Yesterday we wrote of Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan’s action against the unfortunate Super Eagles and suggested he had not taken a calm look back upon the events of the past three weeks.
In that spirit, and with very little news in Worldcupland, today is our own review of the first 56 matches and the events that surrounded such. Given this is the very first tournament in South Africa, it is only fitting to respond in kind – in truly groundbreaking fashion. So therefore, what follows is a list of five lowlights and five highlights of the tournament thus far:
5. England – A poor English performance would ordinarily have been brilliant, if not for the fact that we had to actually sit through it. Their opening match was only saved by the laughter at Robert Green’s expense; then came the appalling draw with Algeria; an unconvincing victory over Algeria secured their passage to the second round; before playing well for maybe 20 minutes against Germany. Their departure wasn’t so much a case of ‘Hahaha, goodbye England!’ as ‘Thank God that’s over.’
4. The lack of goals – It has at least increased from the coma-inducing opening matches, but the 56 matches so far have yielded just 123 goals at 2.19 goals per game. This is still lower than the 2.21 from Italy 1990, but the recent increase, along with the prosperity of some of the more attacking teams, has helped the lack of goals drop to fourth.
3. Vuvuzelas, or more accurately, the constant complaining about vuvuzelas – The vuvuzelas have generally reduced from a constant buzz to being used for what they were intended – generally dependent on the stage of the game. Some matches are better than others, but as someone (the specifics of whom have long since faded from the memory) put it: ‘If we wanted all World Cups to be the same they would all be held in Europe.’ Besides, without vuvuzelas this Algerian would never have made it onto Youtube.
2. Canary yellow seeing red – The story of Australia in this World Cup has been complex. The Socceroos left with their heads held high, only eliminated on goal difference and in line with a number of pre-tournament expectations. Despite this, it was still a disappointing campaign – as Ben Waterworth put it ‘What if?’ – through negative tactics and harsh decisions. But as a colleague once said, ‘If ifs and buts were candy and nuts we’d all have a Merry Christmas,’ which I believe is a more polite way of the saying which begins with ‘If your aunt had…’
1. The French Farce – Yes, it was a bit of slapstick comedy. But it was also like some of the great Frasier episodes, where you just wanted to press pause, slap everyone across the face and tell them what’s really going on, even if it would deprive everyone of a few laughs in the process. There was the coach who didn’t know how to coach, the player who insulted him and refused to apologise, the team who wouldn’t train despite being the one side most in need of training. And that’s just the start of it. It was funny, but it was also sad to see a team implode in such a way, especially when fifty of the best was dropped on said team in a pre-tournament stupor. And even if you did enjoy it, it was sad to see the sideshow come to an end.
5. Ghana – Their undeserved draw against Australia keeps them from a higher mark, but the Ghanaians were the only African team to give a shout. By the time South Africa and Côte d’Ivoire got on the winners’ list their tournament was all but over, Cameroon was the first team eliminated, Algeria never got on the scoresheet and Nigeria were so bad, well, the ban has been mentioned. Their press officer is still the bookies’ favourite for quote of the tournament, however.
4. Landon Donovan’s goal against Algeria – The moment that didn’t just change a game but changed the tournament. Notwithstanding the earlier warning about ifs and buts, say Donovan somehow pokes that shot wide… the USA goes out, Slovenia celebrates a most unlikely second-round appearance while England tops the group and sneaks past Ghana… maybe. Regardless, Donovan’s goal has been the World Cup’s best example of last-minute drama.
3. Italy out – Perhaps those who saw it will never truly forgive Italy for 2006, but many demons were exorcised when the Azzurri tumbled out; all the diving in the world couldn’t have saved them. Their equalisers against Paraguay and New Zealand came through luck and deceit respectively, while three and four were in an ultimately lost cause against Slovakia.
2. New Zealand, the pride of Australasia? – Winston Reid’s equaliser against the Slovaks was a last-second burst of joy and when Shane Smeltz put the All Whites into an early lead against Italy, the shock of the tournament was on the cards. The eventual draw and similar result against Paraguay gave the Kiwis an undefeated tournament and the world’s press an entry into ‘Remember when…’ columns for years to come.
1. Diego Maradona – Traditionally he hasn’t been among this writer’s favourite people, for pretty much all the usual reasons people cite as criticism of the man. But the touring Maradona show has provided entertainment on almost a daily basis. First came his pre-tournament promise of a nude lap of Buenos Aires should Argentina win. There was the reignition of the feud with Pelé coupled with a blast towards UEFA boss Michel Platini. He complained about the Jabulani ball, apparently because he was the only one who could tame it. The way his eyes bulged out of his head prior to dismissing non-existent rumours that he was gay (thank a mistranslation for that). And now today he has taunted Bastian Schweinsteiger ahead of tomorrow’s quarter-final. It has been pure theatre, and given the sometimes-horrendous on-pitch displays has been the most entertaining part of the World Cup. His team’s going alright too.
MUST-SEE: Ivorian Emmanuel Eboué showed, despite his team’s impending elimination, a sense of humour when pretending to understand North Korean coach Kim Jong-hun’s instructions.
EYEBROW-RAISER: Martín Demichelis, clearly affronted by Thomas Müller’s swipe at the English yesterday, has shown he can engage in some Pom-bashing too:
‘Seeing the way Terry played against Germany, if I was Terry I wouldn’t be able to go back to my country,’ says the Argentina defender.
Who knows, they may show up in Cape Town without a ball, but fresh with a batch of insults directed towards the English that would make the Playa Haters blush.
TONIGHT: Once again the games are underway and we kick off tonight with the Netherlands meeting Brazil. The Dutch have won every game so far, but are still yet to impress. The Brazilians took their own time impressing, but when they did against Chile, it sent an ominous message to the rest of the competition. Elano’s hamstring problem keeps him out for Brazil, who simply say, ‘meh, we’ll bring in Nilmar.’ The Dutch haven’t been beaten in 23 matches, Brazil have lost one of thirty. While this may signal extra time, the onus could be on the Oranje. If the Dutch get an early one Brazil may struggle to chase the game; if they don’t, the Brazilians could shut up shop: Netherlands 0-2 Brazil. Ghana looks to become the first African team to reach the semi-finals of a World Cup but standing in the way is Uruguay. The South Americans should play close to a first-choice lineup, while Ghana have two suspensions, André Ayew and Jonathan Mensah, to go along with injury clouds over their two leading lights in Asamoah Gyan and Kevin-Prince Boateng. They’ve survived thus far, why not back the magic to continue into one more round? Uruguay 1-2 Ghana (a.e.t.)
Evan Harding is co-producer of The Contenders Daily Bite, a daily World Cup short which can be seen on Tribal Football. A Master of Global Communication student at La Trobe University, he is an upstart editor armed with a month’s supply of coffee and a Spanish chance to still make back the money lost on an ill-conceived bet. Previous World Cup columns can be found here.