Drogba, one of the world’s great forwards, had been fit. They were the only African team to average more than one goal a game, and that was only because they had the luckless North Korea in their group. South Africa were the first hosts not to make it out of the preliminary group stages.
3. “South America’s World Cup”
There was a brief flurry of excitement when five South American teams and one Central American team made it to the first knock-out round, with Argentina and Brazil, two of the early favourites, in the lead. Maradona started lecturing Europe about how hard the South American qualifying stages were. As Argentina and Brazil inexplicably collapsed, South America’s World Cup went belly up. Only Uruguay, led by the brilliant Forlan, made it to the Semis.
In 2006, Europe provided all the semi-finalists. This time it provided three and by far the best two teams. It was, however, a mixed tournament for Europe as England, France and Italy crashed out.
2. The World Cup is the best football tournament
With the shocking referring decisions, negative tactics and disappointing performances by numerous fancied teams and players, the World Cup hardly compares with the Champions League. There was no single performance to compare with Messi’s hat trick against Arsenal, with Mourinho’s tactical genius against Chelsea and Barcelona or a comeback as riveting as Bayern Munich’s at Old Trafford. Not one team in the World Cup would beat Inter Milan or Barcelona with Messi, Milito, Marquez and Alves.
1. England is a football power
England didn’t even qualify for Euro 2008, and disgraced itself in 2010. It is 14 years since England managed to make the Semi-finals of a major tournament. Worse still, in this World Cup England only scored 3 goals, won only one match, and not one player left with their reputation enhanced.