WORLD CUP, MOSTLY IFFY....BUT ¡VIVA ESPAÑA!
Mickey Blue Eyes
We are long overdue a vintage World Cup tournament, but sadly South Africa 2010 wasn't it. It had some good moments, though not much you could call "great." And I am not just saying that because England were terrible and slunk home with their footy tails curled under their fat, useless behinds, thought processes minced behind earphones plugged into something they doubtless call "music." Spain won it deservedly in the end but, surprisingly, even they didn't wake up until the semi-final. Overall the footy was a flaccid affair occasionally enlivened by individual or team performances, which is why I am glad I didn't make the trip.
Anyway, we might as well get England's "effort" out of the way first. It can be dealt with quickly, which is all it deserves. After the usual dust and nonsense died down - all the guff about tactics, Fabio Capello, "relaxing" alcohol, team formations, "boot camps," and reliance on foreign players in the Premiership, all the sort of stuff that keeps useless mainstream media in "a job" - the fact was England's few great players, mostly averagely-good players and some ordinary players simply didn't perform even to their own individual minimum standards. Naturally, team play was almost comically bad. Or at least it would have been funny if we weren't too busy throwing sandwiches and oranges and shouting at the TV. It is no compensation the French and Italians were just as bad. We can laugh now, but hell it was maddening at the time. Players whose talent and playing levels are normally near-unimpeachable failed to display a scrap of motivation or intent. Others had a chance to embed themselves in the team and missed the opportunity by some distance. They were just plain hopeless.
There's no point singling anybody out because they were all culpable; all of them should be footy-ashamed of themselves. The rough truth is it was inexplicable in the way a non-league team can outplay a prime professional outfit and knock them out of the FA Cup......except for the defeat V Germany. Before that, the same kind of chemistry was in play. When the great Franz Beckenbauer said England looked "burnt out" he was exactly right, though gawd knows why so many of them failed all at the same time. You wanted to give the lot of them a good kick in the arse, except they probably would have emitted a long, slow fart and gone on their way without a backward glance. My guess is that is how footy history will assess them, as a waste of intestinal gas, and they will deserve it. What makes it more irritating is that some of them will probably eventually feel so annoyed with themselves they will have a good, perhaps great, 2010-11 domestic season.
I don't blame Fabio Capello for the disaster because he has proven talents and obviously is a totally committed man. His body language throughout told you most of what you need to know about him, football-wise. Oh sure he made some mistakes but none of them justified the kind of adolescent sulkiness we saw from the squad on and off the pitch. If they couldn't lift themselves for the greatest tournament in the world then it says more about them than it does about the manager. But then again it is probably an accurate reflection of attitudes prevailing in the narcissistic, ostrich-like atmosphere of the Premier League on and off the pitch. It really is time there was a collective awakening, even though it is difficult to say that to someone with their head wedged in their anal canal.
Interestingly, when the Jerries beat us so easily two of the goals were a result of breakaways and long passes. This more or less choked off nonsensical Brit mainstream media attacks on that type of play. The fact is one of the beauties of the game is it can be played well using long and short passing, but you have to be able to pass first......and none of the England team seemed capable of much more than spraying passes into the spectators or the opposition. Often we had the appearance of a gang of Saturday night knob heads in a rancid County Road fish and chip shop.
As the tournament progressed I became more and more impressed with a very young Ghana team, easily the best African side I have ever seen. It was a blow when they went out to a mediocre Uruguay after being cheated by a hand ball on the line. It was a pleasure to see the Ghanaians playing with such cohesion, self confidence and individual ability. They gave the distinct feeling that an African World Cup winner cannot be long delayed. Japan were the best of the Oriental teams and they too looked much improved in abilities and attitude. Long term, both continents may provide the fillip the tournament plainly needs if it is to regenerate itself. Doubtless there will be calls from Western curmudgeons that the tournament is too cumbersome, but this is self-serving claptrap and should be resisted. The World Cup is perfectly manageable as it is, and has just about the right balance to encourage emerging footy nations to take part and gain experience against the best in the world.
Spain lost their opener and didn't pull up any trees early on but they out-thought and out-played formidable Germany in the semi-final and looked much more like themselves. Really, they should have won it by two or three despite a couple of scares. There's no gainsaying the Germans, though. The very young Deutsche team of 2006 has matured brilliantly, does everything with superb individual technique and wonderful athleticism - the kind of thing that has the Daily Mail et al whimpering mid-century style about "typical Teutonic efficiency." Actually, what they do is play footy rather well, occasionally verging on great. If they can hold this side and its form together for the next tournament in Brazil - a long, long way off - they will again be among the favourites. The Germans are always good and never boring despite English crackpot right-wing media.
South, Central and North America didn't fare well despite the Uruguay semi-final. Nevertheless, Uruguay continue to amaze that such a small population turns out so many good players. I thought Mexico were easily the best of the Latinos, but they had no Diego Forlan or Tevez and paid the price accordingly. In fact I thought their football the prettiest of the competition; alas, this is never enough, as veteran fans know, and eventually their game was as brittle and beautiful as bone china. Argentina looked for a couple of games as though they might do something and then got deservedly slaughtered by Germany, a defeat that left tubby Maradona in tears while "going home to think about the future." Yes, do that, Diego, and while you're at it tell the truth to yourself about "the hand of god." What goes around comes around. Paraguay also looked like they might be the shock team of the tournament until they were annihilated by a fitful Spain. USA continues to improve gradually to the delight of this fan at least - If they lose their ridiculous wilful cultural ignorance of the game there is surely little question they would become a great football power. Finally, Chilé surprised everyone as well as themselves and with a bit of luck could have gone even further.
The Final was a disparate affair that left a sour taste, but I was glad Spain won it and won it deservedly in the end. In the first ten to fifteen minutes they looked like they were going to simply overwhelm the Dutch team at all levels. Then Holland changed their approach, at first individually and then wholesale. They became the ugliest and most brutal Dutch team I have ever seen. I don't think it was planned and I don't think it was what they wanted. They just lost their heads and their composure as it dawned on them that Spain really were much better than they and might win by some distance and inflict on them a third Final loss. When Spain occasionally retaliated matters went from bad to worse. Too often the spectacle was a sad throwback to the worst of 70s and 80s football, ironically the era of a truly great Dutch team. Referee Howard Webb did his best to manage the situation but it was mostly an impossible task in the face of, let's not mince words, an unrecognisably thuggish Dutch team. Ultimately, they were a sad and desperate sight. How only John Heitinga was the only one of them to take an early bath is down to Webb's near-heroic but futile efforts to salvage something from the game.
However, nobody should forget how good the Spanish team has been in the last quarter of the decade. They are worthy European and World champions despite their fitful form in the World Cup. The heart of the team is the wonderful trio of Xavi-Alonso-Iniesta, while Sergio Ramos is the most complete full back I have seen since Roberto Carlos. Front men Villa and Torres are deadly, though the latter had a torrid time throughout the tournament. Ominously for other teams they have good players in every position and they are still relatively young. If they don't get complacent or lose form they could dominate for a long time yet.
Whatever playing level the World Cup may or may not have attained it has given a long overdue fillip to African football in general and post-apartheid South Africa in particular. This might not amount to much in the overall sum of problems and issues faced throughout the continent but it has demonstrated in its own small way what is possible when people work together. In that respect, the corrosive cynicism and institutionalised corruption of European and South American football could learn something. But it probably won't.