For 30 days, the eyes of the world were on South Africa as the 19th World Cup final went underway. This marked the first time that the World Cup had been hosted on African soil. For the second time in consecutive World Cup finals, we were treated to an all european final, as Spain and the Netherlands duked it out in Soccer City.
Before we get to the final, let’s touch upon the basics for those who need to catch up. Both teams play with 11 players on the field, having 1 goalie, joined by defenders, midfielders, and forwards. The World Cup teams are made up of 32 countries from 7 regions around the world. The teams play in qualifying matches to make the tournament. Once the 32 teams have qualified, They are split into 4 groups of 8 countries per group and are selected in a lottery process to form the groups of 4 for the tournament, (This is to prevent the highest ranked teams from being selected into the same groups and also teams from the same region from playing each other.) The 32 teams are split into 8 groups and play each other once. After that, the top 2 teams in each group move on to the round of 16 and so on.
Now that we have the specifics out of the way, let’s get to the good parts, which if you watched were not that good at the beginning. Most of the matches were low scoring, as players struggled to score. Some reasons included the ball, called the “Jabulani”, the altitude in South Africa, and the temperature, which dipped down in the low 40’s at night. This didn’t stop from getting the action going, as we saw some exciting matches and some pretty crazy upsets, including Italy and France (Last World Cup’s winner and runner-up) not advancing past the group stage. USA made a run and won their group in surprise fashion over England. Team USA had controversy surround them throughout the group play, starting against England when a seemingly harmless shot by Winger Clint Dempsey was mishandled by English goalie Robert Green and rolled into the back of the net to end in a 1-1 tie. USA had to play from behind in their second game against Slovenia as they fell behind 2-0 at halftime. USA was able to come back with Landon
Donovan and Michael Bradley goals. A few minutes later the U.S. looked at if it were going to win miraculously when a Donovan free kick was volleyed into the goal by substitute Maurice Edu. However, referee Koman Coulibaly disallowed the goal. USA ended their run in a loss to Ghana in the round of 16. USA kept the attentions of American fans long enough for fans to cheer them on. Hopefully we’ll see more progress in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
One big theme during the WC was the marketing of the stars, and boy there were plenty. Lionel Messi of Argentina, Kaka and Robinho of Brasil, Cristiano
Ronaldo of Portugal, and Wayne Rooney of England to name a few. What made this a bit significant was the fact that none of these “stars” made it to the final four of the tournament. The teams that made it to the final four (Uruguay, Netherlands, Spain, and Germany) took out the competition with something that always overcomes individual stars: teamwork. Germany pounded England in a 4-1 win, with goals coming from Klose, Podolski, and Mueller. Then Germany took their rage out on the Messi-led Argentina squad in a 4-0 shutout with great passing and scoring from different players. Netherlands didn’t lose any games leading into the final match, with Attacking Midfielder Wesley Sneijder and Winger Arjen Robben leading the charge throughout the tournament, even defeating heavily favored Brazil off a beautiful header from Sneijder to win and move on to the semifinals. Uruguay grinded out most of their victories with Diego Forlan (Golden Ball winner, World Cup MVP) and Luis Suarez knocking in beautiful goal after beautiful goal. Uruguay survived a controversial game with Ghana in the quarterfinals, when Suarez intentionally knocked away a potential winning goal away with his hands. Ghana was unable to capitalize on the penalty kick, as Asamoah Gyan’s kick hit the crossbar. Urugauy then was able to win a penalty shootout to move on. Spain, the favorite by many coming in to the tournament, lost their first game against Switzerland. No team that had lost their first game had ever gone on to win the World Cup but Spain played very smart, conservative soccer. Their passing game was extraordinary, as they passed until they found an opening, usually by David Villa. In my opinion, Villa was the star of the tournament, being the most opportunistic scorer and dribbler. Leading into the final, Spain had only scored 7 goals, compared to the Netherlands 12 goals. In the final, both teams played conservatively throughout most of the match, not many opportunities came across for either team. The match went into extra time in a 0-0 tie. It wasn’t until Andres Iniesta’s dribble bounce goal in the 116 minute that sealed the deal for Spain’s first World Cup championship win.
There was not many great games, but there were many great goals. Villa quite possibly had one of the most beautiful goals in the tournament, in a game against Honduras when he dribbled past two defenders, dribbled right and took a wicked rocket into the corner. The goal that might stick out the most was the Netherlands Giovanni Van Bronckhorst as he took aim from 60 feet out and hit the corner pocket of the goal. What was great when I saw it was the way the announcer, Martin Tyler, called it. “IT WAS AN ABSOLUTE FIRECRACKER!!!”
This World Cup let me appreciate the game. The passing game, the fancy dribbling, the strategy, and of course the amazing goals. I hope that football can catch on here in the USA, as we have a team we can get behind. If you havent taken the time to watch, I would strongly recommend it. If we can find an appreciation for the game, we can have a great fan base for Brazil in 2014. See you in four years.