No, I am not in hiding, I am just trying to enjoy a short vacation. It is now almost a week since the end of the 2010 World Cup Football, deservedly won by Spain. It is time to try and put in writing my thoughts over this competition, which has kept a good part of the world entertained for about a month, a feat that simply no other (joyful) event can accomplish — not even the Olympics, and by a long shot.
So, here are a few remarks, in no special order. Obviously they are personal, biased and non-objective observations, the only ones worth making when it comes to football. I know I am leaving stuff out, but that is what comments are for.
First of all, congratulations to Spain for a well-deserved win. All in all, this tournament was more entertaining than spectacular. It had its share of drama, as some of the teams initially held as serious contenders simply collapsed (France and Italy above all, but also disappointing were Argentina and England — Brazil’s demise is a mystery to me).
Brazil. OK… what the hell happened during the intermission of that quarterfinal game with Holland ? Brazil could have won this World Cup in its sleep. It had the best players and the best coach. It was easily disposing of Holland, a team not on par with, and that should never create problems to Brazil on a normal day (ditto for Uruguay and Spain)… and then… well, I suppose it is not the first time in history that Brazil decides to be generous and give away a World Cup that had verdeoro written all over. It is good for the game, I suppose… Spain dutifully thanks. Overconfidence ? In 1950 or 1982 I would have said yes, but this time… not sure.
France. Merci, les Bleus… I mean, don’t get me wrong, if I were French I would be livid, but boy did you give the rest of us something to talk and laugh about (besides taking attention away from Italy). I did burst in laughter when I read that infamous headline on the French sport paper L’Equipe, detailing the colourful expression used by French forward Nicolas Anelka to convey his disagreement with French coach Raymond Domenech. Kidding aside, I think stuff like that goes on in every team, it is just that the French press aired their dirty laundry in public.
Was France’s poor showing a surprise ? Not really. France should not have been there in the first place, lest we forget. Yet, it was not the worst team of the WC — Italy wins that trophy hands down, but Italy was just irritating, France was fun to watch, especially off the pitch.
Germany. I do not know if this is even more disappointing than the 2006 loss to Italy in the semifinals. After humiliating the (highly overrated, as usual) Argentinian team in the quarterfinals, I bet a lot of Germans must have felt that this time their squad was just unbeatable. Instead, they were brought back to Earth by a Spanish team that played humbly and did not expose itself to Germany’s counter-attacks. But hey, it’s all good — after all, Italy did not win this World Cup and that is what every German really wanted … right ?
Ghana. What a wasted opportunity to have an African team on the podium for the first time in history… What a heartbreaker that quarterfinal with Uruguay was. Had the referee made the right decision, pretended to have seen the ball cross the line and awarded a late goal to Ghana (as it would have been in his power to do), then this humble, courageous team would have faced Holland in the semifinal — would it have been impossible for them to defeat the Dutch, and maybe even Spain in the final ? Maybe … I would have liked to see those games though. In the years to come, this may be remembered as the closest any African team has come to winning it all.
Italy. The shenanigans of the French team took the spotlight off the grotesque performance of the Azzurri. They were the worst of all. Indecent. Indefensible. Shameful. France did better. Even North Korea did better, in many respects — heck, they held their own with Brazil !
No, no one expected a repeat of 2006. Italians fully understood that even though our team was arguably the best one four years ago, the final triumph had come through a series of hard to repeat, lucky circumstances. A dignified defense of the title is all that was expected.
But you guys did not even try. You acted as if you were in South Africa because the contract and the sponsors required it. You failed to make it through a ridiculously easy group. You were painful to watch. One thing is to lose to a better opponent, the other is to play like a (disorganized) senior citizen team, miss elementary passes, make everything look difficult… the only good thing is, by going out in shame the way you did, at least your coach, who deserved no credit four years ago, will go down in history for having overseen the worst performance ever by an Italian team at the final phase of the World Cup.
Speaking of the coach, a special mention should go to him. If I wanted to be generous, I would say that he was just foolish, a bit like Dostoevsky‘s gambler. He did not realize how lucky he was four years ago, and tried out his luck again in the very same way with almost the very same players. He left out for mysterious reasons the (few) good Italian players that the Italian League has seen on its pitches over the past four years, all in favour of “senators” who lived an extraordinary month in 2006. These guys could not possibly repeat that performance four years later, most of them being at the sunset (one name for all, that of Fabio Cannavaro, possibly the best defender in the world four years ago, now scarcely worth a place in a minor league) .
Refereeing. No worse than usual. I am quite sure that macroscopic errors such as that which might have conceivably caused England’s elimination at the hand of Germany have been made in all World Cups since its first edition. What is different, nowadays, is the fact that officiating errors are immediately spotted by one of the countless cameras positioned all over the pitch, and mercilessly given out for worldwide consumption just a few seconds after they are made. Needless to say, that paves the way to endless polemics, recriminations, as well as suspicions of favouritism on the part of the referees.
The situation in football has really become paradoxical, in that, while spectators at the stadium and all over the world benefit from modern technology (stadium scoreboard, mobile phones, worldwide web etc.), and can therefore accurately assess whether a player was indeed offside, or the ball has crossed the line entirely, players and officials on the pitch are virtually stuck in the nineteenth century.
The International Federation insists that technology such as instant replay does not belong in the game. Personally, I find such stand anachronistic and unsustainable. I think it is just a matter of time before football, like its American counterpart, finally allows teams to challenge calls made by a referee, assigning overriding power to a team of reviewers benefitting from instant replay .
Spain. Like I said, congratulations to you. Perhaps you wanted to win this World Cup more than anyone else, and you are a better team than Holland, a mediocre squad that made its way to the final mostly thanks to 45 crazy minutes of mental holiday taken by the Brazilians. The 2010 World Champion is a solid, consistent team, with good individual technique and judiciously put on the pitch.
Having said that: I am sorry, this is really not a great team. I do not think it is even at the level of the Italian team that won in 2006. I do not think this Spain would ever win against Brazil, on a regular day. I honestly believe that its victory is a collective achievement, for I did not see any real superstar, just a bunch of good players.
Spain made it through the first round by the skin of its teeth, suffering what could have been a devastating loss to modest Switzerland — indeed, if Switzerland had not taken a page off Italy’s book and defeated Honduras as expected, we might well be writing a different story today, as Spain would have either been eliminated, or faced Brazil in the next round, as opposed to Portugal.
In the second half of the tournament, Spain looked stronger but surely did not emerge in a commanding way. Rather, it won all of its matches by the same score of 1-0. It struggled against a modest Paraguay, and took 118 minutes to clinch the final facing Holland — two more minutes and it would have been penalty kicks. So, by no means was this a decisive, undisputed World Cup win.
However, I repeat it, Spain was the best team overall — bragging rights for the next four years are richly deserved.
 Why do I say “If I wanted to be generous” ? Because, alas, there are other explanations for Marcello Lippi‘s seemingly incomprehensible (if not downright idiotic) choices, explanations that do not have anything to do with football . Some of the few youngsters whom Lippi did include had no real claim to fame, other than wearing the jersey of the same team which he coached a few years back, the very same team implicated in a major game fixing scandal a few years back…
It is not true, Marcello, that this is the best that the Italian football scene offers nowadays. Italy may not have the players to win the World Cup twice in a row, but the idea that there do not exist eleven Italian players capable of beating, with all due respect, mighty New Zealand, is ridiculous. And if this is really the best, why not give a chance to other players, the ones that fans wanted to see on the pitch ? Could they really have done worse than this ?
Equally silly is the contention that the too many foreign players in the Italian league make it harder for Italian talents to emerge — each time the national squad loses someone comes up with this nonsense, but there are no more foreign players in Italy than in Spain, England or Germany.
 Oh, ph-leaze, stop giving me that malarkey that “it would interrupt the flow of the game”. We are talking one, two challenges a game per team at the most, possibly with a penalty to be inflicted to the team challenging the call, if the officials rule against it. I am sorry but, as long as we put up with minutes of interruption due to players diving on the pitch, acting as if they have been severely injured and seeking medical assistance for minor (or non-existent) contact with a player of the opposing team, the notion of “flow of the game” has little credibility.