Sunday, July 25, 2010

World Cup 2010 - Post Mortem

It’s been only two weeks since Casillas lifted the World Cup trophy, but already seems like so long ago… We’re taken again with the daily grind and I have personally forgot already how much fun I had watching the games (especially “la curte” in Romania). One experience that will last a lifetime though, is La Furia Roja winning it all while I was enjoying every minute of the final drinking Efes on a café-hookah bar-and-restaurant-lined cobblestone street in old Istanbul, not far from Hagia Sophia, where earlier I prayed for Spain to win! I wish I was a good enough writer to be able to really convey that feeling…

So now that it’s all history, and the statisticians [those dear friends with a real fetish for playing with numbers] have had their fill, it’s time for a little synopsis of how well (and in certain cases how poor) the teams [and some of the players] have performed. I also want to revisit my initial appraisals and see how far off I was. Or was I? I can only tell you this much: I “saw” a Brazil – Spain final [would have probably been more attractive] and I was not too far on that, had the Cariocas not performed hara-kiri in the quarterfinals…

After all the surprises – good and bad – the drama and excitement, here’s how it all summed up (again, by geography):

Europe – UEFA

After a slower start (and in some cases no “start” at all) three of the four semifinalists were European, almost ensuring that the trophy will stay on the old continent for the next four years. Germany and Holland offered a nice surprise, while some of the ‘old guard’ (including last editions’ finalists) have really disappointed. But you all saw the games, know what happened, here’s just a quick re-visit of my pre-tournament assessment…

Denmark was one of those who get a check mark under the “disappointing” column. They only recorded one victory [against a Cameroon side that ended up next to the very bottom of all teams] and were duly outclassed by both Holland and [especially] Japan.

If Denmark gets one check mark, England gets two under the same category. Predictable, pedestrian, slow, tired, uninterested, are some of the adjectives that characterized their performance. They barely managed to progress from an easy group but were immediately taken to the cleaners by a very impressive German team. Yeah, you could argue that Lampard’s unallowed goal could have changed the game, but we’ve been over that… Other would say that Capello should go, but I maintain that they just don’t have the players… Excuses are futile. I knew they would not get too far, just didn’t think they’d stop so short…

France is the “winner” when it comes to the aforementioned check marks; they get three! On and off the field they were disastrous. Last in another easy group, les Bleus never lived down their defeat against China in the warm-ups before the World Cup. In a headline today, new coach Laurent Blanc dropped all 23 players for their friendly against Norway next month! That would teach them!! Let’s hope all this hullabaloo makes it easier for Romania to qualify for Euro 2012 [they share a group with Bosnia, Belarus, Albania and Luxemburg]. But there [Romania] we have another sad state of affairs…

Germany. Well, well, well… My prediction was they would lose to Argentina in the quarterfinals… But as much as I wanted Spain to win, I think Germany was the best team in the tournament. Yes, they were outclassed by Spain, but with a bit more courage, the young German team could have made it all the way. Low has put together a very exciting team and [sorry to say it] they were much more Brazilian then… ehm, Brazil! I still don’t see how FIFA left Mueller out of the ‘team of the tournament’…he did, after all, win the golden boot and young player of the tournament award. Look for him, Ozil, Podolski and Co. to show up big in the next couple of tournaments. A true pleasure to watch [I don’t think I ever said that about a German team] they truly deserved the 3rd place finish (after another come-from-behind thriller against Uruguay).

Greece. Rehhagel’s over-defensive tactics are out; so is he. Didn’t make it out of the group stages, as predicted, and only got 3 points because of the Nigerians’ ineptitude and lack of discipline. Should have stayed home to begin with; I’m sure Ukraine would have fared better.

Italy. “The Azzurri do not look good on paper, and I doubt they’ll look good on the field either” was my initial overall assessment. They lacked… well… everything. They didn’t even play like a team. Hard work ahead for Prandelli, and although a good tactician, he’s a club coach. I doubt he’ll have much success with the national team (especially since he has to rebuild… or start from scratch, rather). But 4 years is a looooong time in football… You never know…

Holland were outstanding again, and with a bit more composure from Robben could have been the ones dancing in Johannesburg in the end. They are dynamic, well coordinated, but once they lose control of the midfield, then it’s “game over”. Undefeated in the qualifiers and the group stage, they came from behind (with lots of grit and composure) to teach Brazil a valuable lesson. They were my second-favorite team in the tournament… so I’m happy for them (and even happier they did not beat Spain).

Portugal, with an easy group (and the score of the tournament against N. Korea) fell at the first hurdle against their Iberian neighbors. No surprise there, especially since Ronaldo never really “showed up” and they were really outclassed by the mastery of Xavi and Co. I was right on the money with my prediction (out against Spain in the round of 16).

Serbia. I really thought they would do better, but their performance highlighted one more time how much worse Romania is, as both Serbia and France (who qualified out of that group 7) were just pathetic. The Serbs’ only plus was that fluke win against Germany… But when you lose to Australia, there’s no excuse… (sorry if that offends any of my Aussie friends).

Slovakia. For some, they were “excellent”. For me, Italy were just waaay too bad. That allowed them to get out of the group, but the Dutch proved to be too much for them. I liked Vladimir Weiss [coach’s son] but “one swallow does not make a spring” [Aristotle].

Slovenia. Not better than Slovakia, but had a slightly more difficult group. Didn’t like them one bit. Would have liked to see Russia in their place, in which case England would have probably left on the same plane with Italy and France.

Spain. What can I tell you… they were not as “pretty” as we’ve been used to, but pretty football does not always win tournaments. They clearly realized that after the Swiss cold shower. Yes, they have only scored 8 goals to win it all, but they have DOMINATED all games. There’s no better midfield in the world today, and no players of the caliber of Xavi, Iniesta and Villa. Clearly deserved to win and although I’ve only mentioned the 3 above, there were many others that “showed up” when it mattered. Case in point: they “hid” the ball from the high-flying Germans in one of the most entertaining 1-0 games of the tournament. Some say that Germany did not play well; I say they were not allowed to. Spain was too strong; stronger than the scoreline showed. Gracias muchachos!

Switzerland. All they had to do was beat Honduras in the last group game. But if one can’t accomplish that menial task, one should not ask for more. Their consolation is winning against the eventual world champs… Yet again, repeating myself over and over, still not sure how that happened. The Swiss were even more defensive than the Greeks (if that’s even possible)

Africa – CAF

Ghana once again saved face for the continent. All others (with the exception of Ivory Coast) took last place in their respective groups. All the media hype could not hide the fact that African teams were quite inferior and despite the ‘mercenaries’ brought on to manage the teams, they lack the main ingredient needed in a long tournament: discipline.

Algeria did better than expected and could have done even better with a bit more discipline. However, the 0-0 tie with [a very uninspired] England is all they have to show for it.

Cameroon were a mess. The only other team in the tournament with 0 points was N. Korea… that should tell you everything. Eto’o was essentially non-existent and none of the young guns were able to impress…

Ghana, as mentioned were again (just as 4 years ago) the only African team to progress out of the group stages. Not only that, but they should have been in the semifinal, unfortunately, nerves got the better of young Gyan and he put that last-minute extra-time penalty on the crossbar. So in their case was inexperience, rather than lack of discipline that did not carry them further. Look for them to have a better showing in Brazil [2014] as all these young players get more experience, and others from the under-20 world champions team from last year [they beat Brazil in the final, remember?] will make it in the senior squad.

Ivory Coast. Overdependence on Drogba (and his injury) cost them dearly. In any other group they would have fared better, but against Brazil and Portugal… tough…

Nigeria have only themselves to blame for not progressing. Vincent Enyeama (one of the best keepers in the tournament) worked wonders between the posts to keep the defeat to Argentina at only one goal. But then came the Greece game where – discipline again – they blew the lead and gifted the Greeks an unexpected victory. And when you can’t score from 5 yards against an open goal [remember Obasi?] then you really should not pretend you deserve more…

South Africa. For the first time in history, the hosts did not make it out of the group stage. Yes, they beat France (!) but they really didn’t show much. Mexico (with a bit more decisiveness) should have beaten them in the first game and they showed nothing in the 3-0 rout from Uruguay.

Asia – AFC

Australia. They went from a 4-0 beating from Germany to a ‘surprise’ win over Serbia and they were edged by Ghana only on goal difference. They would have done better had they not lost Cahill and Kewell to suspension in the first two games. I loved their fighting spirit after the Germany trashing.

Japan. Tenacious in open play and deadly from set pieces. In the end, it was lack of experience and concentration that allowed Paraguay to edge them on penalty kicks…

Korea Republic progressed easily (despite the 4-1 loss to Argentina) from a group where Greece and Nigeria didn’t show much. Some would argue (and statistics show it) that they were better than Uruguay in the round of 16, but in the end, both co-host from 2002 showed that they did not get far on home soil simply because they were hosts. Nice football from both of them.

Korea DPR came dead-bottom with 12 goals against and 1 for [against Brazil, of all teams]. Kim Jong-il is likely to punish all the players to a lifetime of labor in the coal mines for bringing such shame to his beloved communist contry…

North, Central America and Caribbean – CONCACAF

Honduras played spoilers to the Swiss to send Chile through. That’s what we’ll remember them for in this tournament.

Mexico looked good at times, but also lost concentration too easily. In the end, they could not avoid a 2nd place finish in the group and the unfortunate “date” with Argentina. Yes, they were robbed by an offside goal, but that’s no excuse. They do, however, have a few promising young players that will mature more in 4 years’ time…

United States. Should have done better once out of the group. They definitely had the easier passage (that’s how Uruguay made it to the semis) but did not take advantage of the opportunity. They did well last year in a second-rate tournament (lost the final to Brazil in the Confederations Cup) but in ‘serious’ tournaments they still have work to do.

Oceania – OFC

New Zealand were the only team who went home without losing a game in the tournament. With a little luck they would have gone past the group stage, but they left with their heads held high and the satisfaction of a 1-1 draw against the World Champions [Italy]. Not bad for a bunch of amateurs!

South America – CONMEBOL

After the group stage, the South Americans were flying high, with all the represented teams making it to the round of 16 and the quarterfinals (minus Chile, who lost to Brazil). Then the wheels came off and Uruguay (with a little help from Ghana) was the only one to make it into the semis.

Argentina came out of the gates running at full speed. They easily topped the group and played attractive football in the process. Ditto for the round of 16 against Mexico (alas, with some controversy). But their gaps in midfield and defense were duly exposed by a pragmatic German team who took them to the cleaners in the quarterfinal. Maradona threw in the [managerial] towel shortly after that. For all their attacking prowess [with Messi well under par] they were showed that attacking alone does not win tournaments.

Brazil found themselves in the same boat and although they excelled at times, they fell asleep at the helm in more than one occasion. Dunga also stepped down after the defeat to Holland, a game where they had the lead, but imploded in the second half. Once again, consistency is the name of the game in big tournaments and playing with two defensive midfielders was the most un-Brazilian thing I’ve ever seen; it’s back to the drawing board for the 2014 hosts now…

Chile was on par with my initial prediction. They squeezed through group F due to the Swiss’ incapacity to win against Honduras, but they really did not have much to show beyond that. Brazil emphatically put them away [3-0] in the round of 16.

Paraguay. Once Italy imploded, they found themselves [easily] atop group F. But since they could not defeat New Zealand [0-0] everyone thought they’d lose to an up-and-coming Japan. But they were more focused during the penalties and secured a spot in the quarterfinals [where they eventually lost to Spain]

Uruguay. Last, but not least, La Celeste were the big surprise of the tournament. After scraping through during the qualifiers [playoff against Costa Rica] they played some good football, spearheaded by the mercurial Forlan [player of the tournament] and goal-poacher Luis Suarez. Yes, they had a little luck against Ghana, but in the end, they deserved their place in the last 4.

* * * * *

That wraps it up for this edition of the World Cup. It will be remembered as a tournament with LOTS of surprises, LOTS of “firsts” and should give FIFA plenty of things to tinker with before the 2014 edition in Brazil. One thing is for sure; ‘name’ alone does no longer mean anything at this stage. Italy, France, England, even Brazil and Argentina can attest to that. Was it spectacular? I’ve seen better. The less ‘tactical’ games were a pleasure to watch… but there were also plenty of dragged-out ‘snoozers’. This was the lowest scoring tournament since FIFA switched to the 64 game format [2.26 average], ‘helped’ in great measure by the likes of Germany and Argentina. This explains why Spain won after scoring 8 goals in 7 matches!

Yet, it was great fun for us football addicts, and for me in particular (since Spain were crowned champions) nothing else mattered!!!

¡Viva España!

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