Friday, 18 June 2010

Better Football, Worse Punditry and African Spirit

With the world's gaze fixed firmly on South Africa some major sporting events are going relatively unnoticed. The US open teed off yesterday, Wimbledon starts on Monday and England's rugby union team are currently touring Australia yet all pale in significance to the World Cup. As the greatest competition in the biggest sport takes centre stage once every four years not even Tiger Woods, Andy Murray or Martin Johnson's men can draw peoples attention away from the Rainbow nation. People may accommodate other sports around the football schedule but deciding which one to watch is a non-contest for most.

The World Cup has begun, finally, to deliver some more entertaining matches. After a somewhat lacklustre first set of fixtures in the group stage, the last couple of days have offered some good football and some memorable upsets.

The autopsy is set to begin in France as they suffered a 2-0 defeat at the hands of the Mexicans and now find themselves on the brink of exiting the tournament at the first stage. The Spanish, meanwhile, lost their first match against the Swiss. Argentina hit their stride and showed their attacking flair with an impressive 4-1 win over South Korea. Germany are currently playing Serbia and are trailing 1-0 and are down to 10 men in what what prove to be a shock result. Meanwhile, this evening, England look ease the concerns of a nation with an improved performance and, more importantly, three points against Algeria tonight.

The action on the pitch has inevitably come alive to match the highly praised atmosphere and enthusiasm that has surrounded the competition. It is the first time that the tournament has been held on African soil and the thing that I have found most striking about the World Cup is the unity of the African spirit. The tournament has transcended the geographical boundaries of South Africa and galvanised the Africa as a whole. For this enthusiasm to continue, however, it is extremely important that one of the African nations progresses beyond the group phase.

The matches are played in South Africa but there is great support for any and all of the African teams as if they were the home side. Whether it be Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast or the hosts themselves, the whole continent rallies behind their teams. You can see it in the stadiums and you can hear it from the presenters. Imagine English fans cheering for a French, German or Portuguese team or Brazilians celebrating a Uruguayan or Chilean victory. It is extremely refreshing to see.

Nigeria's loss yesterday was unfortunate but completely self-inflicted. They led 1-0 against Greece and looked comfortable before Sani Kaita was sent off for a petulant kick at an opponent and they went on to lose 2-1. They can still progress on goal difference though if Argentina beat Greece and they beat South Korea. Ghana, who won their first match, play Australia in their second game and are the African side most likely to progress with Ivory Coast in the 'group of death' and Algeria losing their opener.

For no African team to enter the knock-out stage of the tournament would be of great detriment to the competition. The sheer passion and unique traditions that the African teams have brought to the World Cup has been what has made it so special. Their delight just to be taking part in the tournament, to have the greatest footballers in the world playing on their continent and to have the worlds spotlight on them is something we have not seen in previous World Cups. If an African team did get beyond the group stage then they would get the backing of the entire continent and the host nation which would allow for the atmosphere and enthusiasm that has characterised South Africa 2010 to continue a little while longer.

On a tangent, a final point I wanted to make, which I have alluded to in my previous two posts, is a general disappointment at the coverage on the BBC and ITV. I have read a couple of blogs by Tom English and Rob Marrs who share my discontent with the commentary and punditry which, although may do little to detract from the tournament as a whole is still, nevertheless, very frustrating. The commentary has been dull, passionless and predictable while the analysis has been poorly researched and is overly simplistic.

The likes of Alan Shearer, Mick McCarthy, Clarence Seedorf and Andy Townsend have all been tedious and frustrating to watch. They have been lazy in their preparation, joking about not having much to offer in pre-match analysis for matches involving smaller countries. They lack insight and charisma as they sit around chatting like members of some sort of exclusive 'International Footballer Club'. Yet, despite all of their footballing experience, the points they make are no more advanced than pub talk.

Alan Shearer may have been a great striker but he is not a political correspondent. Watching a piece on the BBC after the France match last night in which Shearer was sent on to the streets of South Africa to see what impact the World Cup was having on the general population was like watching a dad trying to spark up conversation with locals on holiday. Perhaps the broadcasters should focus on doing some more interesting punditry than on making repetitive gags about the oppression in North Korea.

Also, completely unrelated, the NBA Finals concluded last night with a dramatic win for the LA Lakers over their great rivals the Boston Celtics. The seven game series went to a final game as the Lakers retained their crown with Kobe Bryant taking the Finals MVP trophy.

Thought, comments and opinions please...

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