So that was the World Cup that was… and to be honest, with a few exceptions, it was distinctly average.

The big names that were supposed to set the world on fire were nothing more than an accessory, there to show face, not form. The majority of those “big name” players that were featured in the Nike ‘Write The Future’ ads ended up writing a Shakespearean tragedy rather than a triumphant tale of glory. This was a tournament that was living in fear. Almost every nation had the desire to not lose, rather than to win etched into their pre-match tactics.

Some of the big nations were there in name alone, perhaps a symbolic changing of the guard for some. The all conquering Italian team of 2006 looked old and bereft of pace and ideas, and deservedly finished bottom of their group; likewise the French, who self imploded in a manner that would have made the Dutch teams of yore jealous. The Ivory Coast? They promised so much, but a semi-fit Didier Drogba handicapped an already weak looking team beyond it’s capabilities.

England made it out of the groups, but never looked comfortable doing so, and never made it to their much lauded plan of the semi-final when they were rightfully ripped apart by a German team that was one of the few highlights of the tourney. Argentina flattered to deceive, but the failure of coach Maradona to get Lionel Messi to be as deadly as he is for his club proved to be their downfall, and those pesky Germans bounced them out too.

Brazil looked good, but not too good. Dunga paid the price when his philosophy of patience and possession over samba style and flair failed to pay off. Kaka playing like he’d never met his team mates also didn’t help his cause any. Portugal rested their hoped on the shoulders of Cristiano Ronaldo. Bar 20 minutes against North Korea, he rested on his laurels and provided practically nothing.

And then there were the other squads that promised so much… Ghana made it to the quarter-finals, although only they really know how. Had they known how to take a penalty, they’d have been in the semis, albeit at the expense of a Uruguay side who were one of my highlights, amazingly. South Africa had a whole nation behind them, but despite a deserved victory over a French team that just didn’t care, they became the first hosts to leave the party at the first opportunity.

As mentioned, the big names? Didn’t have much sway on the whole thing. Rooney was there, but his most telling contribution was to yell at a cameraman. Messi was there, but a shadow of the Barcelona Messi we all love. Drogba wasn’t fit; Kaka wasn’t fit or interested, it seemed. Cannavaro tried his best, but age had taken it’s toll on him. Torres might still be running in circles for all we know, he was that anonymous.

The players that took the tourney by the scruff of it’s neck were few and far between – Diego Forlan was one, Thomas Mueller of Germany was a revelation, and Xavi and Iniesta did what we all knew they would do – pass and pass and pass and then pass some more, but I thought Alonso was as vital to Spain as anyone. Robben showed glimpses of what he could do, but no more than that. Wesley Sneider was the main man for a Dutch team that worked rather than played.

I honestly can’t think of one single player that grabbed my attention the way Zinedine Zidane did four years ago. There were a few good games and moments – the 3rd/4th place play off game was pretty damned good, and Denmark-Cameroon was end to end stuff, if not technically brilliant, and the final 10 minutes of Italy-Slovakia was as dramatic as anything in the past year. Landon Donovan’s late late goal for the US also got that side of the Atlantic talking about the game we love more than usual, too.

The Final summed it all up for me… both teams chock full of technically excellent footballers (and Mark van Bommel) but both seemed happy to play it safe and barely risk anything. A drab 1-0 extra time victory in a flurry of fouls, nastiness, some bad refereeing and general unpleasantness left a sour taste in the mouth, even if the right team won things in the end. Spain just about tried to win, whereas Holland just tried not to lose, or kick anything that moved, just in case – Nigel de Jong’s assault on Alonso would have gone down well in a UFC match, not a World Cup Final.
An occasion such as the World Cup final, when the world is watching and wanting to fall in love with the sport again, deserved a better game. It got a war of attrition, that the lesser of two evils won. Overall, the 2010 World Cup was a bit of a disappointment… but I still can’t wait for the next one!

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