After 64 matches, 31 days and 31 eliminations, the World Cup has finally ended. Here are the winners and losers.
South Africa (Winners): A World Cup in South Africa seemed a dangerous disaster in conception, but the only noteworthy problems were on the pitch. By all accounts the hosts were caring and enthusiastic. The only newsworthy infrastructure problems were caused by American celebrities in private jets. Empty stadiums and vuvuzelas dampened the mood somewhat, but it was still an extraordinary moment for South Africa and the African continent as a whole.
ESPN (Winners): ESPN did an incredible job covering the World Cup, slow-clap-worthy. They had to inform the noobs, while engaging the avid fan. They struck the delicate balance flawlessly. The hosts were well-researched and knowledgeable. The announcers were a true revelation. Ian Darke should get honorary citizenship. Steve McManaman was insightful, opinionated, and well-spoken liiiiche. He was almost as brilliant as his bespoke suits. The World Cup coverage was so well presented, it highlighted endemic problems with the coverage of other sports.
Spain (Winners): Obviously, winning the World Cup should put you in the winner’s column. But, Spain deserve some respect beyond that. They not only won, but refused to compromise their ideals in the process. They battled through kung fu kicks and cynical defenses. They were under immense pressure as favorites from the tournament’s inception. They won their first World Cup and they won it playing their game.
Germany (Winners): The Germans did things the right way. They invested heavily in youth development. Their league is fiscally responsible and promotes domestic talent. They have a great coach and a stable system. They played positive, fundamental and attractive soccer. They set an example with more than just results. Germany was so great for this tournament, we ignored their Waffen SS away uniforms.
Uruguay (Winners): The amenable draw gave Uruguay an opportunity, and unlike the United States, they took it. The team was not the most talented, beyond Suarez and Forlan, but they were well-drilled defensively, efficient going forward and tactically sophisticated. Diego Forlan was magnificent. The one “stain” was the Suarez handball, but Suarez was punished appropriately for a necessary act and it would have been irrelevant if Gyan had not missed the penalty. Both the quarterfinal and semifinal could have been different if Lugano had been healthy.
Asian Soccer (Winners): Asian countries aren’t well known beyond their few players playing in Europe. Not much was expected of them, but the countries acquitted themselves well. Japan was a shootout from the quarterfinals. South Korea made it through the group. North Korea even gave a frisky performance against Brazil, before the Dear Leader’s tactical adjustments sunk them against Portugal. Expect more to follow Lee Chung-Yong into the top flight.
FIFA (Losers): The enduring memories for the 2010 World Cup will be refereeing mistakes and the debate over goal-line technology. FIFA gave purportedly principled rejections, before sticking their fingers to the wind and retracting. They felt the pressing issue relating concerning an egregiously bad offside call was to ensure said calls were not replayed in the stadium. The United States had a goal and a subsequent win, ruled off by a phantom foul. FIFA refused to offer even an explanation. There were reasonable arguments for caution regarding replay and technology. FIFA offered none of them.
Adidas (Losers): The only failure worse than the miscues and botched responses was the Jabulani ball. Imagine the NBA introducing a new basketball before the playoffs you could not shoot beyond 15 feet or the NFL bringing in a ball that made passes beyond 10 yards impossible. That’s the effect the Jabulani ball had on the first round of games. The ball removed long-range shots and direct free kicks from the game.
The narrowed scoring window diminished the portion of the field a team such as New Zealand had to be defend. Even with somewhat of a revival in the knockout stages, the goals per game average for this tournament (2.27) was the second lowest of all-time. Only the notoriously turgid Italia 90 (2.21) was worse. Adidas’ Jabulani ball fundamentally altered the play at the 2010 World Cup, and not for the better.
Nike Stars (Losers): Fabio Cannavaro, Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Franck Ribery and Didier Drogba demonstrably failed to “Write the Future.” Ronaldinho did not even make the World Cup Squad.
France (Losers): France hamstrung themselves heading into the tournament with Raymond Domenech still coaching. With optimism already low, their campaign took one of the worst possible turns. It was a comprehensive failure in leadership on every level. Domenech was a clown. The players strike was so off-putting they made him look sympathetic. The experience was terrible enough to make an underage prostitute scandal seem tame. The only bright spot is that Laurent Blanc will get the “blanc” page he needs to comprehensively rebuild.
England (Losers): England had the easiest route to the semifinal of any seeded team. They blew it. Capello is one of the greatest managers in the game, when he has smart players. English internationals are profoundly dumb players. When a right back arrested for stealing a toilet seat is not abnormal, there’s a problem. They have oodles of talent and ability, but no clue how to use it. The solution during qualifying was to capitalize on their spirit and athelticism, playing energetic, attacking soccer. Without any impetus or fury in the World Cup, they were exposed. They could not react organically on the field. They struggled to even follow instructions. It was a mess.
The World Cup was also an embarrassment for the English Premier League, purported to be the best league in the world. One hundred and seventeen EPL players participated in the World Cup. Just seven made the semifinals.
Italy (Losers): Italy finished last in a group with Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand. They allowed five goals in three matches, after allowing only two during the entire 2006 run. Only in the last 15 minutes against Slovakia, did the team appear remotely concerned. It was an unacceptable showing from the defending champions.. After four years of trying to recreate 2006, the Italians must reconstruct virtually the entire squad.
Mick Jagger (Losers): Mick Jagger supported three countries in South Africa. He rooted for the United States (lost), England (lost) and Brazil (lost). Brazilian belief in the curse was so strong Jagger was trending worldwide on Twitter.
United States (Undecided): Whether it was jingoism or genuine interest, the U.S. National Team roused the public at this World Cup. Television ratings were high. Landon Donovan gave the U.S. one of it’s seminal sports moments on an international stage. The U.S. got a result against England and advanced from the group.
It would be hard not to view South Africa as a success, but that success is tinged with disappointment. This team had an attainable route to the semifinal and whiffed. Talent was not the limiting factor. The team built up a lumbering Frankenstein of enthusiasm, but cut off its head before it could get coordinated. U.S. Soccer will be satiated, but “what if” will always lurk in the background.