The 2010 FIFA World Cup is now just the stuff of memory, with only stocktaking left to be done. Records were set and broken both on and off the pitch – there was a new winner of the golden trophy for the first time since 1998 and the second time in 32 years (since Argentina won it in 1978). A European country won it for the first time outside Europe on the eighth attempt. And for the first time, the final match of the tournament did not involve any of Argentina, Brazil, Italy or Germany. For many, South Africa has indeed put up a show with memories to keep for a lifetime. So while we obviously will remember the vuvuzela, Paul the psychic octopus, the farcical French team, etc, here are a few more things also worth remembering from World Cup 2010.
A dirty beautiful game
One of the most enduring images from the 2002 World Cup is the sight of Brazil’s Rivaldo clutching his face in mock-agony after an opponent kicked a ball that clearly hit Rivaldo’s knees back to the Brazilian player who was about to take a corner kick. Throughout the 2010 World Cup there were similar ridiculous instances of players showing utter disrespect to the game and their own fellow professionals by feigning victims of foul play. It was not limited to only the European and South American players as Ivory Coast’s Kader Keita showed in the group stage match with Brazil by throwing himself down with the force of a small boy tossed off with a swing of an angry elephant’s trunk.
The Chileans did it very well against Switzerland while Spain’s Juan Capdevilla got a Portuguese player sent off by half getting up after a clash with the player only to sneak a look in the referee’s direction and then go down clutching his face. And as was blatant in the final match between Spain and Holland, the Spanish managed to get to the final of the tournament as perhaps the most fouled team and the team with the least number of cautions simply by outwitting all of their opponents in the game of dirty tricks.
Even Brazil, the team from the land of jogo bonito riled a few people by resorting to ‘teasing’ football to the disrespect of their opponents in the 3-1 win over the Ivory Coast.
Many players or even coaches qualify for this accolade. Luis Suarez of Uruguay comes to mind, as do perhaps Ivory Coast’s Keita, Nigeria’s Sani Kaita, or maybe even the Uruguayan officials in charge of the match between England and Germany. Holland’s Mark van Bommel also deserves a mention. But somehow, Brazil’s Felipe Melo deserves it more. Having failed in his job of keeping the creative players in the Holland team quiet as he repeatedly gave the ball away needlessly and mistimed several tackles in their quarterfinals encounter, Melo then went from bad to worse by inadvertently nodding the ball into his own net to bring the scores to 1-1 early in the second half. As if that was not enough, he also lost the ball from which a cross was delivered for Wesley Schneider to nod into the Brazilian net for 2-1 to the Dutch. To cap his villainy, a little afterwards, Melo inexplicably jabbed his studs into the midriff of Dutch winger, Arjen Robben after clumsily losing the ball to Robben in the first place. Of course, Melo got his matching others, and so also did Brazil’s hope of a sixth world cup triumph.
It was not the most exciting World Cup ever but South Africa 2010 certainly provided fans with more than its own fair share of edge-of-the-seat moments. There were several what-if, if-only and it-could-have moments that got many mouths hissing, teeth gnashing and a few hearts beating a little faster – the moments and decisions which, if scripted some other way, would perhaps have altered the fate of some of the participating teams and maybe even the destination of the trophy. There was the Frank Lampard ‘ghost-goal’, as there was Asemoah Gyan’s last minute penalty miss against Uruguay as well as Diego Forlan’s last-kick-against-the-bar act against Germany. Many people will also remember Yakubu Aiyegbeni’s ‘fair play’ miss in front of an open Korean net.
But in terms of a single game, the margins were much finer in the quarterfinal encounter between Spain and Paraguay. First Paraguay’s Nelson Valdez’s goal was wrongly disallowed in the first half and then came the crazy 95 seconds of two missed penalty kicks in the second half – Uruguay’s Oscar Cardozo missed a penalty only for Spain’s David Villa to ‘draw’ a penalty from a Paraguayan defender less than a minute later. Xabi Alonso missed the the penalty after being ordered to retake initial successful attempt. Even when the goal eventually came for Spain, Andres Iniesta had to hit the right woodwork first only for Villa’s follow-up to come off both woodworks before trickling over the line.
A triumph for the basics
If the world cup taught us anything, it is the fact when all is said and done, the simple things often bring forth the richest rewards. Football matches have often turned on the blunder or skill of one individual player but it is still a team sport in which long term plan, team work, individual and collective hardwork, experience as well as youth, desire, technique and simplicity of approach have often led to success. The 2010 World Cup emphasized this even more for all to see. With prima donnas like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Ricardo Kaka, Didier Drogba, Wayne Rooney and the rest of his air-castle ‘world class’ England team mates all failing to ignite the occasion, the tournament proved that the game is a sport in which team work matters more than star quality, where hardwork triumphs over weekly wages, where technique surpasses media hype.
The tournament proved to us all that division of labour and identification of the simple often negligible details looms larger than gong ho approach to issues, that desire to win doesn’t even begin with turning up for a match. This is why the teams which won more hearts at the tournament where the likes of New Zealand, Uruguay, Spain, Germany, Holland, Ghana, Paraguay, Slovenia, Slovakia, rather than England France, Brazil, Portugal, Nigeria, Italy, etc. For these reasons players like Thomas Mueller, Forlan, Bastian Sweinsteigger, Iniesta, Carles Puyol and Vincent Enyeanma won more plaudits than Rooney and co could dream of.
Moment of the tournament
Decisive moments in the 2010 World Cup were by the truckload – Suarez ruining Africa, albeit Ghanaian hopes with his hands, Siphiwe Tshabala thumping that opening goal into the Mexican net on June 11, Holland knocking out pre-tournament mega-favourites, England’s dreams unraveling in six sick second half minutes against Germany and so on. But I rate the moment when Uruguay’s Sebastian Abreu’s ‘Panenka’ penalty kick nestled in the net during the shootout against Ghana in the quarterfinal as moment of the tournament. Ghana had given many Africans and romantics elsewhere candy joy all the way to that stage and even after Suarez stopped that ‘goal’ from being and Gyan missed the penalty, something somehow in millions of heart still echoed the “it’s time for Africa” line from Shakira’s Waka Waka song in prayer and optimism that it was written in the stars for an African team to get to the semifinal of the World Cup this time. But that cheeky, nonchalant kick by Abreu finally rested those prayers, slumping millions of shoulders, drawing litres of tears and causing a few heart attacks in the process. That single kick was as ludicrous and audacious as it was fatal, literally, in its