Well, that’s it for another 4 years….. all the hopes, dreams and false expectations dashed for another tournament. Except of course for the mighty and richly deserving Spanish, who plied their fabulous brand of artistry to the very last, against the thuggish, disreputable Dutch, to emerge as Champions of the World.
Spain were truly exceptional in my opinion, and have been for the last 4 years. Ever since they changed their ethos from the Raul-inspired egocentricity that currently rots the heart of both England and France, and adopted a true team ethic – all for one and one for all.
Of course, no change in philosophy can win the World Cup if the talent isn’t there, but with magicians in the midfield in the shape of Xavi, Iniesta and Alonso, rocks at the heart of their defence in Ramos, Piquet, and the inspirational Carlos Puyol, plus a rapier at the tip in Villa and a truly World Class Goalkeeper and Captain in Iker Casillas, their squad simply overflowed with talent of the very highest order. The fact that neither Fabregas, who was wonderful when he came on, or the mis-firing Torres, were first picks for Spain, demonstrates amply how richly blessed they are in this era.
Their opponents in the final, Holland, have a much richer international heritage, borne from the wonderful ‘total football’ ethos that made The Dutch everyone’s second team. My favourite team as I grew up was the AC Milan of Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten, and Frank Rijkaard… and of course I was well aware of the 1974 & 1978 finals that the Dutch cruelly lost, with Johan Cruyff as their leader and emblem.
However, Holland disgraced their heritage and their principles in this final, I am sad to say. Their functional route to the final rightly won plaudits, as they smothered opponents and then let the excellent Wesley Sneijder and the artful but highly effective Arjen Robben pick up the necessary goals to take them through.
But their descent into downright villainy and genuine thuggery was disappointing and saddening. Mark van Bommel is an anti-hero, an anti-footballer, and a pantomime villain. It is absolutely right that he will never wear a World Cup winners medal. It would have been a travesty if he had been on the winning team. To quote Johan Cruyff, “This ugly, vulgar, hard, hermetic, hardly eye-catching, hardly football style, yes it served the Dutch to unsettle Spain. If with this they got satisfaction, fine, but they ended up losing. They were playing anti-football.” Nuff said.
Anyway, moving on from the Dutch, we turn our attention to the most unedifying team of the tournament… no, not England. The French. They did an old school Dutch trick on us and imploded dramatically (finding it quite hard to move on from the Dutch evidently… they pop up everywhere!!)
But now let’s look at England. Frankly, they were a disgrace. A hugely disappointing campaign that simply left me befuddled. I had huge faith in Capello, and thought that he might, just might, bring out the best of Rooney, Gerrard, Lampard et al…. but no. £6m a year to get knocked out by (an admittedly very good) Germany 4-1. £6m to learn about the nuances of keeping spoilt, rich, self-centred young men focused and happy during tournament conditions.
Expectations once again outweighed reality, but I certainly expected some performances, even if it meant glorious defeat, rather than the damp squib nature of the four games that we played. There are rumours of rifts in the camp, namely between the self-appointed alpha-chav John Terry, and his replacement as captain Steven Gerrard. Whatever the truth, it was a typically stodgy and tawdry tournament display from the pampered millionaires from our green and pleasant lands.
But enough of all this soul searching and self-flagellation. It’s over. We were rubbish. Same old.
Interestingly, no-one who plays in the Premiership played well. At least I can’t think of anyone. Maybe there is something in the fact that we don’t rest up as much as the Spanish, Germans, French, Italians et al. But again, it’s excuses. And actually, none of the players we all expected to be the stars of the World Cup ever really got going.
Ronaldo never got a sniff. Kaka produced one moment of sublime skill in 4 games. The less said about Rooney the better. Messi didn’t score, although he did play quite well to be fair. But he certainly didn’t set the tournament alight or lift his Argentina team beyond their true worth, like his magnificently charismatic and wonderfully personable coach did in 1986.
Ahhh, the great Diego Maradona… a quite miraculous ability to re-invent himself from overweight, hospitalized drug-fiend to a suave, sophisticated international coach (well, some creative license please…). The tournament would have been a duller place without him and I hope he gets the chance to take Argentina to Brazil in 4 years’ time. Hopefully, by then, he will have learnt that leaving out players like Cambiasso and Zannetti doesn’t pay. You do need high quality, experienced defenders to win the World Cup. Playing Gutierrez (the Newcastle right winger) as a left back just isn’t going to cut it.
And so, apart from the excellent Joachim Low’s youthful, counter-attacking Germany, and Dunga’s disappointingly dull Brazilians, that about sums it up for me… oh, of course there were the Africans who were generally poor, except for Ghana. Poor, poor Ghana. Cheated out of a first ever semi-final for their continent by Suarez in heart-breaking fashion. But Uruguay lived up to their billing as the skulldugerous South Americans, and were a whisper away from reaching the final. Fair play to them, and fair play to Forlan for being voted the Player of the Tournament.
So, here is my team of the Tournament (4-2-3-1):
Very honourable mentions go to Sneijder, Schweinsteiger, Maicon, Mascherano, Lucio, and (against my better wishes) Arjen Robben.
That’s that then.
See you in 4 years.