Thursday, 15 July 2010
Hard to believe it's over already, but the biggest sporting event in the world has come and gone once again. The carnival festivities and parties have died down, and the many thousands of football fans who flocked to the African continent are on their way back home. Join us as we reflect on another World Cup.
If we're being honest it was a fairly forgettable end to a tournament that started so promisingly, but certainly not for the Spanish victors who today are still celebrating their first ever World Cup win. The opening stages were unusually full of upsets and surprise results in what started as one of the most unpredictable World Cups in history, but eventually quality won out and it's undeniable that the teams which reached the final legs of the tournament fully deserved it.
What follows is our review of the World Cup, starting with the individual prizes and dream team of the tournament, finishing with a brief summary of events.
2010 World Cup Prizes:
Top Scorer: Thomas Müller (5, Germany)
Best Striker: David Villa (Spain)
Best Midfielder: Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands)
Best Defender: Philipp Lahm (Germany)
Best Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas (Spain)
Best Young Player: Mesut Özil (Germany)
Best Player: David Villa (Spain)
Worst Player: Wayne Rooney (England)
Most Anonymous Player: Robin Van Persie (Netherlands)
Best Manager: Joachim Löw (Germany)
Worst Manager: Fabio Capello (England)
2010 World Cup Dream Team:
Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas - Probably the best goalkeeper in the world, oversaw a fantastic defensive record for the Spanish team, and made absolutely vital saves in the final to carry the team through to extra time.
Right Back: Philipp Lahm - Took the German captaincy from injury hit Michael Ballack and proved his credential admirably. Without a doubt one of the finest full backs in the world with a combination of tight defending and marauding attacking intent.
Centrebacks: Carles Puyol & John Mensah - Critics of Puyol have always highlighted his lack of raw pace, but at this year's World Cup he showed us once and for all how overrated pace can be when you have power and positioning, a lion at the heart of the World Cup winning defence. Meanwhile John Mensah impressed for Ghana, reminding us that when he's fit (which is not often) he's up there with the very finest centre halves in Europe.
Left Back: Fábio Coentrão - The 22 year old Portuguese full back had a career making tournament where he excelled for a team that only conceded one goal, against eventual champions Spain. His attacking threat betrays his roots as a winger, but it would be foolish to ignore the defensive talent he possesses.
Right Mid: Andrés Iniesta - Certainly not at his best at this tournament, but when you're as good as this man "not at your best" still makes you pretty damn excellent. Despite being played out wide for most of the tournament (and not bitching about it unlike a certain England midfielder) he was still a crucial part of pretty much everything positive that this Spain team came up with, and in particular excelled in the semi final and final where he scored the definitive goal.
Centre Mids: Mesut Özil & Wesley Sneijder - Özil will be a familiar name to any football geek like me who watches the U21s closely, but I don't think anyone expected him to have such an influential tournament. He was without a doubt one of the star performers this year, pulling the strings in the fantastically talented young German side and has rightly become one of the hottest properties in European football. I've always rated Wesley Sneijder and thought he was one of the best players at Euro 2008. I couldn't for the life of me understand why Real Madrid sold him. Sneijder has had a defining season, first winning the Champions League with Inter, and now emerging as one of the finest footballers in the world following his impressive showing at the World Cup. Runner up player of the tournament.
Left Mid: Arjen Robben - Robben has always struggled with fitness, being sold first by Chelsea and then Real Madrid after spending much of his career in the treatment room. This year however he finally seems to have found some stability and longevity with Bayern Munich and has rightly emerged as one of the best attacking players in Europe. Anyone who still had doubts will be convinced by the form he showed at this World Cup where he was one of the key attacking threats for the Dutch finalists.
Forwards: Diego Forlán & David Villa - It's hard to believe that this is the same Diego Forlán who was such a catastrophic flop at Man United a few years back, but if he found a second life upon returning to Spain this season has been without a doubt the pinnacle of his comeback. Impressive for Europa Cup winners Atlético Madrid, and the fulcrum of this Uruguayan team's attack wowing audiences with his finesse and pure quality. David Villa is my player of the tournament. A lot of people look at him and talk solely about the goals he scores for his team, and previously I would have agreed with that, but this summer he really stepped it up a notch. Some of the things he has done have been simply phenomenal, even aside from his goals his general play and ability to beat defenders has been top notch, and he appeared to be carrying this Spanish team through the early games as the rest of his team struggled to rise to the occasion.
The story of the early stages largely centred around the success of the South American teams, with Argentina exceeding expectations under Diego Maradona, and Tevez, Higuain and Messi all turning in fantastic performances. Meanwhile, early favourites Brazil strolled through group stage at the second round before losing to an underwhelming Dutch team they dominated. Uruguay played above themselves, with Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez particularly impressive, and surprise package Chile playing some of the finest football seen in the tournament, as we at the Ephemeric predicted they would. Alexis Sanchez is certainly one to watch.
The Asian teams South Korea and Japan also gave good accounts of themselves on a stage in which they rarely achieve any kind of success, but in the end it was not enough.
Meanwhile the European teams saw a very different vein of form, with the exception of the consistently impressive Germany. England were poor at best, owing to a variety of reasons and Italy were old and sluggish, falling at the first round. Even eventual champions Spain were underwhelming, scraping through their early games against frankly low level opposition. Indeed, until the semi finals against Germany, Spain didn't look anything like worthy champions. But ultimately it was France who really created the early drama for viewers back at home.
Anyone who follows football closely will know the exploits of Raymond Domenech well, a manager who has seemingly always been unpopular in France, and with the exception of the Zidane inspired 2006 World Cup run has brought the French team nothing but disaster. So it's understandably something of a surprise to most people that he has managed to serve as their manager for 8 long years.
Well he certainly outdid himself for his final tournament. Making a controversial squad selection is no surprise from Domenech, but what followed; the squad insurrection, the bust ups which culminated in star striker Anelka heading home early and his team mates boycotting the team's final match was all so unprecedented. It might be cruel to say, but the bizarre soap stylings of this French team provided endless amusement for the rest of us, and God knows England fans needed some.
Without a doubt, all eyes were on the African teams during this first ever World Cup on African soil. Neutrals ended up disappointed, however, as hosts South Africa fell after a valiant stab at progression and a famous victory over France, Nigeria never got out of second gear, and the impressive Ivory Coast team once again failed the test of the group of death.
Instead it was Ghana who carried the hopes of the continent into the knockout round despite missing their star player Michael Essien. A strong run exemplified by star turns from the likes of Mensah, Annan, Gyan and Kevin Prince Boateng was not enough to compensate for the lack of firepower up front, and eventually the Africans were highly unlucky to go out under contentious circumstances against Uruguay.
As the tournament went on, the European giants inevitably came to life, notably Spain who finally returned to the kind of form we know they can produce upon reaching the semi finals, and Germany who without a doubt showed the greatest consistency of any team at the tournament. Particular note should be made of Germany's young stars, playing arguably as the best over all team at this year's tournament despite the lack of experience. Thomas Müller, Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira are household names now after phenomenal World Cup debuts.
Netherlands meanwhile managed to reach their third World Cup final, losing for the third time. It might seem strange to say about finalists, but they were a major disappointment, seeming to abandon the sexy total football for which they have become known (in fact in Euro 2008 they probably played the best football of any team) in favour of a more combative, physical style. Cynics will say that their ugly football worked as it got them to the final, but to be honest they had an easy group, and exceedingly lucky results in knockout, including a win against the run of play against favourites Brazil.
This was a Dutch team that looked uneasy playing together, relying instead on the individual brilliance of star players Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben, who both had career making tournaments.
Ultimately it was not so much a tournament for neutrals, with cautious tactics dominating the play and any teams which dared to attack and play beautiful football being rewarded with early exits. Pundits will rave about the swashbuckling style of this Spanish team, but frankly they looked a shadow of themselves until the final two games, and I don't think many would describe the final match against Netherlands as a particularly strong showing from either team.
Instead, the real entertainment came from what was happening off the pitch, for example with the controversy and drama of the French and English teams. But most of all it was the South African people, who thrived on the centre stage. We saw a carnival atmosphere unlike any other, we saw a breakthrough moment for an entire continent and for an up and coming nation, and the South Africans welcomed the world with open arms and gave us a tournament with a unique and wonderful local flavour. When people look back, this will be a tournament remembered more for its parties than for its football.