Wednesday, August 25, 2010

World Cup 2010: So it goes ...

I said I'd be back to talk about the World Cup in August, didn't I? Well, we'll have a look at the Mundial before moving swiftly on, seeing as it was such a stinker. Actually, that's too strong but it was a tournament that ultimately failed to come up to spit.

Significantly, the final provided an experience akin to finishing a decent pint only to end up with a mouthful of sediment. For better ('50, '66, '98) or worse ('90, '94) the World Cup final is often the source for the most lingering memories of a tournament - but, for reasons elucidated elsewhere, Soccer City 2010 left an imprint like a brass knuckle on the cerebral cortex.

Both semi-finals were not half bad, in their different ways (goals in Holland-Uruguay; Spain's general excellence against Germany), and the Germans' effervescent campaign as a whole had charm. But classic matches - like fresh contenders, players who came zinging out of nowhere - were scarce commodities.

New shinies (as in sticker albums, get with the scene) include Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller and Luis Suarez ... but they were hardly unknowns when they boarded the plane to South Africa. By and large the big names disappointed (Rooney, Ronaldo, Messi) and the surprise-package sides (Ghana, Uruguay, Paraguay) were solid rather than spectacular. Even Chile, recipients of Johan Cruyff's imprimature, achieved limited breakout success.

That is not to say this was a World Cup without interest: questions of formation (such as the ubiquity of 4-2-3-1) and tactics (possession v counterattack) arose; several managers won plaudits for their successful stewarding of limited sides (while Fabio Capello was handed the opposite end of that particular stick); and there was the satisfaction of seeing Spain's artistry rewarded. The champions became the first side to lift the World Cup after losing their opening game - a defeat which only seemed to strengthen their faith in their principles as they went on to win six matches in a row, conceding just one goal and none in four knockout games. Sure, the finish was matt rather than gloss but there was no denying the best team got their hands on the trophy.

All things considered, then, South Africa 2010 was a difficult World Cup, one that made the spectator work for his or her enjoyment. Living in the global village of the 21st century probably means that the tournament, even as it gathers together teams and players from disparate parts of the globe, will never be quite as enigmatic and tantalising an event as it one was. We've seen most of the performers down the park already, or at least heard the hype from travellers passing through. Just another thing to blame our technological age for killing ...

Still, I imagine we'll have all rediscovered our libido in four years' time. And what better location than Brazil for an orgy of sexy football? Now don't try and tell me that's just a vuvuzela in your pocket.

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