So, the tournament is over and we have new World Cup Champions. Before I put my coverage of Sportsball 2010 to bed (and start on my coverage of English Sportsball 10/11) I’d like to give my last word on each team that took part, ranked from worst to best.
On the ranking system: 1-4 are automatically placed. 5-8 and 9-16 are the losing teams of the Quarter Finals and Second Rounds respectively, based on margin of defeat, then group points, tournament GD, then goals scored, then disciplinary record. 17-32 are ranked by points, then GD, GS, and DR if necessary.
32. North Korea (0 points, -11 GD)
It all started somewhat well. A great first half against Brazil, where the DPRK shut the door in the face of the five time champions. Everyone was wowed. Sure they lost, but they showed some class, and nicked a goal. People were impressed.
Then it fell apart. Total collapse against Portugal and no interest in beating Cote d’Ivoire. It’s clear now that North Korea never really thought they had a chance and were playing three games of damage control. -11 is an appalling GD for a World Cup group stage.
There is a genuine worry for these players now. North Korea is not a nation that really tolerates failure or humiliation on a national stage. The hope is that Kim Jong-ill and his cronies might have previously recognized the sheer scale of the task ahead of them. It’s frustrating to see, as there is nothing we can really do about it. There will be a very odd and dreaded fascination in seeing if any of this squad shows up at NKs next FIFA run fixture.
31. Cameroon (0 points, -3 GD)
They suffer from unreal expectations, this team. Ever since 1990, when they really put African football on the map, people have constantly considered Cameroon to be a better team than they really are.
Very poor all over the field, a real lack of star power and inspiration. With the exception of some brief periods against Denmark they never looked like exerting any kind of influence on the tournament. Eto’o was playing out of position on the far right, and the second the Danes equalised in their second game, the Cameroonians couldn’t seem to do anything right. This is a low the African side will struggle to get over.
30. Honduras (1 point, -3 GD, 0 GF)
A victim of CONCACAFs poor setup, where by the third qualifier from the federation is inevitably of a poor standard. They can look back at two games where they lost while preventing a landslide, and a third where they ground out a draw when they had the chances to get a win. Like North Korea they often looked like they were simply doing damage control. They also got unlucky with their group which they could never really have any expectation of getting out of. Poor at the back, and no attacking power.
Jamaica in 98, Costa Rica in 02 and 06, Honduras in 10. Who’s the Central American/Caribbean whipping boy going to be in 2014?
29. France (1 point, -3 GD, 1 GF)
Seriously though, I’m just repeating the same points over and over. Ever since the Ref failed to see Henry’s handball in November, nothings gone right for this team. Awful team ethic, a disrespected and occasionally hapless coach, personalities dominating the squad, and a total lack of purpose or desire on the field. Lucky to have gotten even a point.
Major restructuring of the squad is needed and Laurent Blanc has a mammoth task on his hands. If he has to cut out some of the more undesirable attitudes (Anelka, Evra etc) then he should just go ahead and do it, otherwise France are looking at a disastrous European qualifying campaign.
28. Algeria (1 point, -2 GD, 0 GF)
Another African disappointment, but bar Ghana, they were the best (the ranking might not bear it out, but I was more impressed with Algeria then Cote d’ Ivoire). It certainly didn’t seem so in their first game against Slovenia, possibly the worst game of the tournament. Their attacking deficiencies were clear, and they lacked any strong sense of team work.
But that all changed against England. A greatly improved performance saw them grind out a draw, in the process making England look ordinary and mediocre. Whatever, they changed in the teams make-up between the two games was very telling. It continued against the States, where Algeria had several great opportunities to win the game, and were cruelly denied a point by the late Donavan strike. It was the lack of quality strikers that did Algeria in. They improve that facet of the game and they could become a force in Africa.
27. Nigeria (1 point, -2 GD, 3 GF)
Cursed with a difficult group, Nigeria never really looked like progressing. From the moment they kicked off against Argentina they were on the defensive constantly. They did well to keep Messi and company out for most of that game, but no points was the reward. They appeared to improve against Greece, but lost their way when they lost a man. Unable to hold on for even a point, it’s indicative of their lack of talent. When it no longer mattered they put in the performance required against South Korea, coming from behind to get a point. But too little, too late. Out of their depth on the world stage.
Now the Nigerian government has dissolved its FA, pending a full reorganisation. Bad times.
26. Italy (2 point, -1 GD)
It was clear from the get go that Italy were a shade of their former selves. Too reliant on players that are now well past their prime, it was inevitable that Italy would crash out early (I predicated that, this isn’t with foresight). They showed occasional flashes of that 06 team, fighting to come from behind in the first 2 games. But it wasn’t good enough. Italy should not be drawing against New Zealand. The Slovakia game was the final insult as Italy collapsed, only getting back into the game when it was too late. Italy need a new manager, new blood and new attitude. The sterner test comes now when Italy face a qualifying campaign where their advancement is far from assured.
25. Greece (3 points, -3 GD, 2 GF)
It was always going to be tough. The 04 Euro champions do not play an attractive form of football but they always were a dogged team. But that was not the case against South Korea where they were outrun, outmanoeuvred and outplayed all over the field. They recovered to grab the win against Nigeria but only after getting a man advantage. It was back to business as usual against Argentina. No real threat going forward as their set plays (the main source of goals six years ago) have deteriorated in quality. Any half decent opposition can handle them.
24. Denmark (3 points, -3 GD, 3 GF)
Up and down, good and bad. Completely failed to impress against the Netherlands who strolled to victory in their opening game. Then, it all changed against Cameroon where the Danes put up a brave battling performance to gain three points, having been a goal down. They showed real glimpses of class in that game, dominating large sections. But, then it all came undone against Japan. Denmark were torn open, having no answer to the sheer speed, tenacity and accuracy of the Blue Samurai. They have positives they can take from the tournament but more negatives. They can’t cut it when it really matters.
23. Serbia (3 points, -1 GD)
Like the Danes, good and bad. Frequently underperformed, being outplayed by teams they should have the better of. Their one win, Germany, was extremely lucky, owing more to Referee intervention than anything else. Lost the plot against Australia, conceding way too easily.
I said at the start of the tournament that Serbia were desperate to ditch the underachiever tag. At this rate, they’ll be lucky to retain that tag since it doesn’t look like they can achieve anything on the big stage.
22. New Zealand (3 points, 0 GD)
Not impressed. That seems to be going against the common trend of opinion on the All Whites, but they are a bad team. A bad team that got two extremely lucky (and questionable) goals then proceeded to park the bus for 270 minutes. Lucky to salvage a draw against Slovakia, lucky to force a draw out of a very poor Italian outfit, lucky that Paraguay didn’t really care at that point.
The only reason NZ got to this tournament is because Australia aren’t in their way anymore. They have a qualifying campaign that’s way too easy. On the bright side, they should be more of a constant in the World Cup from now on, so they can improve.
21. Australia (4 points, -3 GD)
I expected more, but their opening game disaster against Germany set the tone. The Socceroos looked pedestrian, slow and unimaginative throughout. Too many mediocre players, either too old, or too bad, that shouldn’t be there. Australia struggle whenever things start to go even slightly wrong. Couldn’t recover against Germany, couldn’t get the three points off Ghana. They deserve some credit for maintaining level scores against the Africans and for snatching a surprise win against Serbia, but overall the Aussies were poor.
I thought the Asian switch would make them a better team, but that appears to have been an error in judgement.
20. South Africa (4 points, -2 GD)
Oh dear. South Africa break the habit of host teams doing well with one mediocre, one terrible and one half decent performance. They certainly had the crowd on their side and showed brief signs of genuine talent (that first goal against Mexico and the first half against France). But the Uruguay game sank this team. Bad all over the pitch, and having failed to hold on for three points in the opening game, they had next to nothing to play for against the French.
It’s a shame, since the host nation can provide a great measure of excitement and interest heading into the knock-out stages. But “Bafana Bafana” just weren’t good enough. It’s hard to see what comes next. Bad team, that has struggled competitively for several years now (they failed to qualify for the African Nations after all). Sometime in the wilderness to be expected.
19. Switzerland (4 points, 0 GD, 1 GF)
Well, it all started well enough. Good, battling performance against Spain and then points from the tournament favourites. Then, it all wemt wrong. Unlucky not to get a point against Paraguay, they seemed to switch off against Honduras. At times, all they required was a 1-0 victory, but they seemed to have no interest whatsoever. The Swiss have been a decent enough team for several years now, but have lacked the real killer punch on the big stage. It’s clear now that luck played a big part against Spain (not the only part mind) and after that, the Swiss looked like a team that thought it had done enough. Not good. Work to be done.
18. Slovenia (4 points, 0 GD, 3 GF)
They get my award for most improved from the first day. Truly awful against Algeria, they grabbed a victory they barely deserved due to a keeper error. Many people dismissed them. Mistake. A fast-paced, incisive attacking performance against the Americans came next. It was a truly stunning turnaround in form. Too stunning maybe, because the Slovenians couldn’t keep it up, allowing the Yanks back into the contest. From there, they held their own against a poor English side that was lucky to get a goal against the resolute defence of the eastern European side. Impressive, but never over 90 minutes. But much encouragement to be found.
17. Cote d’ Ivoire (4 points, +1 GD)
The best of those who failed to advance, but only just. Drogba’s arm trouble was a hammer blow to their chances and it was clear that they missed him in the first game against Portugal. A real struggle with goals in the 2 games that mattered. Having failed to get the key result against Ronaldo and company, they went out against Brazil, and lost their heads when they conceded. Very poor, discipline wise, and they received little sympathy from this writer for the manner of their defeat that night. From there, all that was left was to breeze past North Korea and pack their bags, another African disappointment.
They’re never going to be the force they could be without the Chelsea talisman. Need to work on that aspect of their game (playing without him) and improve temperament.
16. England (Lost last 16 match by three goals, 5 points in group stage)
Oh dear, oh dear. Why is it that they consistently fail to get it right? Awful teamwork. This is truly a squad of individuals. Poor against the US, awful against Algeria, just good enough to squeak past Slovenia and a shambles against Germany. Disallowed goals aside, a truly dire effort from the English. So many stars had bad tournaments, Rooney especially. Nervous at the back, hapless in midfield.
Capello was too fixed on a formation that wasn’t working, sticking with Emile Heskey when everyone could see he didn’t belong in the team, unable to decide upon a left winger, the list of errors and misjudgments goes on and on. Hard to see what the English can change without wide scale reorganisation. As it stands, nowhere near good enough to win a major tournament anytime soon.
15. Chile (Lost last 16 game by three goals, 6 points in group stage)
One of the big dark horse teams, but Chile will be disappointed with how they got on. Should have won their group, having got two hard-fought wins against the Swiss and Hondurans. But they seemed a very undisciplined side against Spain, persistently fouling. Playing dirty is a tactic you can employ, but you have to be able to get away with it. Chile weren’t and it cost them a point that would have seen them finish first, setting up an easier second round tie. Instead they got Brazil, and got mauled. That last game had two very different teams, one full of speed, flair and skill, and the other tired, rash, and underwhelming. They’ll go home knowing they should have done better.
14. Mexico (Lost last 16 match by two goals)
Gotta love the French conquerors. Besides that, like Chile, they’ll have hoped for more. A lot of quality players in this team, that with a bit more luck could have gone further. Better team against South Africa, outplayed France, unlucky to not get a draw against Uruguay. Mexico gave a lot of heart and showed a lot of talent in the group stages, a battling side. But they came undone big time against Argentina. Lost their cool and lost their gameplan when the linesman messed up. After the third they were gone.
Still, hope for the future. A lot of bright young players that will be around for a while, not least Hernandez who has a chance to become a star at Old Trafford in the upcoming season.
13. Slovakia (Lost last 16 match by one goal, 4 points in group stage, -2 total GD, 5 total GF)
A surprise package, dumping out the defending champions. Slovakia suffered from using all they had to get out of the group stages, leaving little in the tank for the second round. They outplayed the Italians, great performance. Apart from that, a little unimpressive. Didn’t do enough to kill off New Zealand, never looked like troubling Paraguay. They exploded against Italy, but were left with an exhausted team, ill-prepared to deal with the likes of Robben and Van Persie. Lucky to get a goal at the death. Encouraging signs for this team, but many problems remain to be sorted in time for the Euro qualifying.
12. South Korea (Lost last 16 match by one goal, 4 points in group stage, -2 total GD, 6 total GF)
Always operating under the weight of an expectation they’ve suffered from since 2002. South Korea started out as the favourites to get in behind Argentina, and were focused on getting the points they needed without having to get them from Messi. They proved themselves to be a fast, nippy, battling team, chasing down every loose ball, getting the goals they needed and holding for a result. Excellent against Greece, they had little expectation against Argentina, and battled to a deserved draw against Nigeria. They were looking good and lucked out with a relatively easy second round draw. But, against Uruguay, they looked tired at times, too content to sit back and defend, something that hadn’t been doing in the group stages. Having struggled to draw level, it cost them with Suarez’s late winner.
Unfortunate, but the team has more than enough ability to make it back to this stage in four years and maybe challenging for the Asian Cup in-between.
11. Portugal (Lost last 16 match by one goal, 5 points in group stage)
Having just scraped into the tournament, Portugal were always up against it. Having failed to impress in what was supposed to be a group stage highlight against Cote d’ Ivoire, they proceeded to destroy the North Koreans in impressive fashion, the one real high point of their campaign. Put up a good defensive display against the Brazilians in a game nether side were too bothered to win. The Portuguese failed to be really challenged in the group stage and it showed when they took on Spain. Poor when up against such high quality, (motivated) opposition, Portugal were lucky not to get utterly crushed. Ronaldo will want to forget that last game and has shown he might be too young (and inexperienced) to be a captain.
This team is coming apart: most of them won’t make it to Brazil 2014. Hard to see where their next team, to be built around the occasional genius of Ronaldo, is going to come from.
10. USA (Lost last 16 match by one goal in extra time)
Well. A lot was expected home and abroad after the Confederations Cup run. In my opinion, the US should go home feeling very disappointed. Underperformed, big time. I feel it is a large problem that so many American analysts, fans and commentators are focusing on the “fairy-tale” aspects of the campaign (coming from behind against England and Slovenia, the late goal against Algeria) and not so much on the gigantic problems in the squad.
Truly awful forwards, Altidore might just be worse than Heskey. Way too much focus on Donavan: take him out of the equation and the US will collapse like Liverpool without Gerrard. The defence did well against England, and then performed less than adequately, letting in soft goals against Slovenia and Ghana. Were lucky to get to the next round, and gave up way too much in that game. Defended too deep, and showed little ability to get back into the game following the second goal.
It’s hard to see where US football goes from here. They talk like this is some kind of golden generation. I don’t see it. In four years time, changes will have to have been made.
9. Japan (Lost last 16 match by a penalty shoot-out)
Oh, how they will rue this missed opportunity in the land of the rising sun. Japan have always seemed like a team of also-rans ever since they crashed out somewhat early in 2002, but they had a real chance to make it to the quarters here. They failed to take that chance. It’s a shame because I got exited watching the Blue Samurai. In all three of their group games, they performed with passion, speed, precision and tenacity. This was a team that really seemed to believe in their ability to go far. Honda was a big star and might find himself in a bigger league then Russia pretty soon.
It sucks that they seemed to go out to play against Paraguay with penalties in mind. Maybe they were tired: their previous game against Denmark must have taken a lot out of them. They had only a handful of real chances and their failure to take them was a pity. When it came to the spot kicks, they suffered by being up against a team that had clearly been practising beforehand. Unlucky, desperately unlucky. They can take heart from some good performances, hopefully to bounce back in the Asian Cup, before going on to do better in Brazil 2014.
8. Argentina (Lost quarter final by four goals)
The circus came to a catastrophic end against Germany. From the start, this team took a backseat to the actions and media storm surrounding their coach. It’s never a good thing as it helped paste over some of the inadequacies of the team in the group stage.
Easy group to get out of and they never really went above third gear. Some favourable officiating and an undisciplined Mexico got them through to the Quarters. And then the train derailed before ploughing over a cliff. Germany ripped them to shreds. Throughout the tournament the big stars never acted like a team with Tevez and Messi disappointing. It was supposed to be the Barca mans big tournament. He botched it, though it didn’t help that he was played out of position. Argentina were a team that only seemed like top class when they were playing inferior opposition, when they were winning. When they went behind, they fell apart.
Having really just scraped into the World Cup to begin with, Maradona was never the man to be in the top seat. Tactically inexperienced, doesn’t get on with his players, and freezes up when it doesn’t go right. Argentina has a huge amount of talent in the squad but they need someone to make them a team.
7. Paraguay (Lost quarter final by one goal, 5 points in group stage)
Big tournament for the traditional also-rans of the CONMEBOL federation. Some big problems up front, with a serious lack of goal scoring power. Failed to hold out for a win against a very poor Italy team. Got the win they needed against the Slovaks, before strolling to a boring draw against New Zealand. Having trundled through the group stages, they faced a tired and dishevelled Japanese outfit. They failed to really press the game and seemed content to wait for extra time, then penalties. Having the cooler heads, they prevailed.
Put up a great defensive display against Spain for as long as they could, and can point to some dodgy officiating as an excuse. But it was the lack of goal scoring power that did them in. A bit better in that department and they could have gone further. They can be proud of the effort they put in and with a bit of work up front, this team can remain a force in South America.
6. Brazil (Lost quarter final match by one goal, 7 points in group stage)
Dunga’s had the five time champions playing a different type of football recently and has takien some criticism for it. It’s debatable whether its undeserved. Were stunned by the North Koreans (through two great goals got them through it), before putting in a super display against an undisciplined Cote d’Ivoire team. Following a run of the mill draw against Portugal, they showed their class, speed and quality against Chile, essentially wiping out their South American rivals in a three minute period of play. Fabiano and Robinho were banging in the goals and Kaka did the playmaker role to perfection. Same story in the first half against the Netherlands, and they will rue having failed to put the Dutch away.
They defensive frailties, especially against set-pieces, were clear for all to see with the two goals they conceded. Like Argentina, they didn’t seem to know what to do after they went behind. Two consecutive quarter-final exits. Lots to work on, especially at the back. Expectation, always high, will skyrocket when they host the next tournament. Hard to imagine them not challenging.
5. Ghana (Lost quarter final by a penalty shoot-out)
It was the African World Cup, so it seems only fitting that an African team should get this far, and, outdo the previous “best” record of an African nation (Cameroon, 1990). In a tournament where the host continent disappointed for the most part, Ghana were the lone bright spark. It didn’t really seem like it in the group stage. Ghana had big problems finding goals. Lucky to get by Serbia, lucky that Australia shot themselves in the foot. Never seemed like besting the Germans, indicating a lack of real quality. It changed in the Second Round. The goal drought ended with Boatang’s suburb solo run and shot, and while they sat back enough to allow the American’s a way into the game, they burst back into life in extra time.
Against Uruguay, they were lucky to grab the lead, and it wasn’t surprising when, just like the game against the US, they sat back and conceded an equalizer. They were tired, and were lucky to hold out. They had the chance to win it of course and Gyan should be hailed for stepping up in the shoot-out after botching the last-minute kick. Ghana can be very proud of what they have achieved in this tournament, and can legitimately lay claim to being the best of African football.
4. Uruguay (Lost 3rd/4th place play-off)
Here was callback to years gone by. Uruguay were once the dominant force in world football, and for a few weeks, Forlan, Suarez and others were able to emulate that great team.
A dour draw against France didn’t really seem like the way to start such a good run. Some of the problems that would come back to hurt Uruguay were evident then: Forlan only being on form half the time, a lack of killer instinct. The team sprang to life against the hosts demolishing a very poor side, breaking South African hearts in the process. As a follow-up, they bested a good Mexican outfit. The South Americans were beginning to show the style that they were capable off. Some good attacking flair evident.
But problems remained still. Got into a real battle against South Korea, but did well to finish the Asians off before extra time. Their game was characterized by shifts: at times very defensive, at others all attack mostly depending on whether they were in front or behind.
Ghana provided another tough challenge, though through sheer grit and determination they were able to get through the challenge. Suarez’ handball was proof of the commitment the Uruguayan were showing.
But the absence of one half of the front pair was damaging in the semis. Forlan did his best to carry the goal scoring burden, but in the end, the Uruguayans just couldn’t outattack the Dutch. Unable to stop the Dutch running amok towards the end, the South Americans kept fighting a hopeless battle.
Excellent tournament for them. A bit more depth, some defensive shoring up and Uruguay can begin to rival Brazil, Argentina and others. They have some great players, and a battling mentality. They never give up, never stop fighting. This team has one more World Cup in them and expectation will be huge. With work, they can repeat this run.
3. Germany (Won 3rd/4th place play-off)
Never write them off. I wrote that a month ago, but in truth, I expected little, maybe a quarter-final run if they got lucky.
God damn, but this is just an insanely beautiful team to watch. The passing, the precision, the runs, it’s all attuned to perfection. When Germany turns it on, as they did to the full three times in this tournament, they are simply unstoppable. Australia fell first. Then the officials intervened on the behalf of Serbia in a game where Germany were still the better team. Ghana were dealt with clinically. The signs were all there: Schweinsteiger immense in midfield, Ozil and Lahm darting up the flanks, Klose and Mueller providing the finishing touches.
England were swamped, embarrassed. Lampard’s shot aside, it was men against boys. A fluke? No way, said Germany, proceeding to tear apart Maradona, Messi and Tevez with one of the great team performances of our times.
It came unstuck against Spain. Maybe they were tired, maybe Spain just put in that bit of extra effort, maybe lightning just could not strike three times. I would have loved to see a German/Uruguayan final, since the 3rd Place Play-Off game was so entertaining. But it wasn’t meant to be.
Germany were just strong in nearly every area, and every part of the pitch complemented and helped the other. They had a bench full of players ready to step in and fill any gaps. And it’s young team. Euro 2012 is going to be a big, big tournament for Germany. Expectation will skyrocket in Berlin now. And it is justified.
2. Netherlands (Lost final)
More heartbreak, but an effective run through the tournament.
The Dutch are a good, solid outfit. They are very difficult to break down, and are capable of nicking goals even when they’re not playing well. They breezed through what was a fairly easy group, dispatching Japan, Denmark and Cameroon without really breaking into a high gear. It was boring at times, but effective. No real thrilling play.
That continued into the last 16 when the Dutch lucked out by coming up against a shattered Slovakian team. The big test came against Brazil. For the first time, the Dutch were outplayed, lucky to go in at the half-time break only a goal down. They passed the test when they came out for the second full of fire, pressing hard, making the opportunities. Exploiting Brazil’s set-piece weaknesses, they grabbed a historic victory.
They had great difficulties taking on Uruguay, a team that remained a constant threat all game. It wasn’t until late on that the Dutch re-asserted themselves. Not their best performance and those kind of lapses came back to haunt them.
Dirty tactics in the final, but maybe it was all they could do against the Spanish. Bad in the first, better in the second. The Dutch might be embittered but they had their chances to win the game. Another poor defensive lapse cost them and that was that.
The defence is the definite weak point in this team, never playing exceptionally well throughout. The Keeper is one of the main reasons the Netherlands got as a far as they did. In other areas, they excelled. Sneijder was immense the whole tournament, the glue that held the attack together. Robben was the real danger man, as expected, and didn’t disappoint up front, save in the final. Kuyt is over-rated and shouldn’t really be in the team. Van Bronkhurst remains a vital part of the their make-up. Van Bommel remains a thug, but an effective thug.
The Dutch remain a good team, and remain the best nation to have never won a World Cup. I don’t know how many of this team will be around in four years, so they may have to do some re-building for 2014. They have a chance, as long as they shore up that defence and get another striker to match Robben.
1. Spain (Won final)
All hail the kings. After decades of being the big under achievers in world football, the Spanish are finally at the top. The best in the world, European and World Champions.
It didn’t really seem like it would happen at the start. Whether it was nerves, over-confidence, or just typical Spanish botching, they fell to the Swiss in a shocking opening day performance. The defence was shown up, and it took several games for it to be sorted. The Spanish attack didn’t fire, and Torres began his World Cup nightmare.
Against the Hondurans, a response was expected. They got the win in a game they dominated, but missed numerous opportunities.Villa came to the fore as Spain’s danger man, as Xavi also kicked it into high gear. Finishing off against Chile, the Spanish were fortunate to come up against a team that seemed to have lost all discipline. A man up, for most of the contest, they were able to see out the game clinically. Still problems though. The defence was dodgy as all hell, and Torres remained in cloud-cuckoo land. But they topped the group, an impressive feat following the opening loss.
The only way Spain were going to lose to Portugal was on penalties. Not a great Iberian derby, but Spain were dominant, and it was always a case of when and not if. The defence finally kicked into a higher gear, something that would remain for the rest of the tournament.
Thus began four 1-0 victories in a row. Against Paraguay, Spain wobbled for much of the game, with Casillas the only one keeping them in it. A late flurry of siege tactics worked out as Villa grabbed a scrappy winner.
Many tipped their opponents, Germany, in the semis but Spain out on a masterful performance of keep-away. For so much of the game, Germany just could not get the ball. Puyol was the decider, but it was a great overall team effort from the Euro Champs, passing their biggest test of the tournament so far. It helped that Torres was finally and deservedly dropped.
In the final, they were scrappy, they were ugly, they were bruised. Villa failed to impress for the first time since the Swiss game, but Xavi, Ineista and Puyol all improved as the game went on. Casillas showed glimpses of his old form, and Spain were able to cope with the aggressive Dutch tactics. They took the chance when it came and that’s what counts.
Worthy Champions? Obviously, since the won. Best Team? Nah. Spain improved as time went on, but overall they were remarkably lucky. Lucky to have an easy group they could handle, lucky to breeze through in the last 16, lucky Paraguay didn’t punish them in the Quarters. But it’s not all down to luck. Villa was the deadly presence, Xavi the playmaker. Puyol became the rock in the defence towards the end, and Spain had numerous players who clicked when they had to. Ineiesta, Capdevilla, Pedro. It’s a good team, the best in the world when they’re on form. Minus Torres, who may not play for Spain again soon, no-one in the first team really slipped up. They have depth, they have a good team ethic, and they are strong in every position when they want to be. Like France in 2000, they are now the force in football.
Can they keep it up? Winning the titles is one thing. Defending them is another. But they have a great chance. A chance of becoming the most dominant team in national football history.
Best Game: Germany/Uruguay
Football as it should be. If only the whole tournament could have been like this.
Worst Game: Algeria/Slovenia
Two awful teams, barely going forward, poor all over the pitch. Decided by a truly awful goal. Terrible to watch, and coming so early in the tournament, an awful advertisement for the sport.
Douchebags: Cote d’Ivoire
Boring, undisciplined, rubbish. When things went wrong, they started playing dirty way too fast, and worse, got away with most of it. The Dutch in the final were a close second.
Worst Decision: Lampards “goal”
Everyone, barring two men in black, saw it go in.
Best Player: Sebastian Schweinsteiger
Truly immense in the German midfield. A marshal, a rock. Involved in nearly every German goal, directly or indirectly, Schweinsteiger was the lynchpin of the entire German operation. Strong, pacy, and capable of letting off some vicious shots, Schweinsteiger beats out the likes of Villa and Sneijder for being a better all round player.
Worst Goal: Koren (Slovakia) against Algeria
Hopelessly hit 20 yard effort, horribly fumbled by the keeper. An awful goal to win an awful game.
Best Goal: Von Bronkhurst vs Uruguay
Bang. What more is there to be said?
Best Team Goal: Klose’s second against Argentina
A wonderfully well worked goal, that tore the Argentinian defence apart through pace, crisp passing and off-the-ball runs.
Worst Team: France
They get the nod, rather than say North Korea or Cameroon. Unlike them, France showed no desire, no ounce of team work or heart. A team of divided, bitter individuals with a coach that is neither respected nor capable of controlling his squad. Their inclusion, an embarrassment, their game, awful to watch.
Best Team: Germany
Just a joy to watch. Team football at its best.
Best Fans: Mexico
They outsang the Vuvezelas. Enough Said.
Worst Fans: South Africa
That is, the thousands who headed for the doors the second Uruguay banged in the second goal. Where was all the opening day passion then?
Underachiever: Wayne Rooney
Might have been carrying a knock, but still, awful tournament. Lack of pace, poor passing, Roony cut a frustrated and angry figure. He gets the nod over the similarly underachieving Messi and Kaka cause they, at least, got further.
Luckiest: New Zealand
3 draws. 2 goals, one of them offside. The best anti-football team in the tournament. Why are we acting like they played well?
Most Improved: Slovenia/Algeria
I gave them the Worst Game award. But their second matches, against America and England respectivly, showed a gigantic improvement in team play, attack and defence. Two stunning turnarounds.
Worst Red: Kaka
The Referee, already having a poor game, was bamboozled by Cote d’Ivoire’s dangerously undisciplined squad. Kaka got a red for nothing.
Best (or Worst?) Dive: Robben Vs Brazil
Slight contact, followed by a swan dive so exaggerated, it was like he was pretending to be a fighter pilot. What’s worse, the Dutch worked out their equalizer from the resulting free kick.
Worst Miss: Yakuba (Nigeria) vs South Korea
Five yards out, open goal, keeper stranded. Wide. If anyone wonders why Nigerian football is in a bad state, they can look at this and realise why.
My opinion of the tournament overall is mixed. It started poorly, but improved. The groups contained a number of truly awful contests, but the knock-out stages passed muster, just.
Still, it wasn’t a great contests for neutrals. Too many big name stars – Rooney, Messi, Torres, Gerrard, Ronaldo – failed to perform, a disappointment. The ball was dodgy in the altitude, and FIFAs insistence otherwise was irritating. The hosts did a great job, with the massive exception of the vuvuzelas. They became little more than a joke by the end, but they were quite irritating. Glad that part of the tournament is done with.
The officiating was of a shockingly poor standard. Every other game was being heavily influenced by incorrect decisions. It’s ruining the game and it did its best to ruin this tournament. Too many teams are going home thinking “If only the ref had…”
The failure of England, Italy, France, Argentina and Brazil to perform was surprising but it allowed a number of less fancied teams – Uruguay, Chile, Germany, Japan, Paraguay – to rise to the challenge. Good to see. But for a tournament that many are calling unpredictable, it’s worth remembering it was won by the pre-tournament favourites.
I did enjoy the World Cup though, for all the flaws. The festival of football is always something to see. We have a two-year wait till the next tournament but rest assured I’ll be following the boys in green through the qualifying. Congratulations to Spain, and to all who participated.
Here’s hoping the next tournament is good, and has a dash of green to go with it.