Monday, 12 July 2010

South Africa 2010: How should it be remembered?

The final ball has been kicked, the final whistle blown and the sun has now set on the 2010 Fifa World Cup in South Africa. Andres Iniesta put his name into Spanish folklore with a 116th minute winner last night. Spain, probably deservedly, lifted the trophy for the first time while the Netherlands suffered their third loss in a World Cup Final. As each of the competing nations reflect on their varying and contrasting fates, fans are left to ponder the question of how the tournament will be remembered.

As an Englishmen it would be difficult to take many positives from the competition. As a football fan it would be hard to argue that it produced even close to the most entertaining matches or performances.

The tournament started very slowly. The big teams played conservatively while the smaller nations set up defensively clinging to the hope of improbable progression into the next round, which some did achieve. Goals were hard to come by and many of the opening games ground to uninteresting draws. The football gradually improved but for both of the finalist of four years ago it all ended prematurely.

Italy and France were sent home having fallen at the first hurdle while England limped into the knock-out stage where the Germans came to life as they comprehensively dismissed England and Argentina. Ghana, the only African side to survive the group stage, pulled out an extra-time victory over the USA only to be beaten by Uruguay following one if the most memorable moments of the competition, the already infamous Luis Suarez handball. Uruguay, led by Golden Ball winner Diego Forlan, were the surprise package finishing fourth.

Spain and Holland continued to progress by beating Portugal and Brazil respectively. Each side impressed without really exciting throughout and the Final followed this pattern. Holland played their new found aggressive and defensive football which was as far removed from the total football that has characterised them as a footballing nation for generations as is seemingly possible.

Howard Webb was left with the unenviable task of being in-charge of the ugliest World Cup Final, statistically at least, in history. Bert van Marwijk, the Netherlands manager, was quick to publicly criticised Webb's performance. In reality he should have been thankful that Holland finished with 10 men still on the field as their unattractive tactics to stifle the Spanish attack at all costs was made abundantly clear.

Both sides had their chances but Spain always looked the more dangerous and with penalties looming Cesc Fabregas' perfectly timed ball over the top of the Dutch defence left Iniesta, with billions watching, to calmly slot the ball home. Spain were favourites going into the tournament and they, without delivering the mouth-watering football we know they are capable of, broke their World Cup duck to complete the Euro and World Cup double.

The legacy of the World Cup will, of course, only been known over time. England's supposed 'golden generation' came to its disappointing end and this will, unfortunately but inevitably, taint the way we remember the tournament. Many of the big players and the big teams failed to reach the expectations of many. Their were moments of controversy which may well stick in the memory longer than the fleeting moments of footballing brilliance.

I doubt, however, that this will be a tournament remembered for its football but instead for its host. Never before, and perhaps never again, will so much attention be paid to events off-the-field as we have seen over the past month in the Rainbow Nation. The country's political history and unique culture has, at times, been a greater talking point than the football itself. It was the first time the World Cup has travelled to African soil and few would argue that it has been a resounding success.

Not just South Africa but the entire continent has embraced the chance to host the competition and to have the spotlight of the sporting world fixed firmly on them. The enthusiasm, the vuvuzelas, the dancing in the streets and the passion in and around the stadiums is what can be taken from the 2010 World Cup.

Rooney may not have scored, Ronaldo may not have entertained and Messi only gave us glimpses of his greatness. In four years will we remember or be talking about this? Probably not. This is a tournament that will be, and ought to be, characterised by its footballing culture that was a positive and refreshing change from the mundane and ordinary. Thus, although the matches may not have been epic, the football not great, the 2010 World Cup in South Africa will remain uniquely special.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

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