Celebrating a great World Cup

Spain it is then.  A lot of commentary seems to revolve around the quality of the tournament (or lack thereof), but I’ve enjoyed the games and felt that it was a worthy World Cup.

The final wasn’t quite the spectacle many had in mind, but the Dutch approach to tackling set Howard Webb intriguing problems, and the whole thing became pretty riveting to me.

A few more qualms:

This isn’t the Dutch side of 1974.
No, but if you’re not organised in 2010 you won’t get to World Cup Finals.  Argentina tried to get away with an old-school approach to football and look what Germany did to them.   Holland played it just about perfectly, and had they managed to keep the ball a bit better, had Robben managed to escape his markers, had van Persie’s role been better emphasised, they could have won the whole thing.

This is a great Spain side.
Equally, people seem half-dismissive of this wonderful Spanish side.  Again, this is 2010, you don’t often waltz through the tightly packed defences that your reputation ensures you will meet time and again.   There’s something to the suggestion that Spain could have used Llorente more to give them a different look up front, but it all worked out in the end didn’t it?    Again, if a team went toe-to-toe with Spain they’d get murdered, so instead all they saw was packed and organised defences.   We saw in the Champions League how much of a problem this can be.  Spain deserve all kinds of credit for getting through and winning the World Cup.

This has been a dull World Cup
Has it?  The group games – as they often are under the 32 team format – were somewhat hit or miss, but still we saw plenty of fun.

Going through in turn, in the Group A we saw South Africa’s attempts to outdo their limitations come just short of what was needed.   In the same group we had the magic of Forlan, the absurdity of France (disgraceful) and the pleasing pass and move Mexicans.

In Group B Argentina threatened to surprise us all, Korea entertained, and Nigeria shot themselves in the foot and failed to qualify.

Group C was England’s to win, and that didn’t happen.  A poor but predictable draw with the Americans, followed by custard pie 0-0 draw with Algeria and a relatively impressive 1-0 win over Slovenia ensured that the delusions went on for a few more days.   Meanwhile the Americans scored late to beat Algeria and deny Slovenia, whose tournament was impressive, all things considered.

I took days off to watch Group D and wasn’t disappointed.  Germany destroyed Australia and opened the world’s eyes; Ghana showed some African gumption and beat Serbia.  Serbia then beat Germany.  Germany then beat Ghana.  Australia beat Serbia.   It was a crazy, up and down group, but in the end the right teams went through.

Group E disappointed me a bit, in that another African side (Cameroon) disappointed, while Holland and Denmark weren’t amazing.  This allowed a terrific Japan side to sneak through, their destruction of Denmark particularly memorable.

Group F saw New Zealand exit as the tournament’s only unbeaten team, and Italy exit as the tournament’s biggest underachievers.   

Group G involved some plucky work by North Korea, first holding Brazil, then collapsing against a rampant Portugal side.  Otherwise this went to form, although Ivory Coast were disappointing.

Finally, Group H, the other group I took days off to watch.  Chile thrilled with their high-octane 3-1-3-3 or whatever it was, Spain stumbled to defeat against a miserly Switzerland side but recovered after that, and Honduras were more or less making up the numbers.   A fun group though.

The round of 16 was pretty dull, England v Germany excepted, but the quarter finals were thrilling: Ghana v Uruguay was extraordinary, football giving all it can, Spain v Paraguay had some crazy twists and turns, and Germany’s thrashing of Argentina was every bit as conclusive as their win over England (note to teams:  don’t overcommit against this lot; they’re not bad on the counter).  Holland got rid of Brazil, again suggesting that they’re not half bad.  Brazil, arguably the best side in the competition other than Spain, really blew it here.

And the semi finals were fun too.  Holland v Uruguay was a cracker, as was Spain v Germany.   The third place playoff was good fun.   And yeah, the final was different, but not uninteresting.

No, I’ve loved this World Cup, and am gutted that it’s over.   We remember the high points of these tournaments and forget the dull spells, but looking back, there was plenty here to enjoy.   The Jabulani was clearly doing the exact opposite of what it was meant to do (nobody could control it), which really didn’t help, but as the tournament progressed the better players came into their own.

Defensive tactics?  Well yea, that’s the game isn’t it?   Unless you drop down to 9-a-side the problem won’t go away.  The players’ organisation and fitness has effectively shrunk the pitch, leading to crowds, attacking difficulty and tight games.  There are a number of ways around this:  Spain’s was to keep the ball and keep probing, and let their quality come through in the end.  Germany’s approach was to sit back and hit teams on the counter.  Holland tried to come up with a halfway house between the two, six defensive players and four creative players.

England belched in this general direction as well, but against weaker teams lacked the guile to Spain their way through, and against stronger teams lacked the gumption to time their counter-attacks.  The Germany defeat was embarrassing in this sense, the epitomy of headless football.

But this isn’t about England.  Well done Spain, well done South Africa, well done various others… here’s my team of the tournament (4-2-3-1):

Richard Kingson (Ghana), ridiculed by half-bright commentators for not having an English club, produced a Grobbelaar like series of games in which all kinds of fun was seen, including some fantastic saves.  Alternated between lilac and brown goalkeeping kits, playing well in both.

Sergio Ramos (Spain), a terrific right-back who epitmises everything required of that position in 2010.  Fast strong, can cross and even get in the box.  Great player.

Maximiliano Pereira (Uruguay).  I just thought he was brilliant.

Mauricio Victorino (Uruguay).  FIFA.com describes him as “He possesses a ferocious right boot and is a worthy ambassador for the garra charrua, that famous Uruguayan sense of bravery in adversity.” And that seems about right to me.  Victorino and Pereira just looked like defenders, wonderful in the tackle, brave, quick, balanced.  It was just a pleasure to watch them play.   Throwback players.

John Paintsil (Ghana). Seriously.  He did really well, and it was interesting to see Ghana send him into the box from set pieces.   I was struck by JP’s leadership, his calmness out there.   I have him at left-back because Ramos is so good, but John would be cool with that I’m sure.

Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany) – arguably Germany were the team of the tournament, and Schweinsteiger ran the team from midfield.   He was simply awesome, particularly so in the England and Argentina games.  Also pretty good defensively.

Xavi (Spain) predictable no doubt, but hey, the man’s a master isn’t he?  I wouldn’t have him in here if he wasn’t brilliant to watch, but he is, he’s fantastic.

Alexis Sanchez (Chile) was a wonderfully direct, tricky winger of the kind you might well have found in a 60s Brazil side.   Chile were so much fun that they demand representaion in this team.   Sanchez is my pick.

Diego Forlan (Uruguay) is class.  In every way.  He scored 5 goals for a defensive team, played all over the place, now a deep-lying playmaker, now a predator in the box.  This is what Wayne Rooney should be aspiring to in international football.  Man’s an absolute master, and in days gone by would be acclaimed as such.  I just wish commentators would forget Manchester United:  he’s scored stacks of goals since then and has no need to prove himself to anyone.  Deserved his golden ball award.

Andres Iniesta (Spain) see Xavi.  Lovely to see him score the winner, even lovelier to see the Daniel Jarque t-shirt underneath.  Brought a tear to my eye.   Class player, unselfish, creative, touch, movement, vision… ah, it’s all there isn’t it?  Terrific.

Asamoah Gyan (Ghana), a star performance even before the penalty thing.  Gyan was an extraordinary loan striker, worth all the praise he got.  Then, to miss like that, then to score like that.  Good lad.  I’d have him in my team every week.