The second part of my breakdown of the summer extravaganza will focus on more of the teams and players that were on stage in South Africa, but if I get on a rant here, which is very likely, I may end up doing a Part 3 !
6. KAKA, MESSI, ROONEY AND RONALDO .
One of the most disappointing aspects of World Cup 2010 was the poor performances from some of the world stars who were expected to light up our lives with their skills. We were told about how these guys would terrorize defenses and score spectacular goals that would be highlight reels for months afterwards. Well, folks, it didn’t happen and we should ask why. Many observers have blamed the ball, the altitude, tiredness, and just plain petulance, especially in Rooney’s case. I subscribe to none of those explanations and choose to defer to two reasons which I feel hits a little closer to the mark.
Soccer is a team game more so now than ever. There are no slouches anymore, particularly at this level, and with the emergence of the “complete” athlete, it becomes more difficult for star players to shine. When you couple that with the considerable improvement of the tactical approach of defenses in the modern game, players like Messi and Ronaldo get no room to perform. Consequently, we saw double and triple-teaming from defenders in many situations involving key attackers. Personally, I enjoy all aspects of the game so I’m not bothered by that development, but I know the BooYah’s of the SportsCenter world just gag on that stuff. Tough.
What an enjoyable, shambolic sideshow this circus became, if you are English or Irish. Anelka throwing his toys out of the stroller, with Domenech looking on like a frustrated babysitter who couldn’t control his charges. Follow that with Patrice Evra marching his players off the training pitch in protest just made great drama from a vastly demoralized squad. The French are the poster boys for the roller coaster performances. Remember 2002 when they crashed out in the Group stage having come into the tournament as winners from 1998 ? I think they’ve made a shrewd move in nominating Laurent Blanc as manager who did a fantastic job at Bordeaux this past season so look for the French to bounce back at Euro 2012.
8. SOUTH AFRICA
It probably wouldn’t be fair to write a summation of World Cup 2010 without mentioning the host team at some point. Pilloried in many circles within the country in the months leading up to kick-off, the squad gave a creditable account of themselves even though they were ranked 85th in the world. Suffered terribly from not understanding Coach Parreira’s tactical philosophy, and lacking confidence against Uruguay, they still almost got out of a Group which was seen to be impossible, and with a better performance from Steven Pienaar, they may have surprised us all. Now, with a new coach, I would expect them to rise up the rankings over the next 2-3 years.
9. THE FINAL
Poor game littered with fouls which ruined potentially a great spectacle. Many blamed referee Webb’s approach but he was in a no-win situation. The only way the Dutch could beat Spain, at least in their minds, was to get physical, and when the Orange take that route, trouble isn’t far behind. It’s not the first time that games involving the Netherlands have deteriorated into an ice hockey match, but they forgot an old rule of competition – “the best way to defend is to attack”. Granted you have to be in possession to do that, but Spain are vulnerable at the back just like anyone else, but the Dutch chose to kick lumps out of them instead. Frankly, a sad end that really summed up the whole tournament for me.
10. THE USA
Being based in the US, I could hardly not pass a comment or two about Bob Bradley’s squad and it’s effect on the sport of soccer in this country. Only in the USA does that second question get asked. The sport is constantly being compared and contrasted with other, more established pillars of life like baseball and football. Frankly, most soccer people over here could care less about that. Most of us were energized by a team that constantly fell behind early, but through ability, tremendous effort, and a little luck here and there, had a great tournament. Their demise against Ghana was disappointing but there were no rabbits left in the hat. When you see the pubs and sports bars filled with soccer fans watching the national team, it tells me that as time moves on, fans in this country are becoming more passionate and more involved. A huge step forward in entertainment.
11. THE WINNERS
I’ll probably take a ton of flak about what I say now about the Spaniards, and I might be way off in my view, but as you all know, I like to think “out of the box” sometimes, so here goes. As good as this Spanish team is, and I think that they could be up there as one of the best teams ever, I think their style is killing the spectacle of soccer. This team is as close to perfection as you can get. They hardly ever give up the ball, and have proven goalscorers in their line-up, but it’s what they do when they don’t have the ball that is, to me, the most impressive. They relentlessly harass and hurry the other team into mistakes which logically allows them to regain possession constantly. The problem, is that perfection, at least in sport, is not great to watch, every game. It becomes boring. Look at Spain’s record at the World Cup. Eight goals in seven games. All four of their matches in the knockout stages ended in 1-0 victories with none of them entertaining at all, and three of the four games touted to be a classic. They had 60-75% possession but failed to convert that into goals. Obviously opponents will adjust as they always do, but for now, watching them play is no longer entertaining. I’m a golf fan, and watching Tiger Woods win by 7-8 shots every week isn’t enjoyable.
I’ve saved the worst for last because this is where I lose my mind. This England team was a joke from the moment they qualified for World Cup 2010 and no-one wanted to listen. I was castigated on many blogs for my opinion that they were bad, and so it proved. They were simply awful. I think the most frustrating part for me was the effort put forth, which was plainly missing. It appeared that they just didn’t care, and we’ll never know the truth in that regard. Many commentators have rolled out the same song and dance about the why’s and why not’s, such as tiredness, lack of talent, the Premier League, winter break and also Fabio Capello, so let me give you my humble view.
I believe it all started in the qualifiers. England were never stretched in a Group that was weak to say the least. Croatia were a shadow of the team that knocked them out of Euro 2008 two years ago. Goals were plentiful and it appeared then that we were strolling along to South Africa. During that time, we had the Terry/Bridge/Perroncel affair which cost John Terry the captaincy. I don’t think the players ever forgave Capello for that move despite the fact that I was behind him 100%. Then came the injuries. Wayne Rooney, David Beckham, Gareth Barry, Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Ledley King, and Aaron Lennon all had time off which affected preparations before and during the tournament, and when you combine that with the loss of Owen Hargreaves, who was our best player in 2006, the effect of losing such key individuals was immense. The final nail in England’s coffin was the Capello effect. Definitely, one of the best coaches in the game today, but he’s old school and hasn’t changed his methods in years. During qualifying, his regimental style was bearable in short bursts spread out over two seasons, but for two months straight with him driving the ship, it was just a matter of time before the inmates rebelled and the ship ran aground. No doubt that the English methods need an overhaul, but nothing like what is being presented, and a winter break for the Premier League is probably worthwhile, but the FA bungled things before, during and after the tournament. Despite being a fan of Capello, I would have let him go right after the Germany game. He cannot function now with this squad of players unless he fires the lot and starts afresh, and let’s face it, that isn’t happening. I would have grabbed Roy Hodgson, BEFORE Anfield came knocking, and started to wean the younger players into the squad.
It remains to be seen whether things can improve now unless Capello fundamentally changes his approach, not to the tactical side of the game, but in his man management skills. You would like to think that if Sir Alex Ferguson can change, so can he.
OK. Part 2 over with but as I said, a part 3 is possible which I will post tomorrow. It will be a short “Top 10 of World Cup 2010″ and then next week we’ll be into the 2010/2011 season.