The dust has long settled after the World Cup and now it’s time to recap on some of the things that took place in South Africa. World Cup 2010 wasn’t a classic tournament by no means (in 2006, for instance, the standard of play was better, both defensively and attackingly, and there were plenty more good games). Actually, come to think of it, the tournament was pretty rubbish. If a rogue Dutch team were able to reach the final, something was definitely not right.
Nevertheless, even 2010 had it’s moments. Uruguay provided the biggest and fully deserved surprise and also played in two of the most entertaining matches in the tournament: against Ghana in the quarter-final and Germany in the third-place play-off. Germany were a breath of fresh air in an otherwise highly, sometimes even overtly, defensive tournament (and mind that IWFTB! is not the first one to cast the stone at defensive tactics). The Germans showcased some thrilling counter-attacking football with innovative passing combinations. Germany were, however, completely found out against Spain in the semi-final. And Spain, in the end, were the rightful champions. France, Italy (and perhaps Brazil) and the African teams (apart from Ghana), on the other hand, were the biggest disappointments as they failed to qualify to the knock-out stages. In four year’s time the tournament will be held in Brazil and all of these footballing nations will have to re-think and re-build in order to get their act together.
So here is what happened last summer (you’ll forgive me my lack of knowledge of all the alphabets).
A for Africa: The African continent hosted their first World Cup. The tournament was a organisational success but too bad that the African teams (apart from Ghana) were hugely disappointing. All the big African powers were present, but the only nation to qualify beyond the group stage was Ghana. South Africa were the first host nation not to qualify from the group stages.
B for beards: What do you remember from World Cup 2002? Freak results, awful referees and even worse haircuts. There weren’t any fashion crazes in this tournament but what did make a comeback, sort of at least, that at least yours truly has thought gone missing from the world of football greens, were beards (proper beards, not goatees and those trimmed sideburns kind of things of which you never quite know are they beards, moustaches or extensions of the haircut). Many Greece players had them. Xabi Alono had one. Iker Casillas tried to have one. But the cake for the best Captain Haddock look goes to Daniele de Rossi.
C for Capello: The coach with the Midas touch found out that he is not as infallible as he might have thought. Tactical and selection mistakes were aplenty. Or was it that he only found out how rubbish the English players actually are.
D for defence: Defence is the new offence after 2010 (if it already wasn’t before). Spain, Holland, Uruguay all based their play strictly on making sure that they were not exposed to counter-attacks (hence, for instance, two midfield enforcers); mind, Spain only did it with more sophistication and with better attacking players.
E for enforcer: One of the most crucial player roles in the tournament.
F for Forlan: Diego Forlan was nominated the best player of the tournament and received the coveted Golden Ball award. With inspirational performances Forlan guided Uruguay to a memorable third-place play-off match.
G for Ghana: The best African team in the tournament and the only one showing true conviction, belief and quality. Twice in a row gone out in the quarter-finals, this time against Uruguay in a controversial but highly entertaining game. Will it be their time to shine in the next tournament? A young team with a great future ahead of them.
H for the Heskey role: Did we see a tactical turn in terms of the centre-forward role; a non-scoring centre-forward? Torres did it for Spain after all. Heskey, although completely useless, might remain as a footnote in footballing tactical history: The Makelele role, the Kuyt/ Park role and…err…the Heskey role. Well, maybe not.
I for the Italians: Italy started the tournament as World Champions and the Italian referees as favourites to go to the final (since Italy, in truth, were never going to get there). Both, however, had a horrid time in South Africa. The Azzurri disgraced themselves by ending at the bottom of the easiest group, largely because Marcelo Lippi’s stubbornness, and Roberto Rossetti and co. went home after two games because the assistant referee failed to see Carlos Tevez acres in offside (which of course Rossetti should have corrected).
J for Jabulani: The official World Cup ball was criticised more than ever and it seemed for a good reason. Some of the best keepers in the world were made to look like they were playing blindfolded, most long range shots were flying everywhere except towards the goal and there were only few proficient crossers of the ball in the whole tournament. There’s a counter-logic to Fifa’s argument about the ball, with it’s minimal weight and NASA-technology, making the play more attacking; if the basic things like long range shots and crosses cannot be successfully executed by the best players in the world, how on earth can the ball make the play more attacking.
L for Lippi: Italy’s tactical mastermind from four year’s back had completely lost his genius.
M for Messi: No, Messi is not the second coming but he was still the driving force of a poor Argentina side.
O for offside: Dramatic offside refereeing decisions gone wrong sparked a heated debate on the applicability of technology to aid the beleaguered referees and dispel poor decision making
P for penalties: There were surprisingly few penalties/ penalty shoot-outs (one in the round of 16 and one in the quarter-finals).
Q for quarter-finals: Once again the quarter-finals provided the best entertainment in an otherwise drab tournament: Uruguay-Ghana, Brazil-Holland, Germany-Argentina were all exciting matches in their own way.
R for referees: Fifa says referees were good. Well, we all know that when Fifa talks, it hardly ever says anything worth hearing.
S for Spain: Spain were the heavy favourites to win the tournament and they duly delivered with a string of 1-0 victories.
T for tactics: 4-2-3-1 was the most used and most successful formation (Spain, Germany and Holland all used it, all with different interpretations of course). With this formation perhaps the most significant aspect is the presence of two holding midfielders: Alonso and Busquets for Spain; Schweinstiger and Khedira for Germany; van Bommell and de Jong for Holland; and Diego Perez and Agidio Arevalo for Uruguay. Three at the back also made a come-back. The one striker system was supposed to have made it redundant but there were successful adaptations of it: New-Zealand against Italy and Uruguay against France, for instance.
U for Uruguay: No one expected anything from the Uruguayans but they showed that with a successful mix of tactical sophistication, fine attacking players, stubborn defending, brilliant work ethic and team spirit and a dose of luck, anyone can go far.
V for Vuvuzela: Vuvuzelaitus is the new tinnitus.
Y for yellow card: A total number of two hundred and sixty yellow cards were given, which makes it roughly four per match.