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.