Every World Cup in my lifetime can be etched by specific memories. Even purely from an England point of view these moments can be elements of time where joy was the overriding feature – there’s Michael Owen’s goal against Argentina, David Beckham’s penalty (and of course sending off) against Argentina, Joe Cole’s spectacular strike against Sweden…but in truthfulness, all this World Cup will recall for me from an Englishman’s point of view is Robert Green’s butterfingers and Frank Lampard’s goal that never was.
There was no moment of glory. No fleeting glimpse of things to come as we progressed and improved. England left without ever showing us pride.
Those who happy-clapped optimism and believed Gareth Barry was the answer to all our problems were dumb-founded and truly thought Emile Heskey deserved his place in the England team…It’s not the despair that kills you, it’s the hope, or sheer ignorance that England’s squad does not hold a candle to Spain, Germany, Argentina, the Netherlands or Brazil.
But what will we, the football fanatic, take away from South Africa 2010? The sound of a vuvuzela? Hardly an inspiration and a memory that will burn your retinas for decades to come. Strictly referring to World Cup’s since 1994, where was Zidane’s headbutt? Bergkamp’s last minute winner of sheer brilliance? South Korea reaching the semi-final? An unheard of from Saudi Arabia scoring a wondergoal? Maradona’s celebration…oh wait, that was sort of there.
Cristiano Ronaldo, flopped. Wayne Rooney, flopped. Didier Drogba, flopped. Lionel Messi, flopped. Thierry Henry, flopped. Fernando Torres, flopped. It was down to David Villa, Diego Forlan and Wesley Sneijder to try to restore our faith in the beautiful game.
We opened with a promising game. Siphwe Tshabalala became the name on everyone’s lips. He quickly faded, but his work was done. He’d started the World Cup with a bang. But soon it became apparent this was the World Cup of work rates rather than flair. The watching world begged for a new piece of skill to be named after the unsuspecting performer. Emile Heskey fell over.
The tournament progressed and goals eventually arrived. 0-0’s turned into 1-0’s. The Spanish became masters at it. Emmanuel Adebayor’s phone went off. We all laughed. It was as exciting as it got…
Raymond Domenech made the French a laughing stock. We all enjoyed that.
Wayne Rooney complained about the fans who’d paid thousands of pounds to travel around the globe to watch a pathetic performance. Mick McCarthy just complained all the time.
Robbie Earle went home early from a World Cup for the first time since Jamaica was eliminated in 1998. Theodore Whitmore wasn’t there to support him though.
Luis Suarez became the first footballer to be banned from a continent after his last minute goal line save…if Asamoah Gyan hadn’t smashed the following penalty into the crossbar, nothing else would have been said about it.
The Jabulani was given as much airtime as a Presidential candidate. We longed for a goal from distance. Finally we got them, and they looked just as good as ever before. Giovanni van Bronkhorst may be nearly 50, but he may never have hit a football as sweetly.
And then the final arrived. Nelson Mandela turned up. Mark van Bommel did not foul him.
The final saw little more than relentless foul play, specifically from the Dutch but the Spanish were equally as guilty at times. Was it fate that the World Cup final to be remembered for refereeing decisions was officiated by an Englishman?!
But let the Dutch take their orange-mist away from their eyes – their team was second-best. Fact. Nigel de Jong should have be sent-off instantly for his assault on Xabi Alonso (lower-league fans will note Gordon Greer’s sending off for Swindon against Charlton in the League One Play-off Semi-Final last season as an exact replica). By it’s very definition, Arjen Robben should have been sent off for a second yellow for kicking the ball away…after his pathetic tantrum to Howard Webb previously. In that moment he instantly became everything of the game of football that is laughed at and hated by fans of other sports – players disregarding officials as worthless and acting as if they’re always right, not being able to accept a decision going against them. Grow up.
If anything, Andres Iniesta’s very late winner was fitting. This competition lacked the last-minute drama of nostalgic based yesteryears. But Iniesta’s winner sparked scenes of jubilation that truly fitted a football match, rather than the cruel miss of a penalty kick, which would have been the case ten minutes later had he failed to find the net. Sometimes matches as big as this are better off sorted out by someone scoring rather than by the immortal line “oh, he’s put over.” Often preceded by the line “the English defender steps up to take the spot kick.”
There is no such thing as a ‘bad’ World Cup. If such a thing happened, it would not still be watched by billions of people around the globe. But ultimately for all South Africa gave us in terms of hope, excitement and sheer joy, the footballing world provided midfield stalemates, burnt-out geniuses and repeated conversations about video technology. There were shocks. Who honestly put money on Italy going out of the group stages? Germany to put four past Argentina without response? New Zealand to be the only unbeaten team in the whole tournament?
Brazil will host it next. In all probability they will win it in their back yard. We will watch. We will cheer. We will collect our thoughts, calculate the fairest outcome and then say “how can that be offside referee, you wanker?!”
And then Emile Heskey will provide expert punditry on ITV.