Monday, 19 July 2010

10 World Cup Moments in South Africa 2010

After all that waiting we finally got what we wanted: a full month of football! Other sports happened in the meantime but don’t think many people can tell me who John Isner and Nicolas Mahut are, unfortunately for them!

The first tournament ever to be hosted in African soil was surrounded by expectations and a bit of apprehension from football fans all over the World. Infrastructure wasn’t as perfect as Germany or Japan, and will it be a repetition of disastrous refereeing decisions that normally happen outside of Europe and America? (Well… they were only blatantly obvious in 2002 and they seemed to be favouring the locals). We could only wait until June 11th to find out.

So many things we want to remember and forget from this World Cup, as it is in any other of its previous editions, but I have made my best effort to collect a few in a Top 10 format:

10.- The Bad Stuff:
Yes, let’s get that out of the way first. So, we thought refereeing couldn’t get worse than in Japan-Korea 2002. Well, guess again, because it was!! But if we thought they’ll at least favour the locals, they just made mistake after mistake as if they were hit by a massive jet-lag or vuvuzelas didn’t let them sleep. Whoever they “favoured” in one match, were again affected by them in the following game… Insane!! Referees giving cards like it was Christmas!! Just look at the Final tally: 14 cards!! More than double than any other Final. Crazy.
Vuvuzelas, love them or hate them, they were there. I’m quite glad I wasn’t there sitting next to one. And I could have done that, seeing the amount of empty seats in the stadia. What was that all about?? Weren’t the tickets 98% sold?? And here I was thinking I missed out on a ticket a year ago… terrible.

9.- Jong Tae-Se’s Tears:
His parents were of South and North Korean ascendance and he was born and raised in Japan, but he chose to wear the North Korean colours. He received a lot of criticism from people of these 3 countries because he should not have chosen to play for North Korea. Whatever reason they had to claim that, it became obsolete when during the National Anthem before the match against Brazil, Tae-Se burst into tears like a small child, so much was the pride and the pain caused by this criticism that he could not hold that inside him. He reminded us that in this world of overpaid and prima-donna football stars, there’s plenty that are still interested in the football… and play for their country with such passion and love.

8.- New Zealand 1-1 Italy
Even though some people dislike this fact, Italy is 4-times World Champions and the current holders at the time of this match. They are of course favourites to beat a team that includes non-professional footballers. However, the All-Whites scored first. The champions were losing against a “small team on paper”. One thing we got reminded again: Not everything is written in football. Italy got to draw with a penalty, but by that time, New Zealand had already attracted a bunch of new fans and sounded the first alarm that this wasn’t going to be an ordinary World Cup where the Usual Suspects will always get their way.

7.- South Africa’s first goal
For the Bafana Bafana and the people of South Africa, and the African continent, this World Cup was a dream come true. And what a better way to start your way in the tournament with an amazing shot with a solo run from outside the area included and completing the achievement with a choreographed celebratory dance. Yes, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to South Africa :D

6.- Robert Green and the Jabulani
Buffon said it, Julio Cesar said it, Casillas said it… but we didn’t believe it. Apparently the Jabulani is very difficult to control for goalkeepers, but when we thought it was just a bunch of excuses for probably a lot of goals, we saw how the ball escapes the hands of a hopeless Robert Green to give the USA a draw against England. Neither the keepers, nor the players managed to control it at least in the first round of matches. But that didn’t stop Fabio Capello from sitting Green on the bench for the rest of the tournament. He probably thought they were excuses as well…

5.- Le Meltdown
Some people said it was Karma, some that it was a time-bomb expected to blow any minute, but whatever it was, we were still proper shocked when that newspaper report about Anelka and Domenech came out. And with everything that happened after we didn’t know what to feel: sad, ashamed, amused… The French National Team went back home in disgrace. They would have probably been well received in Ireland.

4.- Iniesta’s Goal
TV pundits were saying before the Final that whatever happened in the Spain – Holland match they hoped everyone will be satisfied with the result (comments regarding the last World Cup Final maybe?). And even though it started rough and we could almost say a little boring, the teams finally decided to play good football in the last few minutes of the first 90 and then in Extra time. And when we were getting ready for yet another Final with penalties, along came little Iniesta and scored. Arguably the best player on the pitch that night, he took the team on his shoulders and brought it home… together with the Cup. I’d like to take the pundits’ remark and say that we, apart from Dutch fans of course, were satisfied with the result.

3.- England’s Non-Goal
Talking about bad refereeing and crazy Jabulanis brings us to a pivotal moment in FIFA’s history. They finally considered using technology in football. But why? A clear goal by Frank Lampard was wrongly denied (well, ignored) in their match against Germany. I still don’t know whether that might have changed the outcome of the game (that goal would’ve made it a draw, but England didn’t look superior at any moment) but a goal that was a goal here in Venezuela, in South Africa, in England and even in Germany, was not for Larrionda and his team of liniers that day in Bloemfontein. Germans take revenge on that 1966 Phantom Goal and we are left hoping that never happens to our team.

2.- Suarez’s Saves
119th minute of extra time, both teams got a goal each, and you’re about to score the goal that will take your team to a Semifinal of the World Cup for the first time in any African country’s history. And then a little Uruguayan who is not the goalkeeper saves the goal. You guys get a penalty, he gets sent off. Nothing unusual here so far, right? Your star player and leading scorer is about to take the penalty… and he fails. You go on to lose on penalties. Read this story again. If the star player had scored, Ghana would’ve been thru and the little Uruguayan would’ve remained little, but no... the Greatest Hero and the Greatest Villain of this World Cup manifested himself here, and his name was Luis Suarez.

1.- At the mercy of Pulpo Paul
We knew Germany had a kind of mascot back home who was predicting the outcomes of their matches. A little Octopus from England called Paul told the Germans how they’ll beat Australia, Ghana and lose to Serbia. A funny anecdote became a media frenzy when Paul correctly guessed the outcomes of the England and Argentina’s matches, especially the second one, when most people were already saying goodbye to Germany before they fell abruptly against Maradona’s men. But, oh, that didn’t happen. And Paul knew it! Surely he’ll be supporting Germany all the way to the final? No. Germany will lose to Spain. And they did. And of course he couldn’t predict the outcomes of 64 matches, he was sticking to the Germany ones only… until the final. He predicted the result, got it right, and became a sensation in Spain and the favourite dish in Germany, Uruguay, Holland, Argentina, England…

*Honorary Mention: Anything about Maradona
The best player in history was back… as a coach. How will he do? Well… he had the best player at the moment in his team, a team that is always dangerous and has two stars in their shirts (he got one of those stars). But from the beginning we knew it was not to be Messi’s show. It was Maradona’s. He shouted, he jumped, he ran, he even dived a couple of times, did a couple of tricks with the ball that deserved the applause of the whole stadium… but not even his trash talk could take away his lack of knowledge as a tactician. Too bad for Argentina, but El Diego kept us entertained while they lasted.