Sunday, July 11, 2010

World Cup 2010 - final thoughts - Part 1

So we have had month of international football, I must admit it has been great to have 2 games of footy to watch (during the group stages) and some great matches during the knock out stages. It was a good World Cup - not great - more on this later. There have been some questionable referee decisions, some great goals, terrible goalkeeping, overrated nations, soap operas and lots of footy!

First congratulations to...Espana. They will be able to add a star to their kit and have removed the 800lb gorilla completely off their backs, they started doing so 2 years ago when they beat Germany for the European championship title. I must admit I felt it was a little distasteful to have Spain don their red kits with a star already emblazon over the national crest, even before receiving the trophy. However Spain has been the best football nation over the past 3 years and deserve to hoist the trophy.

So here are some thoughts on the tournament:

The Good:
  • Espana, first time winner: Spain started off looking a little shaky losing to the Swiss 1-0 in the opening game. They never really got into their top gear the entire tournament winning all their knock out matches 1-0 and seemingly were not able to show off the finishing and domination that we have become used to from La Furia Roja. They beat the Dutch by the same score after having to go into extra time. The finals was not a
    masterpiece to say the least, but Espana did what they needed. Clearly they missed a healthy Torres, maybe they would have been more dominating had the Liverpool player been healthy and contributed. Spain also missed numerous chances in the finals - Ramos 2 clear headers one was well saved by Stekelenburg the second one was a horrific miss from a point blank position. Cesc missed on a break in extra time, Iniesta missed a chance when he refused to try and take a left footed shot and Villa missed from close in the first half. Granted Robben missed two clear break aways, the second of which was in the dying moments of the match he clearly was held by Puyol, Webb did allow the play to go on since Robben had the advantage. Robben could have gone to ground, surprisingly he did not! He took his chances and Casillas made a wonderful save anticipating that Robben would cut right (to the keeper's left). However, they did what was necessary and on a great pass from Cesc, Iniesta calmly volleyed a bouncing ball into the back of the net. Congrats to Espana, they are deserved winners. I know my friend Jose is finally breathing a sigh of relief!
  • Well hosted first tournament on the African continent. While there were some glitches, more on that later, overall the tournament went off without any major hitches. After a few nervy months when many thought that South Africa might not be able to get all the infrastructure in place the pulled it off admirably. Even the host team showed well for themselves, could have won their first match and easily handled France in their last game. Good job.
  • Good youth showcased - players such as Gyan, Ayew, Mueller, Ozil, Bradley to name a few all under 24 played major parts in their team's and the tournament's outcome. Their future is bright for these players and their teams. Even Messi, who will be remembered for not scoring as his nation lost in the 1/4 finals, still had a decent tournament and would have been viewed better had his team not lost 4-0 to Germany.  
  • Team football won out over the individual. Teams that clearly had a system in place, players who knew what was expected of them and were able to execute were duly rewarded - Spain, Germany, Uruguay, Holland, Paraguay, South Korea, Japan and Ghana demonstrated that to do well in the World Cup you must have the right system in place and players that believe and work to a common end. This trumped teams such as France, Ivory Coast, Portugal and England who had super star players but no clear esprit de corps.
  • Only 2 games went to penalty kicks - granted I do enjoy the drama, as long as France is not involved! The Paraguay v Japan and Ghana v Uruguay matches went to the spot kick drama. If Gyan had converted his penalty kick at the end of extra time, then only the former would have been decided by penalty kicks. While the final looked destined to end this way, thanks to Iniesta it did not! 

The Bad:
  • The pitches - many of the pitches looked absolutely in shambles for some of the matches. Some of the venues are usually used for rugby matches, and it showed. The fields started clumping and got chewed up very quickly, this was very apparent during the latter part of the knock out stages. Not good. The fact it is winter in South Africa might play a part in this, but for such an event the pitches need to be in better shape. Sometimes I felt I was watching a game being played at Wigan in February.
  • Some very poor officiating. I realize that being a match official in football at the World Cup...when you have HDTV that can slow everything down to show you beads of perspiration on someone's brow cannot be easy. However there were some very questionable calls - 3rd goal disallowed for the US against Slovenia, Tevez non
    offside against Mexico, non penalty call on Cesc where he was clearly brought down by the Paraguayan keeper in the 1/4 finasl and of course the goal that never was from Lampard against Germany.  Clearly there needs to be changes to ensure the officials have the best tools at their disposal to call the game properly. Goal line technology, yes. There are so few instances where you would need it, but those instances are so important it is a no brainer that it must be leveraged. Additional officials should also be considered - that should address all the shenanigans that occur off the ball, on dead ball plays, diving and even off sides. Why not have 2 on field officials that divide the field, you will always have one official in the middle of the action while one has a view from behind the action. The assistant officials are always looking for the "line" to determine off sides so are not 100% focused on looking for fouls. In addition, the official that is behind the play could have some electronic device they could send a signal to the assistant officials once a ball is played - this would make the off sides call more consistent. Too often I see off sides signaled when the assistant official reacts to the defense and to when they thought the ball was played, if they had another set of eye giving them a notice once the ball is played they can just focus on the off side positioning. I have stated it before, every other major sport use video and more than 1 official (I realize rugby has the same number of officials, but they do leverage video and unlike footy the center of the action does not change fields as rapidly) so why does the world's most popular sport continue to insist on 1 on field official? Maybe Sepp will finally wake up to the 21st century...

The Ugly:
  • Um France's "showing:" Granted I have written about nauseam. So I will not go on and on about it again...but let's just say Les Bleus deserve all the venom that has been heaped on them.
  • Poor showing from established teams. Italy, France, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Serbia all went into the tournament with different levels of expectations, none of which included not getting to the knock out stages. For the European sides they have to jump right back into the fire - Euro qualifiers start in September. For the other nations they will have to wait for 4 years until they have a chance to be back on such a big stage.
  • The realize that they added some "ambiance" to some matches, but seriously I will not miss hearing what sounded like a angry hornets' nest or an elephant who has eaten too many took away from some of the atmosphere that accompanies some teams - the singing, cheering, jeers and chants. I will not miss those $7.99 pieces of plastic noise makers...
I have thoroughly enjoyed the past month of football. I did enjoy being able to wake up and turn on a football match. The best team in the world did win the tournament, the title stays in Europe for another 4 years. Overall this was a good, not great tournament. Unlike other versions there were no truly memorable matches, the closest thing for me might have been the Holland v Brazil match, having Oranje come back from a 1-0 deficit and the fact Holland completely threw Brazil off their game. However there were no France v RFA 1982 semi finals, England v Germany 1990 semi finals, Italy v RFA semi finals 1970 semi finals, Brazil v France 1986 1/4 finals, England v Argentina 1998 1/4 finals just to name a few off the top of my head...

Congratulations to Spain. Unfortunately Holland will have to live to with the moniker of "best team to have never won the World Cup" for at least 4 more years.


    philip said...

    Iniesta really ticked me today. I really wanted Holland to win but I guess it could of been worse like Italy winning and having your favorite player getting a red and then loosing on penalty's.

    GFC said...

    Ha, good point...part of me wanted to see PKs, easier to watch when France is not involved. But the best team won. Iniesta was great.

    Jose said...

    ok, this is a little late, but i am still in a dream state right now. yes, i was definitely relieved after the finals...finally i can breathe easier!!