Thursday, July 15, 2010

World Cup 2010 - Highs and Lows


1. Paul the psychic octopus

Boasting the prolificacy of David Villa, the accuracy of a Gio van Bronckhorst 40-yarder and the sheer star quality of Diego Maradona, there is no doubt that Sea Life Oberhausen's Paul has captured the imagination over the past four weeks with his spookily accurate World Cup predictions. Born in Weymouth, Paul rivals Howard Webb as England's most successful (and undoubtedly most popular) participant at the finals having correctly predicted the result of all of Germany's games including the third-place play-off - a probability of 1 in 128.

But what is the key to his success in deciding which Perspex box to delve into for a tasty mussel? Stefan Porwoll, the Sea Life Aquarium manager, explains: "Paul is such a professional oracle he doesn't even care that hundreds of journalists are watching and commenting on every move he makes." With that kind of coolness under pressure and his highly-perceptive mind, it is no surprise that Paul is already being labelled the most famous water-dwelling being since Jaws.

2. The rise of the underdogs

France's dramatic implosion, Italy's ineffectual performances and England's rank ineptitude ensured this was not a World Cup for the historic European powers. In their stead we saw Ghana's romantic ride to the quarter-finals, Uruguay reaching the last four - through means foul or fair - and Slovakia sneaking out of the group stage. Even the South American royalty of Brazil and Argentina failed to reach the semi-finals, helping ensure that a new name will be etched onto the World Cup trophy on Sunday.

North Korea's 7-0 rout at the hands of Portugal aside, the less fancied countries also acquitted themselves creditably, perhaps most notably when the aforementioned Chollima performed valiantly in a 2-1 defeat to Brazil - a display that should have required no censorship on the part of state TV in Pyongyang. Japan and South Korea both reached the second round for the first time on foreign soil and special mention should go to New Zealand who, if Netherlands are defeated on Sunday, will be the only team to end the tournament unbeaten. The kings are dead, long live the kings?

3. Diego Maradona

El Diego came into the World Cup having incurred a FIFA ban for instructing journalists to, erm, pleasure him, and with a reputation for being a train wreck of a coach, ready to explode at any minute. But the Argentinean nation's faith was, for four glorious games, vindicated. The Albiceleste performed with real panache and hopes were raised that the man, the deity, who almost died in 2007 due to problems related to obesity and a lifestyle of excess would instead follow in the footsteps of Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer in becoming the third man to win the World Cup as both player and coach.

Those dreams would disintegrate the first time Maradona was pitched against a decent team with a tactically-proficient coach, Joachim Low's Germany side winning 4-0 in the quarter-finals, but with his emotional outbursts on the touchlines, his unconventional training methods and oversubscribed press conferences, Maradona was the story of the tournament while Argentina remained in South Africa. Telling Pele to "go back to the museum" and warning opponents that to beat his "23 wild cats" they would have to "put all their beef on the grill" certainly helped.

4. Siphiwe Tshabalala's goal

In the build-up to the first World Cup to be held on African soil, it was feared that a poor South Africa side would embarrass the nation with some mediocre performances in Group A. But although Bafana Bafana did eventually become the first host nation to fail to reach the second round, a thunderbolt of a strike from Siphiwe Tshabalala in the opening game against Mexico set their supporters, and the tournament, alight.

Just like Philipp Lahm four years before him, and following an opening ceremony that featured a particularly memorable dung beetle, Tshabalala galvanised the home country with a wonderful effort as he struck the Jabulani firmly across goal and into the far corner. South Africa went on to draw 1-1 and then beat France, so although their tournament ended prematurely, Bafana Bafana still had fond memories to draw upon. Chief amongst them was the searing effort from the midfielder. "It was my first World Cup, the first in Africa (and) I scored the first goal," Tshabalala said. "This is the highlight of my career so far."

5. Unfounded fears

Reading some reports prior to the start of the tournament, you could have been forgiven for thinking that Sepp Blatter and FIFA had gifted the World Cup to a country in collapse, an active war zone. Such fear mongering was misguided. Though there have of course been isolated incidents of crime and disorganisation, despite Paris Hilton's best efforts the World Cup has largely steered clear of controversy and demonstrated that a country like South Africa does have the ability to host such a sporting spectacle.

Months and months of relentless cynicism from certain sections of the European press led FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke to exclaim in March: "Don't kill the World Cup before it starts. It's unfair and it's really sad." Four months on, and it is clear that the tournament has breathed life into Africa's standing on the global stage. FIFA must consider this a real success.


1. The scourge of simulation

The World Cup is supposed to be the four-yearly event in which football enchants the world, demonstrating just why it is beloved of billions across the globe. Sadly, certain events in South Africa threatened to provide ammunition to those who maintain footballers are nothing but a bunch of preening prima donnas. Perhaps the most notable, and most infuriating, was the reaction of Ivory Coast's Kader Keita as he threw himself to the floor after walking into Kaka, earning the Brazil playmaker a ridiculous red card. While Brazil were incensed, the mind immediately wandered back to 2002 in Ulsan and Rivaldo's deception to get Hakan Unsal sent off.

In 2010, Keita was far from the only offender. Swathes of players were sent sprawling to the turf, tenderly clutching their faces, as replays revealed the merest of brushes from an opponent's shoulder. Time and again, games witnessed more theatrical spills than Oliver Reed on a particularly unsteady night out. Let's name and shame a few: the Italy defence against New Zealand, Arturo Vidal getting Valon Behrami sent off and Switzerland's Steve von Bergen embarrassing himself in the same game were all notable examples of behaviour that must be eradictated.

2. FIFA's Black Sunday

As staunch opponents to the introduction of technology, FIFA's bigwigs must have been shifting uncomfortably in their executive seats, prawn sandwiches left uneaten, when two glaring mistakes from match officials left a black spot on the competition on June 27. Firstly, and most notably, Frank Lampard's shot clearly crossed the line against Germany, only for Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda to wave play on, sparking confusion in pubs across England. Replays confirmed the horrible truth, and surely moved the game a step closer to welcoming technology, rather than fearing it. However the suspicion remains that Sepp Blatter will continue to be the John Connor to Hawk-Eye's Skynet.

In the evening kick-off, Carlos Tevez then scored a blatantly offside goal as Argentina defeated Mexico 3-1. Somehow, the replay was broadcast live to the Soccer City crowd so referee Roberto Rosetti immediately knew his assistant had made a horrendous call. Aware of the grievous mistake but bound by the rules to ignore the evidence in front of his eyes, the Italian had no option but to ignore Mexico's pleas to disallow the goal. Not a great day for the governing body.

3. Vuvuzelas

We understand the argument that the vuvuzelas are part of South Africa culture and a legitimate way to express delight at a sporting occasion, but they are, in a word, annoying. Drowning out chants and songs from supporters inside the crowd, the constant drone from the dreaded horns came to infuriate television spectators as well. They were especially irritating when played in unison to create a pulsing sound; like having a particularly nasty migrane while sitting in a beehive.

After the opening game, South Africa goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune even had the cheek to complain that the vuvuzelas were not loud enough. Abu Dhabi officials had the right idea when issuing a fatwa against the instruments on Thursday. We now fear a vuvuzela influx in time for the new domestic season.

4. Empty seats

These were a constant source of frustration throughout the tournament. There really should be no excuse for failing to fill a stadium for a World Cup game, and we are talking semi-finals as well as Slovakia v New Zealand here. If there are tickets remaining, FIFA should have given them to local schoolchildren rather than letting them lie fallow.

FIFA will say there are mitigating circumstances, with the global recession playing a part, transport problems highlighted and no-shows in the corporate seats having a significant effect, but the failure to sell out games is a disappointing one. Games between Algeria and Slovenia, and Japan and Cameroon had in excess of 10,000 spare seats going - a fact that reflects badly on the organising committee and indeed the tournament.

5. The Jabulani

The advent of every major tournament sees goalkeepers complain about the state of the official ball, no doubt looking to get their excuses in early when a shot squirms under their body, but this year was different. Goalkeepers, outfield players and coaches all lined up to lambast the Jabulani. Brazil midfielder Felipe Melo described it as "horrible", Iker Casillas said it behaved like a "beach ball" and, perhaps most damning of all, USA 'keeper Marcus Hahnemann simply said: "Scientists came up with the atom bomb, doesn't mean we should have invented it."

And when play got underway, there was something not right about the much-discussed ball. The vast majority of long-range shots were awful, accurate free-kicks were few and far between and even cross-field passes looked a real effort at times. However, Fabio Capello's attempt to blame the Jabulani for Robert Green's inability to grasp Clint Dempsey's shot was fairly laughable.

Monday, July 12, 2010

World Cup Top Goal Scorers - Thomas Mueller Wins The Golden Shoe

Thomas Mueller of Bayern Munich and Germany has won the World Cup Golden Shoe after finishing joint-top of the scoring charts and with the most assists.

Mueller shared a tally of five with David Villa of Spain, Uruguay's Diego Forlan, and Wesley Sneijder of the Netherlands, but managed three assists while the others could hit just one.

Thus the young German in his first ever World Cup wins the award, as FIFA decided that assists will be used to decide in the case of a tie.

Below we give a chart containing all the 2010 World Cup goal scorers. Players are sorted first by goals scored, then (to separate the top four only) assists, then minutes per goal (MPG), then finally surname.

RankNameCountryClubGoals (Pens)AssistsMinutesMPG
1Thomas Mueller GER
Bayern Munich5 (0)3473'95
2David Villa ESP
Barcelona5 (0)1635'127
3Wesley Sneijder* NEDInter5 (0)1652'130
4Diego Forlan URU
Atletico Madrid5 (0)1654'131
5Gonzalo Higuain ARGReal Madrid4 (0) 341'85
6Robert Vittek SVK
Ankaragucu4 (0) 343'86
7Miroslav Klose GER
Bayern Munich4 (0) 357'89
8Landon Donovan USA
Los Angeles Galaxy3 (0) 390'130
9Luis Fabiano BRASevilla3 (0) 418'139
10Asamoah Gyan GHA
Rennes3 (0) 501'167
11Luis Suarez URUAjax3 (0) 543'181
12Brett Holman AUS
AZ2 (0) 136'68
13Elano BRAGalatasaray2 (0) 140'70
14Javier Hernandez MEX
Chivas Guadalajara2 (0) 169'85
15Kalu Uche NGA
Almeria2 (0) 195'98'
16Samuel Eto'o CMR
Internazionale2 (0) 270'135
17Tiago POR
Atletico Madrid2 (0) 298'149
18Carlos Tevez ARGManchester City2 (0) 324'162
19Robinho BRA
Manchester City2 (0) 354'177
20Chung-Yong Lee ROKBolton2 (0) 359'180
21Jung-Soo Lee ROK
Kashima Antlers2 (0) 360'180
22Arjen Robben NEDBayern Munich2 (0) 387'194
23Keisuke Honda JPN
CSKA Moscow2 (0) 390'195
24Lukas Podolski GER
Koeln2 (0) 531'266
25Andres Iniesta ESP
Barcelona2 (0) 557'279

Spain crowned World Champions


6:30 PM GMT, July 11, 2010
Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg, South Africa

Final score - after extra time

0 - 1

In a game when a record number of yellow cards were given and John Heitinga was sent off in extra-time, both sides missed great chances from Arjen Robben and Cesc Fabregas, but Andres Iniesta netted in the 116th minute to give European champions Spain their first World Cup title.

Iniesta struck with four minutes remaining to settle a tetchy encounter and crown Spain world champions, while Netherlands were left to rue Robben's missed opportunity to open the scoring in normal time.

Iniesta pounced on a pass from Cesc Fabregas before thumping the ball past Maarten Stekelenburg and the Barcelona star's moment of class means that Spain are world champions for the first time, and the first European side to win the World Cup outside of the continent.

Spain also emerged victorious at Euro 2008 - making them the third team to hold both titles after West Germany and France - and Del Bosque paid tribute to his team for achieving the remarkable feat.

The game will be noted for the flurry of cards - 14 in all - starting in the 14th minute when Howard Webb booked Robin van Persie.
Pretty soon combative midfield duo Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong joined him for challenges - a late lunge on Joan Capdevila and a kung fu kick on Xabi Alonso respectively - that could easily have ended their evening.
That Wesley Sneijder was not even cautioned for a similarly woeful attempt at stopping Pedro could only be put down to either Webb being unsighted or the Dutch playmaker diverting attention by claiming to be injured himself.
Spain were not complete innocents in all of this, but it was the European Champions who were feeling most aggrieved, which only intensified when Webb did not see a niggly second-half challenge from Van Bommel that sparked a reaction from Barcelona playmaker Iniesta.
It certainly made for unsightly viewing at times, but Vicente del Bosque's side did play some exquisite passing football at times, with Xavi and Iniesta helping Spain dominate possession. The best first-half chance fell to Sergio Ramos but his header from Xavi's cross was palmed away superbly by Maarten Stekelenburg.
Netherlands struggled to get into the game but in the second-half were handed a golden opportunity to take the lead; Spain skipper Iker Casillas making a quite brilliant save to deny Robben after the former Chelsea star had been set free by Sneijder.

Robben must have thought he had done everything right. Running at pace - past a stranded Carles Puyol - until he saw the whites of Casillas' eyes, he shaped to go one way, then placed his shot to the other corner. Casillas was committed in the other direction but stuck out a leg and turned the effort wide.

It was by some distance the best opportunity of the regulation 90 minutes, although Ramos had another decent opening himself heading umarked over the bar.
Robben threatened to sprint through again, only to be denied by Casillas, but losing possession did not come before Puyol had made a desperate grab for the Bayern Munich winger, who was convinced the Barcelona defender should have been sent off.
On as a substitute, with a point to prove after mustering the grand total of 93 minutes prior to tonight, Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas twice came close to breaking the deadlock in extra-time, when Xavi also had a penalty claim turned down.
John Heitinga was sent off for his second yellow card when he pulled back Iniesta, giving Spain the man advantage, yet the Dutch held firm and looked like taking the tie to penalties.
However, Spain were not to be denied. Fabregas slotted it through to Iniesta and after one touch to control it, his second was a crisp volley past Stekelenburg.
Del Bosque's side held on and the final whistle saw euphoric scenes as Spain's ecstatic players celebrated an inaugural World Cup triumph.

Scoring Summary

 AndrĂ©s Iniesta (116')

Man of the Match: Andres Iniesta.


  • Man of the Match: Andres Iniesta.Once again Iniesta and Barcelona team-mate Xavi were imperious in the centre of midfield, bossing possession and helping Spain play the same patient game that has characterised their triumphant campaign. Possessing vision, craft, and guile in abundance, Iniesta produced a number of fine flicks and back-heels, while his winning goal was taken with aplomb.

  • Netherlands verdict: After an unimpressive first period - in which four players were yellow carded - Bert van Marwijk's side came into the game more after the interval, trying to get the ball to Arjen Robben as much as possible. It almost worked to devastating effect on two occasions when Carles Puyol's pace was exposed, but Robben was twice thwarted by Iker Casillas. Were outclassed in extra-time and after losing their cool a third World Cup final defeat will be the bitterest pill to swallow.

  • Spain verdict: Completely dominated possession but had few clear-cut chances to show for it, with a free header from Sergio Ramos and a David Villa strike that was deflected over the best opportunities in normal time. Demonstrated some excellent touches in midfield, with plenty of classy interchanges and never showed frustration when they couldn't break through. Defensively, they looked shaky when Puyol was dealing with long balls but after letting the Oranje back into the game in the second half, Spain upped their tempo in extra-time. The introduction of Fabregas injected some much-needed freshness into Vicente del Bosque's side and the winning goal was just reward for the team that unquestionably played the better football.

  • Could do better: Robin van Persie. A terrible tournament for Van Persie was epitomised by an anonymous performance in the final. Nothing was working for the Arsenal frontman against Spain, and he never seemed to have the ball under control. An early booking meant he always looked reluctant to chase back and even when he was played through by Sneijder and called offside, he missed an open goal after the whistle had gone.

  • Stat attack: The 14 yellow cards handed out in the match by referee Howard Webb is the record for most ever in a World Cup Final.