World Cup 2010: South Africa

The great underachievers finally achieve

07/07/10

2010 will see a brand new World Cup Champion. And it will be the first time since the second ever edition in 1934 that neither one of the teams in the final have won the title before.

Will it be Spain, the perennial underachievers and defending European champions who share the international world record with Brazil for consecutive victories in 35?

Or will it be the Netherlands, considered to be the best team never to win the World Cup?

La Furia Roja have undoubtedly seen a more difficult route to the final, defeating the likes of Portugal, Paraguay and then Germany, while Holland had to face Slovakia, Brazil and Uruguay.

Spain were clearly the better team today, and therefore the young German side never really looked contentious against the pristine passing of the Spanish.

Spain have reached the finals for the first time ever, while Holland have been there twice before, losing to West Germany in 1974 and Argentina in 1978.

In all of their matches in South Africa, the Oranje have never seemed to be fully extended.

So how good are the Netherlands? That question will be answered on Sunday, while Wesley Sneijder and David Villa vie for the Golden Boot.

With both teams vying to play the possession game, it will be interesting to see who can get the better of whom. Spain, especially Villa, have proven to be absolutely deadly on the breakaway, while Holland have shown uncanny ability to shoot, and score, from 20-30 yards out.

One thing is for sure, this game will be a cracker.

The World Cup would have been even better if it weren’t for these…

03/07/10

At every major sporting event, there are always a few people or things that don’t live up to the hype they received prior to the tournment. I have highlighted what I feel to be the top five of these from this rendition of the World Cup thus far.

In order to make this list, the person could have somehow had tournament altering effects on his respective team and therefore leaving a bitter taste in the country’s respective fans. Call them the biggest flops, or the biggest disappointments, but these things definitely sucked.

1) Christiano Ronaldo

In a group with Brazil, and then facing Spain in the first knockout round, the Portuguese side needed their 80 million pound playmaker to do more than simply put on a uniform. For a side that conceded one goal the entire tournament, and it was ultimately the goal that sent them packing, the Portugal defense was beyond solid, however, they needed more than that to proceed. Aside form a 7-0 victory over a self-destructing North Korea side, which most of the goals came from severe Korean errors anyways, the Portuguese squad desperately needed their star striker. Apparently he was still counting his transfer money.

2) Wayne Rooney

He definitely failed to capture his club form for his country, even seeming disinterested at times. Rooney went great lengths of time without even touching the ball and often missing passes he would normally have nailed. Such great expectations surrounded Rooney prior to the World Cup for him to lead his country to success in South Africa. However, it wasn’t entirely Rooney’s fault, for if the rest of the English squad had stopped picking daisies long enough to realize the World Cup had started and only happens once every four years, it might have been a different story. His passion would definitely have helped to motivate England.

3) Lionel Messi

This selection might get me some flack, but it’s my blog and my opinions count. The wonder kid failed to score a goal in the world cup, and while he had some nice runs during the group stage, Argentina really didn’t face much opposition in their group. I think he failed to live up to the expectations everyone had for him, and now Argentina are heading home. Not that that’s a coincidence, but a few goals from the FIFA World Player of the year would probably have helped.

4) The referees

I’m pretty sure everything that can be said about this has been said, so I’m not going to repeat it. There were just too many goals disallowed that should have been goals; goals that were clearly offside that counted and far too many unnecessary cards of both colours.

5) The Vuvuzelas

These things are super annoying, and whether they are a part of South African or not (rumours are unclear about whether a Chinese entrepreneur just invented them or not) measures should have been taken to ensure they don’t interfere with the play on the pitch. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be allowed, just why the heck are they so loud??

FIFA can no longer ignore issue of video replay

29/06/10

This has gone on for too long. Something has to give.

There have been too many instances where referees have disallowed goals in games of the highest magnitude that have severely effected the outcome of the game.

Case and point: England vs Germany.

The round of 16 match between these two sides should have unfolded completely differently. While I’m not saying the outcome should have been reversed, as Germany were the better side on that day, however, the game dynamic should have been much different.

Frank Lampard’s goal was clearly in. Many people questioned whether England’s 1966 goal against Germany was good, but should have been absolutely no questions about this one.

Had the game been tied 2-2 at half time, the second half might have been much different. But instead England emerged from the first half a deflated team. Having scored two goals in under a minute, they should have been riding momentum into the next 45 minutes.

A similar situation occurred when the United States had a goal disallowed in their match against Slovenia – a goal which would have handed the USA three points instead of one in a game there rightly deserved to win.

These are simply two instances in the past couple weeks, but the issues has been a problem for far too long.

So, what do we do about this?

FIFA has stated that instituting video replay will slow down the game, something many fans are also not willing to witness.

However, this may not necessarily be the case. Look at rugby, for instance. Video referees can be called upon by the match official to determine the outcome of an attempt to score.

It would not take much for a soccer match to implement a fifth official to be used as a video referee who can help determine the outcome of highly influential and important decisions. Especially a match of such high magnitude such as a World Cup game, or even in the Champions league.

It wouldn’t take long for that official to review the play and radio his decisions to the head referee. Hell, it would take less time for that, than the amount of time wasted while the players argue with the referee over stupid calls – calls which could be eliminated with replay.

Barring this, FIFA could potentially look into having a goal judge – a referee who stands on each goal line for the entire match and whose purpose is to determine whether the ball crosses the goal line or not.

The only potential problem with this is that clearly some referees seem to have trouble with depth perception, so this may not be a solution at all

If none of these seem an appropriate solution, then FIFA might as well do away with referees all together, since they don’t seem to be doing much to enhance the game.

No, but seriously, something needs to be done about this, preferably before the beautiful game evolves into a sport of inconsistencies and meaningless outcomes.

David Villa: Mr. Unstoppable

25/06/10

David Villa is a great football player. When he pulls on a red Spanish shirt, he is simply magical.

And he continues to amaze crowds this year in South Africa with his spectacular ball control, passing and uncanny ability to find the net.

In his 55 international appearance for his country, he has scored 36 goals. At the 2006 World Cup he scored three goals, four goals at the 2008 Euro earned him the golden boot, and he scored three goals at this year’s Confederations Cup.

He has already scored three in South Africa.

Villa seems to have this supernatural ability to anticipate moves far faster than his opposing defenders, often running circles around them and reaching the net unmarked.

Not only is he deadly in front of the net, but he makes passes that more often than not, lead to goals. He can run up the goal tally of any fellow striker.

Some things fans probably don’t know about David Villa: He dedicates every goal he scores to his two daughters. He runs a football camp for children every July, where children come to receive training from professional footballers. Villa fractured his right femur as a child, and therefore has become an ambidextrous player. His father forced him to learn to kick with his left foot while his right leg was in a cast.

USA: There’s a lot more to this team than stars and stripes

23/06/10

Yes, they can.

They left it to the very last minute, the 92nd to be exact, but the United States managed to top what proved to be a much tougher group then anyone suspected.

After a tough couple of games with unfortunate referees disallowing perfectly good goals, the USA never gave up hope, and neither did their fans.

Every time the USA took to the pitch, they never looked defeated. They always fought to the very last whistle, and it paid off for them. Donovan appeared to be the team’s motivator, keeping the energy level up and leading one attack after another at the other team’s defense.

Donovan, who divorced his wife of two and a half years in 2009, has really grown up as a player over the past few years, spending some time on loan to European teams most recently a successful ten-week stint with Everton.

The experience he has gained really showed, as Donovan appeared a leader and motivator on the pitch.

The USA, at least for me anyways, are becoming something of a sentimental favourite in this tournament. Especially after my good friend Mike Brown told of the story behind USA midfielder Clint Dempsey and his lifelong journey towards the sport of football.

Dempsey was the younger of two siblings, and while he began to distinguish himself as a talented player, his family faced serious financial constraints. Dempsey’s family lived in a trailer park, and their time and money went to his older sister, Jennifer, who was a highly ranked youth tennis player thought to be destined for greatness – thus Clint was forced to quit the game he so dearly loved.

Several parents of his teammates at his youth club offered to help the Dempsey’s with travel and other expenses and therefore he was able to rejoin the team.

Every goal that Dempsey scores, every minute he plays on a pitch, it’s for his sister. Jennifer died from a brain aneurism in 1995, at the tender age of 16.

It took Clint a year to get over the loss of his sister, but when he turned to his first real love, football, he attacked the sport with a new perspective and fresh determination. And a new goal celebration – where he looks and points to the heavens, uttering a few words to his sister.

France got what they deserved

22/06/10

A draw, a loss, a tantrum, a loss, chaos. That is what describes the French campaign during the 2010 World Cup.

And all I can do is sit back and chuckle.

After an unimpressive qualifying campaign, France were forced into a playoff game against the Republic of Ireland – a game which they should never have won.

Thierry Henry’s hand ball, which resulted in the overtime goal which sent France through to the finals, began the controversy and the downfall of the French side.

As an England supporter, I also cheer for fellow British sides, such as Ireland. I definitely do not cheer for France.

So when this happened, I felt for Shay Given and his side, as they definitely deserved to be in the World Cup finals. But nothing could change the past, and therefore we looked to the future, and hoped to God France didn’t make it through to the round of 16.

Nothing could have gone worse for France during the opening stages of the World Cup, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

From their opening match they looked to be a side that was not unified, but instead merely a bunch of players scrambling to pass the ball.

It only got worse, as coach Raymond Domenech fought with the team trainer, players refused to train and marched off the pitch and team director Jean-Louis Valentin got so fed up with the team he resigned before the tournament was even over. Let’s face it, the French football association did this to themselves when after Euro 2008, they decided not to fire Domenech.

In a group which saw for the first time in history a host side who did not advance to the knock-out stages, France faced more than they could handle.

On a positive note, although Bafana Bafana did not qualify for the round of 16, they produced a good showing, scoring the tournament’s opening goal, and ending with a delightful victory over France. All good things in my book.

Controversies continue; Portugal look sensational

21/06/10

Controversies continued to roll out of the dressing rooms of the World up teams today.

The French squad returned to training after walking out on their coach, however, rumours circulate the training ground about which players will play in tomorrow’s match against South Africa.

Coach Raymond Domenech was very vague in an interview today about which players he would select, however, he did say that he would select people who still wanted to play. This may or may not include current captain Patrice Evra, who led the walk-out during training, and whose starting position, as well as captaincy, is believed to be in jeopardy.

England midfielder Frank Lampard did some damage control today, addressing the statements made by fellow England and Chelsea defender and saying that they were blown out of proportion.

Lamps stated that the lads merely sat down with manager Capello to chat about the game against Algeria and review what went wrong (aka: all of it). Let’s hope they discussed leaving Pesky Heskey on the bench where he belongs.

On a brighter note, and I hate to say it, but Portugal appears to have found their stride, joining Argentina and Brazil as teams to beat in the tournament. They looked sensational as they broke two records in the process of today’s victory, claiming Portugal’s biggest ever win at a major tournament, and handing North Korea their worst ever defeat.

It was also the seventh largest margin of victory at a World Cup, the largest since Germany beat Saudi Arabia 8-0 in 2002.

After their 7-0 thrashing of a fairly helpless North Korean side, Portugal will face Brazil, but look likely to advance based on goal difference. Poor Ivory coast will attempt to make up to goal difference when they face North Korea, however, it’s not looking good for Drogba and his men.

In further news, the “gelled tumbler” got his first international goal in two years. Woo hoo.

New Zealand: Little team, big spirit

20/06/10

So apparently getting a cramp is now grounds for getting a yellow card. Or so was the case when New Zealand captain Ryan Nelson was carded for going down injured by Guatamlan referee Carlos Batres.

Yet another ridiculous call by a referee in this tournament.

But a continuing story remains that of fallen champions and survival of the minnows. Up against the defending world champions, nobody expected New Zealand to even see much of the ball.

But what has often been the case during this tournament, you can never predict the outcome before 90 minutes of football has been played.

And New Zealand proved today that they are not just here for the ride – they are here to compete, and have the fighting spirit to do so. As coach Ricki Herbert stated after the today’s game about their next match against Paraguay, “We’re gonna be damn tough to beat.”

The All Whites are fast becoming a fan favourite in this tournament, showing good fighting spirit every time they take the pitch.

The 2010 rendition of the World Cup is also not short of controversy. And France appears to be at the centre of the trouble. Nikolas Anelka has been sent home after a clash with coach Raymond Domenech.

Domenech also has a face-off against the trainer at a recent practice, following which resulted in the trainer marching off the pitch. The players followed suit, refusing to train that day.

A coach who doesn’t have the respect of his players, has no hope of winning a World Cup. Sorry France.

Also at the helm of controversy is Malian referee Koman Coulibaly, whose call to disallow the USA goal in their match against Slovenia is being reviewed by FIFA. The problem, for Americans, is that Coulibaly refused to explain to the team why he disallowed the goal, and therefore the players assuming the worst.

FIFA has stated that a decision will be released Monday or later, however, public disciplinary action is unlikely, as FIFA commonly will take care of matters privately by not hiring the referee for more matches at that level in question.

Refereeing and goalkeeping problems continue to dominate headlines

19/06/10

It was another day in World Cup action, and another day full of questionable calls by referees and more goaltending mistakes.

Holland’s first goal in their match against Japan came as a result of a serious mistake by Japanese keeper Eiji Kawashima, who missed catching what should have been an easy shot. The ball grazed his arms and deflected into the net, giving Holland the win, and securing them a spot in the round of sixteen.

Kawashima joined the ranks of England’s Robert Green, Algeria’s Fawzi Chaouchi and the other goalies who have struggled during the opening stages of the tournament.

Cameroon became the first team to officially be eliminated form the tournament, as their loss today to Denmark leaves them with no shot of advancing.

And the referee was flashing his cards again today, showing four yellows and a red to Australia’s Harry Kewell.

The ball did make contact with Kewell’s arm in the penalty box, however, there is no way it was intentional. It should have just been a penalty kick, not a red card. After the contact was made, the referee did not even point to the penalty spot, but instead went straight for his red card. The penalty was later given to Ghana.

The refereeing decisions are beginning to make a joke out of this tournament. While people blame refereeing decisions for wins and losses all the time, I feel as though this time, in more cases than not, a bad decision has seriously affected the outcome of the game.

Australia managed a draw against Ghana today even with ten men, however, the way they played, it is very likely that the Socceroos would have won with 11 men.

Another instance was when South African goalkeeper was sent off for god knows what against Uruguay, leaving Bafana Bafana a man short and with a serious blow to their spirits. That should not have been a penalty kick OR a red card.

That game ended 3-0, which pretty much rules Bafana Bafana out of the round of 16.

More recently, the referee for the USA versus Slovenia disallowed what would have been a winning goal for the Americans, thus ending the game in the draw.

The USA are now facing elimination, as they must win against Algeria in their next game and hope for and England loss against Slovenia in order to move on.

These are just some examples of the many mistakes referees have made that have affected outcome of games. The level of play at a World Cup tournament is the best in the world, therefore the level of refereeing needs to be up to that level as well.

Lauren has been blogging on the World Cup since June 1. For an archive on her older posts, click here.

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