Monday, July 12, 2010
Barcelona win the World Cup
The Fifth Official
One technically gifted strike of a football, however late it came, was all it took to rescue this filthy final from the ignominy of penalties it probably deserved. At a stroke, Andres Iniesta ensured it was plucked from the finals list marked 'whatever' and placed in the rather more agreeable environs of 'late winner prevents world from light coma' section.
The titchy tiki-taka technician from Barcelona was by far and away the stand-out player on the field, and experienced a moment of pure footballing joy that few ever have, or will in the future. The explosion of ecstasy released by his expert finish, when teed up by (soon-to-be) Barca team-mate Cesc Fabregas, even had Real Madrid fans queuing up to label him the best player in the world.
After the ball hit the back of the net, the Spanish players who weren't trying to lose a limb in the massive bundle on top of Iniesta were sinking to the turf as if poleaxed by footy love. Iker Casillas even afforded himself a little cry, despite there being a good five minutes left. He turned the waterworks back on seconds after the final whistle, and again as his reporter girlfriend tried to interview him, prompting him to ignore her questions in favour of a sloppy snog instead.
Spain may not have run riot over teams, or scored goals in vast quantities but pound for pound they have been the best team of the tournament. Watching each one of their 78,650 passes in each game was a joy, even if they largely did travel precisely three yards. Even when the Dutch were trying their best to kick their faces off, they stayed true to their principles, and Iniesta's rocket handed them a rightful European and World double.
A Clockwork Oranje
Not even deluded Portugeezer Carlos Queiroz could claim the first half of the World Cup final was anything other than an atrocious, violent affair more suited to a passage in A Clockwork Orange than the World Cup final. If the Dutch embraced Total Football during their defeats in the finals of 1974 and 1978, then this was Total Thuggery; as far away from a delightful passing game as you could imagine. I swear I even saw Malcolm McDowell stretching off next to Ibrahim Afellay on the touchline at one point.
Led by the example of spiteful Mark van Bommel, who set the tone with a disgraceful tackle on Iniesta, Nigel De Jong wasn't to be outdone as he launched a Bruce Lee-style karate kick on his opposite number. Xabi Alonso's solar plexus must be made of stern stuff because I was amazed De Jong's boot didn't re-emerge from his chest with a lung hanging off it. A physical approach is all well and good, but staging your own version of Braveheart in front of a watching 700 million people is a little over the top.
A sign of just how cynical the Dutch were was that they even managed to inspire pangs of sympathy for official Howard Webb, who had to marshal the game from hell, with no let up even from the Spanish who dived and moaned at him relentlessly - led by Van Bommel protégé Sergio Busquets. Predictably, the Dutch all lined up to blame their defeat on England's hapless ref, who will be seeing yellow for a week seeing as how he flashed so much of it. At least Arjen Robben was man enough to accept responsibility for his glaring miss when clean through on goal, though I'm sure in his tiny brain he tried desperately hard to pin that fail on the donkey too.
My only sympathy is with the Dutch fans and especially all 160,000 of them that packed into Amsterdam to watch the game on big screens. Still, if there is one city in the world for 'lifting' one's mood after a crushing defeat it is probably Amsterdam is it not?
Let's all do the Tshabalala
Yes there was some great football on show in parts but the rabble that entertained me the most in this World Cup were the French. Watching their implosion filled me with unparalleled heights of joy, largely because it was the culmination of four years hard work by Raymond Domenech, who stripped away any shred of cohesion they had and replaced it with bitterness and envy - quite an achievement. Watching the French players realise the impact their abstinence from training had on their population was also momentous. How could they not see that coming?
I tell you a man who would have done - everyone's favourite mystic mollusc, Paul the psychic octopus. My indignation at the amount of coverage he received wilted as his gift took hold, hypnotising me with his ungainly movements, much like Shaun Wright-Phillips. The fact he made each prediction knowing a pan full of hot olive oil awaited him if he was wrong made his winning streak all the more impressive. He'll be dead by Brazil 2014 though, so I'll get started on the search for Cornelius the clairvoyant crab shall I?
On the field the World Cup's first goal remained my favourite, as Siphiwe Tshabalala's strike caused a nation to erupt. Anything Diego Maradona said or did was worth its weight in gold, especially his perfected bereft look after Argentina's thrashing by Germany. The sight of last minute goals that brought such joy to New Zealand (the tournament's only undefeated side) and the USA has also lodged in my brain. But in the end, seeing the right team lift the trophy was the fitting end to a triumphant tournament for Africa.
'Pulpo' Paul for head of FIFA
Where to start with the things that have infuriated me this World Cup? I'm afraid the head honcho Sepp Blatter has to come top, largely because I can't get the sight of his grinning mug in the executive seats before England's game with Germany out of my head. His insistence that we all love pub banter too much to value technology is wider of the mark than many swipes of the Jabulani in this tournament, which also features as another of my grumbles. It is round, it bounces, now shut up and get on with it.
In terms of players, there can only be one arch villain of the tournament and it is Luis Suarez. To deny an entire continent with a Gordon Banks impression is one thing, but to then be paraded round the field on the shoulders of his team-mates as a hero was just plain disgusting. Never before has anyone ever willingly claimed to have trumped the World Cup's most famous act of cheating by claiming to be the 'real Hand of God'. Still, villain status also has to go to the lovable figure of Asamoah Gyan, who could have punished Suarez by slotting his penalty.
The incessant diving and moaning at referees sticks in the throat, as does the unduly negative approach of so many teams. A chuckle was provided by the lamentable failures of the so-called leading lights - Messi, Kaka, Ronaldo, Rooney et al - but the tournament was a worse spectacle as a result.
But most disappointing of all was the England squad, the majority of whom were shown up for the overblown, uncaring, money-grabbers they are. Surely it is time John Terry was reinstated as skipper because he represents the very worst of the Three Lions largesse; arrogant, deluded and incapable of showing anyone respect but himself. Rooney's rant down the TV camera at the fans after his shocker against Algeria was another defining moment for a shambles of a team. If I'd spent thousands of pounds to watch that, I'd have been throwing more than boos I can tell you. The Roonatics truly took over the asylum.
A South African future
On a mildly serious note (largely because I'm all gagged out - as if you hadn't noticed) this World Cup has been a triumph not just for South Africa, but for the entire continent. Before the tournament we were treated to all manner of scare stories from the international press, who made out you'd be robbed at gunpoint the nanosecond you entered African airspace.
In the event, nothing so serious transpired, and 99% of visitors have reported back what a pleasure it was to share in the joy of all those who embraced the World Cup with such passion and fervour. For once FIFA must take some credit for a bold choice of host, though the fact they didn't allow more ordinary South Africans to see games - especially given the number of empty seats - was bordering on scandalous. The largely disappointing on-field action was more than compensated by the off field scenes of inclusion and generosity of spirit, characteristics that will be required in abundance if this great nation continues to drive forward. The football must be a start, not an end to its important journey.
After such a wonderful, uplifting success story in Africa, it'll be odd to get back to the bread and butter of the Premier League come August, when the usual suspects in England's capitulation will no doubt magically recapture some semblance of form back at the clubs where their egos are ceaselessly caressed by all and sundry. I look forward to offering balanced, cynical analysis of their exploits, in a vuvuzela-free environment. Or is that too much to ask?
• Don't forget you can follow The Fifth Official on Twitter: twitter.com/fifthofficial