Wednesday, July 14, 2010

World Cup Reflections

"It's not every day that you get to be affectionate around something German. It just doesn't seem to happen that often." (Larry David, "Curb Your Enthusiasm")

Ever since Germany's sparkling opening win against Australia (the first of a trio of games in which they'd register four goals), I have found myself thinking of my hero Larry David's quote above.

He was referring to a dog not a football team, but in a generally disappointing World Cup, Joachim Loew's dynamic young team was one of the few to lift the spirits

During the tournament build-up, we were led to believe that European teams would be favoured due to the winter conditions in the Southern Hemisphere.

South American sides initially threatened to disprove this theory, but with the slightly dishonourable exception of tiny Uruguay, it was indeed Europe's tournament in the end.

The Jabulani ball was rightly castigated in the media. It was enormously frustrating to watch virtually every long-distance shot soar over the bar as if it suddenly sprouted wings.

As mentioned in a previous post meanwhile, the vuvuzela ruined the event as a television spectacle (though perhaps they did genuinely add to the atmosphere for those present).

With the ebb and flow of the crowd lost in the cacophony, many of the (regular) mediocre matches simply drifted to their conclusion when some variability in atmosphere, might have been the catalyst for some improvement.

The scheduling of the quarter-finals was odd, and not conducive to drawing in those (now) neutrals whose interest in the tournament was rapidly waning.

The mouthwatering Holland vs Brazil fixture took place on a Friday afternoon for example. Why weren't all four quarter-finals played during the weekend of 3/4 July?

The BBC and ITV's coverage was stale and predictable meanwhile. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with their '3 men and a presenter' model, but it helps if there's a degree of disagreement and genuine debate on show.

Football fans are fully aware that an 'old boys' network is at work governing managerial and coaching employment at domestic clubs, but broadcasters are free to display less nepotism.

Great player for sure, but just how did Alan Shearer carve out a post-retirement career in television? Give me an opinionated journalist any day, rather than this type of bland know-it-all 'pundit'.

Meanwhile don't even get me started on James Corden's pitiful ITV post-game show. Truly an embarrassment.

Back to onfield matters, if the outstanding team in the tournament (Germany) was not ultimately victorious, then few neutrals could bemoan Spain's victory given the purity of their passing game.

It may be pure however, but it's not particularly penetrative with all four of Spain's knock-out stage wins being a 1-0 scoreline.

Jose Mourinho's Inter brilliantly snuffed out Barcelona's flair in the Champions League semi-final, and one wonders if Holland's brutal approach was a warped interpretation of the special one's tactics.

In truth, Inter's victory was a function of a stunningly disciplined pair of 'banks of four' in front of Julio Cesar's goal, combined with lethal counterattacking goalscoring. Holland displayed neither.

My favourite statistic of the tournament, is that the only unbeaten team was New Zealand.

As a rugby-dominated country of just four million people, they stuck two fingers up at those who sneered that their ilk had no place at the World Cup table.

My goal of the tournament was undoubtedly Asamoah Gyan's brilliant winner against the USA, displaying superb control, strength and finishing at a pivotal moment in an intriguing game. It was a dreadful shame that his penalty miss would deny Ghana a semi-final place.

Although hardly original, my player of the tournament must be Andres Iniesta. Beautiful to watch, with exquisite balance and wonderful touch.

He put in an extraordinary performance in the 2009 Champions League final, and has now followed it up in the most important national team competition too.

If the likes of Messi, Ronaldo and Rooney suggested they might really be mere 'luxury' players, Iniesta was a 'team player' with real class.

My final thoughts however would rest upon precisely what relevance the World Cup holds today, when the aforementioned Champions League displays virtually all of the finest global talent, yet does so on an annual basis, and without the inherent rigidity of nationality playing a role.

We can all put together our 'dream team' from this year's World Cup, but only the Champions League can actually make it a reality.

The homogeneity of national teams can make for pretty staid football, when the players lack the imagination usually provided by their club teammates. England would seem to be a fine example of this trait.

Not a single match at the World Cup compared to the finest Champions League match-ups, whilst the two-legged affairs of all ties except the final avoid the 'too important to fail' nature of knockout matches, which can produce performances like Holland's on Sunday.

With an entire nation watching at home with baited breath, and with no more than 120 minutes to secure victory (or else risk a fully four-year wait), is it any wonder that so many late-stage matches were played with such flair-restricting tension?


At 8:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

excellent summary

At 9:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For me this world cup confirmed that international football is second best to the European Champions league. Euro 2008 was a great international tournament, and made me think again, but this World Cup did not display the best football in the world.

Reckon FIFA will need to start thinking about 2014 and 2018 and how they might change the trend.

Pembury Addick

At 12:03 PM, Anonymous confidentialrick said...

Another unanswered question about football pundits. Why can't they sit with their legs shut?


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