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FIFA World Cup South Africa 2010…a Review!

After 6 years in the planning and one rollercoaster month, the 2010 World Cup has come, despite the initial scepticism and negativity surrounding an African hosting, to an exciting and memorable finale.

Possibly one of the most divisive competitions in recent memory, the tournament has seen many contrasting opinions from the fans and media alike. What one may have embraced, one has rejected. Of course we would not expect anything less in the mish-mash of the World’s greatest teams and the unique cultures they bring.

So here is my review of the greatest features of World Sport’s premier event.

South Africa

Considering the world appeared concerned at the high crime rates and lack of infrastructure, to the relief of FIFA and the organising committee the tournament has been nothing but an unmitigated success amongst the occasional on-field controversy. There were no major reports of public disturbances during the month and the stadiums impressed just as well as any European offering. Throw in the rabid, party atmosphere of the country’s historically-disadvantaged Black population mixing with the White minority and the Rainbow nation has emerged from the competition with its international reputation improved. And to think we have yet to mention Nelson Mandela.

Vuvuzela

Hated by many yet loved in equal measure, the buzzing plastic instrument crashed into the public’s consciousness and earned the wrath and affection of the worldwide audience. Has any mere item of fan culture ever created such a controversy that it threatened to overshadow the entire tournament? Between liberals bemoaning the audacity of people telling South African’s to bin a staple of their game-going experience to traditionalists complaining about the racket, Vuvuzela’s have become 2010′s most well-known word. My opinion…they’re fantastic!

The Ball

Following on from the off-field controversy with vuvuzela’s, the on-field controversy equally raged almost as soon as the first game got underway. Adidas’ Jabulani ball was roundly criticised (mainly by Nike-contracted players it must be said) for its unpredictable mid-air flight when walloped. Poor goalkeeping or tactics was never blamed for the errors, it was the Adidas’ boffins fault for apparently ruining the world cup.

Paul the Octopus

The unbelievable and surreal story came out of Germany during the group stages of an Octopus whom predicted, correctly, the outcomes of games. By the end of the tournament the multi-tentacled Paul had predicted 8 games out of 8 and was branded a traitor by Germany, an enemy and potential stew by Argentinians and was given honorary citizenship by Spain. Unbelievable!

Maradona

Superstar. Greatest Ever. Passion. Comedy. Honesty (well, interview wise anyway). Heart. Mafia Suits. Presence. Enough said. Welcome back El Diego

Underdogs vs Wounded Dogs

Every World Cup ends with big names flopping and small names creating legacies. This tournament was no different. England, Italy and France almost appear finished as dominant forces for the next decade as their “golden generations” dwindle and scupper off into the twilight’s of their career with no sight of replacements. The underdog’s of this year were primarily surprise semi-finalist’s Uruguay and amazingly New Zealand, who although eliminated in the group phase as expected were the only team to finish unbeaten.

Players

World Cup’s tend to be the tournaments which confirm player’s greatness. The stage where they push onto iconic status whilst the occasional player does well enough to earn that big-money move that was nowhere near the table pre-cup exploits. This tournament was extreme in both circumstances. Messi was decent and dangerous enough yet didn’t perform to the ridiculously high levels of last season’s vintage performances. Ronaldo and Rooney were terrible and Kaka was anonymous. Conversely, Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller erupted onto the scene with irresistible displays not expected from rookies whilst disregarded and written-off Premier League “failures” like Robinho and Diego Forlan proved the class that made them big money buys in the first place.

All in all, whilst people may bemoan the tournament for being boring and too innovative in style and substance, its this unusual African ambience which will leave the 2010 FIFA World Cup a pleasant recollection in most memories. Roll on Brazil 2014.

The Vuvuzela; A Nation’s Right

With the ongoing World Cup spectacle less than a week old there has been one subject generating a curious amount of controversy and column inches, far more than its humble reason d’etre deserves.

The way a simple, plastic instrument has overshadowed the entire tournament is startling. Although a staple of domestic South African Soccer for decades, its appearance on the international stage has seen a surge in fury from the rest of the world. Players complain about not being able to concentrate; journalists bemoan the lack of natural atmosphere between fans; the worldwide TV audience cry that they need to mute their set’s to enjoy the games.

Now I consider this moaning to be a disgrace and to be something that is rather arrogant. The World Cup, and football in general, is the globe’s great equaliser. It is the battleground where poverty stricken nations can meet, and beat, the wealthiest countries without feeling insecure or inferior. It is where a third world nation can demolish their former colonial masters in a symbolic gesture of freedom and where a previously unknown or mysterious culture can be placed at the forefront of the World’s attention as hosts.

The Vuvuzela’s are an integral part of South African football tradition; when the World Cup was gifted to the continent for the first time it was to encounter such contrasting styles and sounds to the norm, similar to the reasons for taking the competition to the Far East in 2002. Football is a global game, not a European one. Sepp Blatter, FIFA President, put it correctly when he declared “we should not try to Europeanise an African World Cup”

Regardless of how annoying one might consider these plastic horns, this is what South African football is about. An outpouring of enjoyment for a people who in previous generations had nothing to enjoy except their football. Whilst we are guests at South Africa’s truly unique, picturesque hosting of the tournament, we should embrace their diverse and wonderful heritage.

Wonderkids…But Are They Really?

Wonderkids. What is so wonderful about these kids if they are, as we are led to believe, constantly breaking through every year. Are these youngsters whom are putting in eye-catching displays on an occasional basis the real deal or simply the by-product of an over-zealous media and an equally demanding audience to turn any average talent into today’s major story?

Every year we learn of the latest player who will push England, Scotland or whom ever to world domination. Yet of this cluttered bunch, how many possess true genius, that once in a generation gift from God. James Milner has just gate crashed the England World Cup Squad after picking up the Young Player of the Year Award yet he is 23! Wayne Rooney has put in a couple of fantastic season’s at Manchester United that has seen him reach genuine World Class level, yet when he was a teen he was up and down as all teenage talents tend to be. Explosion and raw talent mixed with inexperience and immaturity; Not quite the finished article. Would I have classed these two as wonderkids a couple of years ago, much like Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal and Wales or even John Fleck of Rangers are classed now? No.

But if I’m discarding great youth talents that became future international lynch-pin’s (the Maradona’s, Zidane’s et al) then who would I include in my strict version of this prestigious club of genuine world class wonderkids?

Naturally, Pele would lead the way and would easily fit into the society. A World Cup winner at 17 and scoring 5 goals in the Semi’s and Final, this was an alarming debut on the world stage by a player whom no one believed was so young until he burst into tears at the final whistle.

Although a lack of modern footage exists one would have to take the word of footballing knights like Sirs Bobby Charlton and Robson when discussing tragic Duncan Edwards. Indeed another Sir, Matt Busby, considered him “incomparable” and once stated “if ever there was a player that could be called a one-man team, that man was Duncan Edwards”. Astonishing when one recalls that Edwards died aged 21 in the infamous Munich air disaster in 1958. Superstar and regular for club and country before he was out of his teens, Edwards earned his way into the greatest players in the world by the day he passed away, an incredible achievement.

Many others on my exclusive list of genuine world-class teenagers seem to be forwards. It appears as though it is easier to make an instant impact on the world stage when the main priority is to place the ball into the back of the net. Arguably the greatest finisher in English history, Jimmy Greaves had scored 132 goals in only 169 games by the time he left Chelsea at only 21, an astonishing return that has yet to be replicated at the top level since.

Other explosive strikers blowing their way onto the world stage in dramatic and instant fashion include double European Cup winner Eusebio, whom had conquered the continent by 20, and his fellow young gun-turned-assassin George Best, whom lived up to his prophetic surname with resplendent performances in front of the applauding masses. In the modern English era, the only talent whom achieved consistent world class seasons in succession was Michael Owen, of course punctuated by his dazzling goal against Argentina in the infamous World Cup tie aged only 18 at France ’98. His first full three seasons brought 18 goals each, a phenomenal return in an era where goals are not as easy to come by as past ones, and an achievement that eventually saw him claim the Ballon D’or at 22.

Who was the greatest wonderkid the “beautiful game” has produced however? Undisputed in my opinion it would have to be the man christened Ronaldo Luis Nazario De Lima. His roll of honour during a period of his career where he should have been learning his craft included an astonishing 88 league goals in 97 games across 2 continents and 3 countries; a world cup winning squad member at the age of 17; Two record transfers in successive seasons; World Footballer of the Year at 20 and earning the moniker of “I’ll Fenomino” for his startling 47-goal season for Barca in 1997 where Bobby Robson rated him better than Pele. Ofcourse Ronaldo went onto become the World Cup’s greatest ever scorer and one of the best ever, yet it is still his sudden explosion onto the world scene like a tidal wave which made him an icon. Will we ever see a young man make such an impact again? We’ll be blessed if we do.

ABE – Anyone But England…Why?

As the day’s become longer and warmer and the calendar on my Blackberry show’s we’re in 2010, only one topic comes instantly to mind. The Football World Cup. And with it the hype the “greatest show on Earth” brings.

As May finishes and blends into June, the merchandise overload begins in earnest, with everything from DVD’s and sticker books to flags, bikini’s and clocks readily available in any high street store. If a company can capitalise on a nation’s football fever, it will.

Now this in itself is not a bad thing. If your team is competing in a tournament there is nothing wrong with showing natural patriotism, whether that means having an understated and deep emotional bond with your team or spending the day looking like a lost American tourist covered in as much cheap garb as is possible.

In France there is tricolore’s flying in prominent places as the nation throws its weight behind Les Bleus. Similar scenes can also be seen in many other leading nations whereby progress in the cup is linked to national pride, such as Italy, Brazil and Germany to mention a few. This nationalistic utopia becomes slightly blurred when we add the United Kingdom into the mix, one country represented by four separate football nations all with a vicious rivalry and mutual hatred between the three small, less successful sides and the other political, economical and sporting domination encapsulated by the fourth part England.

For an Englishman residing in England, the World Cup is a tense yet exciting time to enjoy the full bloom of summer following the national team with beer and barbecues. For the Welsh or Scottish cooped up in their respective countries however it can be two months (and another 44 years if they are victorious) of over hype and hope thrust on them by a neglectful London-centric media that forgets it serves four different nationalities not just the largest one.

The in’s and out’s of squad selection, tactics and captaincy of England do not matter or are of particular relevance to people in these fringe nations yet both are subject to this spontaneous patriotic outburst not perpetrated so earnestly on locals since the Irish brought St Patrick’s day to America. Away from the media invasion, Corporate Britain also plays its part by stocking stores throughout Scotland and Wales with English memorabilia for no discernible reason other than to retain consistent stock policy across the UK. Common sense would dictate they are no going to reach sales targets in these demographics and may even gain un needed bad publicity, but these are business we are talking about whereby common sense is not a key factor.

England flags, hats, scarves and so on appear as natural and welcome in Welsh and Scottish stores as New Zealand rugby apparel would in arch-rivals South Africa’s shopping malls or similarly a Leo Messi t-shirt in the heart of Madrid.

Together, this media and merchandise bombardment, simply cultivates an “Anybody But England” culture, banter in its basis, xenophobic and racist in its extreme, on both sides of the border. No one begrudges England their month in the sun, after all, the Welsh celebrate the annual rugby Six Nation’s campaign with all the gusto of a lottery win. When it is forced on citizens of a nation however with no consideration it is not unreasonable to expect some resistance, and this is why I, and many others around, will be ABE for life.

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