Essaythelast

Well, it is all over. World Cup 2010 has been both spectacular and dull; surprising and predictable; big-hearted and dirty; colourful and grey. With the drone of people going about the vuvuzelas still ringing in our ears, and Robben Island now full exclusively of guerilla marketeers in orange dresses awaiting trial, Africa may look back upon its first World Cup with pride, despite the dichotomy of all those empty seats and, one assumes, a surfeit of local football fans who might have willingly sat in them if corporate sponsors afraid of a spot of rain and Robbie Earle’s mates couldn’t be bothered to do so. I heard the Telegraph‘s insightful Jim White describing his experiences in South Africa on the Word podcast, and he recalled seeing not one black face on a park-and-ride bus into one particular stadium from a faraway car park, just white South African rugby fans whom Jim described as “event chasers” – football being traditionally an enthusiasm among the black population. Now, of course, all are welcome at a World Cup, but this side of things was not widely reported. (Presumably it was in the Telegraph?)

It’s a shame the African nations didn’t get very far into the competition, and that Ghana were knocked out by a handball that really ought to have been a goal, but the Europeans had it this time, and we knew that a team that had never won the World Cup before would take home the giant gold roll-on deodorant. This is exciting. I hoped it would be Spain, but assumed it would be Holland, with Schneijder and Villa in line for the Golden Boot, and Spain having risen without a trace after that early upset when Switzerland beat them. Now, I am reliably informed that expectation about Torres was whipped artificially up by followers of the Premiership, and that in fact Villa and Pedro were the men to watch, so his underperformance may be less of an issue than I was led to believe. Either way, he failed to live up to his reputation, which was a common theme, with Rooney doing the same, and Messi, and the whole French team, to a degree, who were a shambles on-field and off. (Raymond Domenech provided the lowlight of the entire competition when he refused to shake hands with the South African coach Carlos Parreria in Bloemfontein. I doubt his stars look too good at home.)

As for the final itself, well, after a tough and determined Germany Uruguay third-place play off on Saturday, Spain Holland was a pretty underwhelming affair, but it could have gone either way. It took until extra time for Andres Iniesta to insert the winning goal, in the same instance that British ref Howard Webb earned the ire of the Dutch – probably forever more, as these things work out – for not awarding a corner that might have made all the difference. Webb looked stern and non-negotiable throughout. He had a tough gig, doling out 14 yellow cards and sending off Johnny Heitinga at the 109 minute mark.

Hats off to Spain’s captain Iker Casillas, who kept Holland out of his net and was the first to cry when the final whistle went. The game had been filled with near misses (Sergio Ramos a notable culprit with a disappointing mis-header, something I find difficult to criticise as I’m pretty sure I couldn’t head a professional match ball back if you dropped it on my head from two inches above. But Robben also missed one. They were all at it.)

I have been enjoying watching Iniesta running around like the clappers, and I understand the t-shirt slogan under his shirt, the showing of which earned him one of those 14 yellow cards, was a tribute to Dani Jarque a 26-year old Sevilla player and teammate who’d died suddenly from a heart attack. You had to love him for that.

So Spain won the World Cup having scored the fewest ever number of goals in achieving that – and having lost their first match. That’s eight goals in seven matches. Not a high scoring World Cup. Where would we have been without Germany? Still, at least the final ended well at Soccer City, having started in neutral – so often the case in this tournament. And it was cheering to see former president and current icon Nelson Mandela riding across the pitch in a golf buggy. Not during the game, although it would have livened up the first half to have a vehicle on the pitch. No doubt Webb would have booked Mandela, too. (Although to be fair to Webb, he could have and should have sent off Nigel de Jong after a chest-height kung fu kick on Xabi Alonso. He didn’t.)

What have we learned then? That Uruguay’s national anthem has the longest intro in the world. It almost looks like it’s going to be an instrumental. See you all in two years.*

*When I’ll next be watching football.

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12 thoughts on “Essaythelast

  1. To be fair, it probably wouldn’t do any harm booking Mandela, just as a warning.

    Although he’s been out of jail for a few years now, I’ve always thought that he’s got the look of someone who could reoffend at any time.

  2. I’m not a regular commenter on blogs, but I just wanted to say that your essays have been hugely enjoyable Andrew. I, like you, get excited about football every two years, in the same way that I get excited about rugby every four, tennis for two weeks a year, and cycling every now and then when I can find ITV4 in my listings. I was a bit disappointed to see Spain win, as I was really rooting for Holland. I think that Iniesta was the most lovable player in the whole tournament – apparently he was quite upset that the tournament would take him away from his family life for so long, he was always smiling, and never seemed to be looking for free kicks and penalties – one of the things that makes me dislike football most of the time. All that, and an amazing player too.

    Anyway, just my 2p, thanks for a great series of essays. Love the blog Steve!

  3. I did enjoy this WC but at times the football was poor. I bet a million pounds the Jubiliani will be put in the bin for the next tournament. Too many overhit crosses, shots and free kicks.

    Also the issue of ticket prices prevented many of the locals from attending which is disgraceful. FIFA is only concerned about lining its pockets as the Bavaria incident demonstrates. After they realised that a lot of the games would not be full why did they not offer discounted tickets to the locals. Loads of empty seats at a WC; that’s just not right.

    ….and Andrew, if you want to continue admiring the flowing locks and handsomish face of Forlan you will have to sign up to Sky’s Primera Lida coverage..it will get you through those long cold winter nights 🙂

  4. Just wanted to pitch in and say thanks for these World Cup essays. As an all-year-round football fan, it’s great to hear the thoughts of someone who dips in to the sport every few years.

  5. …thanks for an entertaining mini-series of blogs, thoroughly enjoyable and a unique perspective. I watched a whole bunch of the matches but was flagging towards the end; I liked the football Mexico and Germany played but I found Spain a bit hypnotic (side-to-side-to-side…) very glad they won against such an unsporting team/manager in the Netherlands – unfortunately the Netherlands team will now go down as a team so lacking in confidence of their own ability that they resorted to kicking their opponents off the field. Thought the atmosphere was a bit lacklustre at times, would have been so good to get a few more African teams through and break up the old guard.

    Player of the tournament for me was Mesut Ozil, ghosting past people and playing those “hollywood” passes that Alan Hansen so derides.

    Moment of the tournament was when Asamoah Gyan scored his penalty in the shoot out (in emphatic style) having previously missed one at the end of the 90mins… shortly thereafter he was reduced to a quivering, unconsolable wreck as his other team mates missed and Uruguay scored to go through…. oooh, the drama!

    England remain an enigma, capable of playing brilliant, fast, flowing football in the qualifiers and then looking lumpen, clumsy and clueless when it really matters – maybe the excuses were right, after a long hard premiership season they just didn’t have any mental, physical reserves left (or they are rubbish).

  6. I was only ever interested in the international tournaments until France ’98, after which I didn’t want to wait another two years for some football excitement. I went for Tottenham as it’s my dad’s team, they’d had a close escape from relegation the previous season, and England’s Campbell & Anderton were both Spurs players.

    The first half of the season felt a bit like extended group stages of a major tournament, with some odd results, some underdogs winning, some getting thrashed 5-0, and slowly the league table started to reflect how good/rubbish they all were.

    Towards the end of the season I’d be calculating what happened if this team beat that team by this many goals, hoping those two get a draw, needing favours from local rivals so my “boys” would climb up the table. Football was a distraction for the first half of the season, progressively more exciting in the second half.

    So, for those who only watch international tournaments, have a look through the Premier* teams, see if any of your favourite World Cup players play for them, and keep an eye on how they do in August. You might find you get hooked.

    And Andrew, it would be great to read your weekly Premiership Essay.

  7. Andrew, please ignore the misguided chap above. He thinks he’s a football fan, but he’s not. You, on the other hand, have grasped the distinction between someone who lives the game and someone who merely experiences it when they choose to do so, and your essays have been thoroughly terrific as a result. Thanks for sharing.

    • Ah, Mintness displaying the patronising cuntiness of “this person isn’t a proper football fan” but without explaining why. I suspect it’s because I don’t hold a season ticket for the nearest team to my place of birth

      I enjoy watching football on TV, and reading about it on the net. it’s a shame that doesn’t meet Mintness’ Required Level of Football Fandom, and he/she feels that my opinion should be ignored.

  8. On a coupe of drags – cautious coaching and tiredness… It was suggested that some African sides were cramped by their European coaches – perhaps the coaches were made somewhat risk-averse by the money and faith invested in them. Perhaps the same applied to Capello and his tendency to stick with the familiar. Did the Dutch coach, when most desperate to win, see risk in even playing football and pass that on to his players? (As Jim commented their antics suggested a surprising lack of confidence.) (The final was also a good example of desire/passion not always helping.) Have many coaches gone all Mourinho? Defensiveness did seem to rule. Not least against Spain, which might explain their low goal tally. Had Torres been fit enough (it takes a long time to go from unfit to competitively fit, longer than Barry/England believed) he would’ve added another scoring option to Spain. Germany provided goals but some credit should go to England and Argentina’s defending.

    When a commentator said the Champions League final was less than two months ago it did sound a bit close for something that might have meant more to some big-club stars. Perhaps there should be a shortened version of the CL in tournament years. I still think altitude was behind several tired performances. Landon Donovan said it became less of an issue as the cup went on – which makes sense as all his games were high up. The relative problem would come from spending long enough high or low – e.g. two games in a row – then having to change. That faced England and a few other teams but not all. Re the ball at altitude: those free kicks that didn’t come down in the final – worth a mention in commentary no? (I suppose people don’t like stuff like conditions being mentioned because they sound like excuses but in this context it’s an indictment of England’s planning, physical/mental preparation and tactics.) (Another indictment was our late introduction to the ball. If you’re not professional an opponent will be. Germany and Japan were the most professional teams in this and, possibly, every way.)

    A relief that the final didn’t go to penalties. World Cup finals should just carry on tennis-like, or be replayed. Another welcome change would be no more shots of bored famous spectators. Another would be gravitas and Lord of the Rings-style ceremony when presenting the deodorant – before the gold ticker tape explosion etc – instead of that Blattery mess we had.

    I wonder if England learnt that playing keep ball is a good way to settle your nerves and rattle the oppostion? Talking of Spain, the pleasure of their success for me is that it’s ‘sticking it’ to the scouts and coaches and managers in this country who have long denied potential Iniestas careers as footballers. It’s showing them there’s another, slightly different way, that’s all. It would be boring if it, or anything else, was the only way.
    Thanks for doing the essays, they deserve to be marked Unclassifiable, which is always good.

    Sorry, ‘epic fail’ at keeping it brief.

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