Sunday, June 20, 2010

5 Points on the World Cup

We’re almost a week into the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and it’s been…well it’s been just OK really, hasn’t it? The competition hasn’t got into second gear just yet, but there’s been plenty to talk about. So what have we learned?

1. Four years is a long time in football. Just ask fans of Italy and France. The two finalists from 2006 have both struggled early on, and have serious questions they have yet to answer. There are rumours of discontent in the French camp, and their performance against Uruguay will be even more worrying to their supporters. In the second half of that match, Franck Ribery gave the ball away countless times…the occasions of genuine threat from the French were all too easy to count. Meanwhile, the Italians looked short of pace, talent, and ideas in their match against a tough Paraguay side. The Italians are in better shape than the French, and it’s an old cliché that Italian sides don’t have to play well to win, but the Azzuri must be better if they are to achieve what is expected of a nation with such a rich history of success.

2. Argentina are the early favourites this time around. There were questions before the tournament about Argentina’s manager, the relatively inexperienced, and often volatile, Diego Maradona. Two impressive performances later, and the doubters have been quieted. The Argentineans followed a clean sheet against Nigeria with a very impressive performance in a dominating 4-1 win against the South Koreans. Argentina has quality all over the pitch and depth on the bench, not to mention the best player in the world, Lionel Messi. There is a confidence and togetherness about the team that bodes well for the later stages, and for this, credit must go to Maradona; could El Diego’s legend become even greater in his native Argentina?

3. The Adidas Jabulani ball is a factor. There were some complaints from the players about the new ball before the tournament, while England manager Fabio Capello called it, “the worst ball that I have seen in my life.” Six days into the tournament and there is definitely something strange going on. It could be the high altitude, or the new ball, or a combination of both, but the number of over-hit crosses, long balls, and through passes has been quite astonishing. Getting comfortable with the new, lighter ball will go a long way to assuring success for any given nation.

4. The vuvuzela is a part of African football. The popular horns are blown non-stop through every match, turning every stadium into a buzzing nest of people. There have been calls for the horns to be banned, which is absolutely ridiculous. Accusations that the vuvuzela ruins the atmosphere could not be more off point. The vuvuzela is part of what makes the atmosphere in South Africa. Is that atmosphere the same as those found in Barcelona and Madrid, Milan and Manchester? No, of course not. That’s part of what the World Cup is all about. The coming together of cultures and nations. Embrace the vuvuzela…you have no choice anyway.

5. The best is yet to come. So far there have been only a handful of notable games. England’s slip-up against the USA, who are a good side, but should have been beaten on the day, Germany’s destruction of a weak Australia team without its best player, Ivory Coast’s damp squib of a game against Portugal was maybe the most disappointing so far, and of course the massive upset that was Switzerland over Spain, which may have been the best match so far. There have been some surprises, and some great performances, but we have yet to see a game to really savour. A real clash of two great teams playing great football. Fear not, we can always count on the knockout stages to make the heart race, and the group stage still has some tasty encounters to serve up. France plays Mexico tonight in what is a massive game for both teams, with the loser on the outside of qualification looking in, while both the Ivory Coast and Portugal will test themselves against the always formidable Brazilians to decide who will come out of the Group of Death. This World Cup has started slowly, but it will undoubtedly find an extra gear in the coming weeks. Enjoy!

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