Sixty games into this World Cup finals, and with only four left to go, I can’t help but feel like this tournament has had some distinct, tournament-wide trends. While there have been some outliers, I feel like these themes have been prevalent in nearly every match.
That’s how it feels to me at least. And since this is my blog, I feel like you need to hear about them. So here are the four themes of South Africa 2010, in no particular order…
I thought for sure this space would be dominated by Maradona headlines. But while the legend has kept his trap mostly shut for a majority of the month, his counterparts from other countries are busy fighting with one another over who gets to fill the shoes I expected El Diego to be wearing.
First up: Italy’s Marcello Lippi. Critized long before the tournament for choosing a squad that would — nearly in its entirety — qualify for Social Security benefits here in the States (they’re so old), Lippi was busy laying the foundation of his craziness months ago. And following the Italians’ three-and-out performance, Marcello was so embarrassed that he literally ran out of the stadium. No handshakes with the opposing coaches. Nothing. Class act.
But Lippi was to be outdone, as the much-maligned Raymond Domenech continues to fly the flag as the world’s stupidest coach. Despite having a squad ripe with talent, everyone in the world knew that Domenech was a lame duck and that Les Bleus would suffer for having him there. And suffer they did. Raymond succeeded in letting the team implode, had to send home Anelka for subordination, had a team coach quit, and saw his players refuse to train under him. Further more, the Fench went winless for the second straight competition and were generally awful.
The icing on the cake? After being eliminated by a loss to 89th ranked South Africa, Domenech didn’t shake Bafana Bafana manager Carlos Alberto Parreira’s hand either. No, instead he lectured the brazilian for a comment he made about France’s illegitimate qualification… a comment he made nearly 4 months ago. Brilliant and extremely mature timing by the craziest coach in South Africa.
Blind men are everywhere
Aside from when I’m personally playing in a game, I really do hate to criticize referees. The (un)lucky refs picked to deputize the World Cup games honestly do have some of the hardest, most pressure-filled jobs on the planet. But in this summer’s tournament, I feel like you couldn’t walk through the South Africa without tripping over a crap referee.
Yes, the most talked about topic during this summer’s finals is the unbelievably poor standard of refereeing that we’ve seen almost completely across the board. The biggest poor call so far, at least from an American’s point of view, was the Coulibaly fantom offsides/foul in the USMNT-Slovenia game. But other atrocities so far have included: Tim Cahill being wrongly sent straight off against Germany, Lampard’s non-goal in the England-Germany match, Tevez’s clearly offsides goal against Mexico, the soft yellow that Thomas Müller was given against Argentina that will cause him to miss the German’s semifinal.
Needless to say, the level of officiating in their marquee event should be extremely worrying for FIFA. With mounting evidence to justify the use of some sort of goal line technology — and fifa finally “admitting” as much — this World Cup may finally be the last straw for keeping some sort of referee aid from making its way into the game. Though odds are, FIFA will intentionally pick the worst option just so they can reject it as a failure and go back to the current, mucked up system in a few years’ time.
It is important to remember that they aren’t all doing poorly… England’s Howard Webb has turned in a very consistent set of performances.
This is a trend of the tournament that I really haven’t heard much talk about to this point: why are there so many empty seats? I figured at first it was just because the opening round games sometimes feature dud match ups. But this empty seat phenomenon has even reared it’s head in the later rounds (Japan’s snoozer against Paraguay being the chief example).
I mean this is the world cup, right? How does this happen? In Germany, there were fans coming to host cities just to be near the stadium. In the ’94 in the USA, there were fans trying to sneak into games. But in South Africa in 2010, there are games with thousands of seats sitting empty.
Perhaps this is due to the African citizens not really being able to afford the tickets, or maybe it’s due to the fact that this game was so damn far away from anyone with money. Whatever the reason though, it’s unacceptable and frankly, a little embarrassing.
This is supposed to best football in the world, right?
Wrong. And in this tournament in particular, I feel like we’re not quite getting the Grade A, world-class level of play everyone expects from the World Cup. Or at least that’s what the American media market keeps telling us to expect.
As moronic SportsCenter anchors go on calling the World Cup the footballing world’s equivalent of the Super Bowl, it has become increasingly clear that the best comparison to the super bowl is still the Champions League. And it’s not just because their formats and functions are similar.
Let’s be honest: South Africa 2010 has proven that the world’s best football can be found in the Champions League, not in the World Cup. The play has been sloppy, disconnected, and at times down right atrocious. How many crosses have been off by about a mile? How many errant passes have been made by world class players?
Maybe it’s the ball. Maybe it’s the altitude carrying the ball further than normal. Maybe it’s even those damn vuvuzela’s distracting everyone. Maybe it can be attributed to an overly-long, drawn-out club season that keeps national teams from training together and pushes players past their physical limits. But it’s probably a combination of all three. Either way, the best football has not been on display this summer.