Saturday, July 10, 2010

"And so, the end is near..."

A few flippant thoughts/awards - more serious(-ish) reflections to come...

Best goal: Siphiwe Tshabalala’s tournament opener set the vibrant tone, even if Kagisho Dikgacoi soon abandoned the intricate through-passing for simply kicking people.
Best shot: David Villa’s opportunistic curler against Chile, Carlos Tevez’s (onside) effort versus Mexico, or Wesley Sneijder’s semi-final strike that didn’t go in – but did wallop into his pal Robin van Persie.
Worst miss: Durban-born Chilean Mark Gonzalez’s gravity-defying loft with the scores 0-0 against Spain, finishing worthy of the ‘Bafana Bafana’ instead.

Coaches most in need of a decent night’s sleep: Honours even between Slovakia’s Vladimir Weiss, Ghana’s Milovan Rajevac and Paraguay’s Gerard Martino, each looking like they’ve lived a hard life – or at least hard living the night before. Punchy Weiss even invited a journalist outside, Rajevac appears a contender to play Rigsby in a Rising Damp remake, and Martino rivals for Jose Antonio Camacho as ‘World’s Sweatiest Manager’.

Best stadium: The spectacularly modern Moses Mabhida in Durban or the grittily old-fashioned Ellis Park in Johannesburg.
Worst stadium: The Royal Bafokeng in Rustenburg – maybe it’s the surrounding roads and their puncture-causing potholes. Or the surrounding athletics track and the distance from the pitch. Or just the ordeal of watching England play the USA.

Best vuvuzela use: The fan watching Cameroon-Denmark who somehow managed to make his sound like the ominous stabs of saxophone from Bernard Herrmann’s Taxi Driver soundtrack.
Worst vuvuzela use: The Argentine hooligans caught using theirs to store grenades.

Least likely midfield destroyer: Ghana’s hard-working – if hardly intimidating – Anthony Annan. Looking like you might as well play Lionel Messi or Shaun Wright-Phillips in the holding role., And you won’t often find those two together in the same sentence.

Best parkers of the bus: Switzerland, obviously. Though the South African team coach that got stuck in Sandton traffic, almost delaying the opening match, came close.

Most misleading omen: The incessant airings of ‘God Save The Queen’ in the empty Soccer City stadium, a day before the tournament began.
Most out-of-touch officials: Fifa delegates meeting on the eve of the tournament tried testing their electronic voting pads with the simple question, are Italy the defending world champions? Seven voted no. Though by the end of the first round, it was easy to forget – or at least hard to believe.

Impartial punditry: The US journalist in the Rustenburg media centre before his compatriots kicked off against America - tucking into a sandwich while wearing full Captain America costume.

Most baffling imagery: Brazil’s 1970 World Cup-winning midfield craftsman Gerson condemned Dunga, saying: ‘He couldn’t train a team of bottle-tops.’ What?

Worst penalty run-up: John Mensah, the struggling gait of an arthritic.
Best penalty run-up: Cuauhtemoc Blanco, the long-distance surge of a fast bowler.
Finest-quality penalties: The shoot-out between Miss World contestants representing the eight quarter-finalists, swapping world peace for World Cup aspirations. Or else, (almost) all those taken by Japan and Paraguay - pity about the 120 minutes beforehand.

Most popular substitutes: Blanco, Stephen Appiah, and Cesc Fabregas, cheered wildly for each cameo.
Least popular substitutes: Thierry Henry, booed roundly in Bloemfontein – even though the place’s alternative name, Mangaung, does mean ‘land of the cheetahs’.

Clearest refereeing decision actually given correctly: Argentina’s disallowed goal against Germany, with almost as many players caught offside as Maradona picked during qualifiers. Or the several handballs given against a Serbia team who appeared to believe we were playing ‘rush-goalie’.

Moral dilemma man of the moment: Luis Suarez. Not necessarily for his handball – and revelries – against Ghana, but his reckless leap into the photographers’ pit after scoring against South Korea. Yes, someone could have been scalped – but then again, they were only snappers.

Richest hypocrites: Diego Maradona complaining about Luis Fabiano’s handball, Dunga whingeing about Ivory Coast’s persistent fouling, and Bastian Schweinsteiger raising eyebrows at Argentine play-acting.

Modesty blazers: Felipe Melo, daftly nonchalant even after single-handedly (and single-headedly, and single-stamping-footedly) destroying his own team Brazil – insisting he would have deserved ten out of ten had Brazil gone on to win, but was adjusting himself down to a (still-generous) six.
Or Nicolas Bendtner, who got very uppity at Sebastian Bassong almost tugging his shirt off. Presumably because he prefers publicly undressing himself.

England’s success of the tournament: Michael Dawson. While team-mates griped about being bored, he actually got out and about and visited local townships and a deprived youngster he sponsored. When not sitting happily in his hotel room, contented with colouring books.
England’s failure of the tournament: Amid a crowded field, expectations multiplied by abjectness must mean Wayne Rooney. It’s nice to see your own players boring you.
England’s gravest mistake: Taking too few Tottenham players – Jermain Defoe’s goal against Slovenia was Spurs’ 184th for England, more than any other club. The six in the squad could and should have been bolstered by the likes of Huddlestone. Jenas. Woodgate. Hoddle, Roberts, Perryman, Peters, Chas, Dave…

Saddest shadows of their former fab(io) selves: Cannavaro and Capello, neither one any longer quite so cool and composed.
Breaths of fresh air: Thomas Müller, a Platt-style poacher who also showed the baffling good grace to shake hands with the ref who had foolishly ruled him out of the semi-final. Slovakia’s troublesome target-man Robert Vittek, who left Italy clueless – only to be left clubless by former employers Lille. Japan’s Jabulani-taming Keisuke Honda.

Fashion statements of the season: Ghana’s Melchester Rovers tribute kit, those orange miniskirts, or the anti-authority T-shirts bearing slogans such as ‘Fick Fufa’ or ‘MafiFa: We own the game’.

Jauntiest anthems: The trilling trumpets of Brazil’s, or the emphatic climax to Paraguay’s, the kind that really does demand fireworks – and picnic hampers – on a summer’s evening in the park.

Hissiest fit: Perhaps the dust-up a mere 15 seconds into USA-Slovenia, prompted by an errant Clint Dempsey elbow. Or else Garth Crooks’s petulant prima donna act, when trying to wrench Howard Webb from a pack of print hacks.

Cheekiest chutzpah: The Argentine hooligans – yes, more – who were staying at a Christian studies college in Pretoria before being raided and deported. Or the Argentine centre-back Martin Demichelis, taunting John Terry by saying he wouldn’t be allowed home if he defended as the ex-England captain had done against Germany. After Demichelis’ own performance against the same opposition, his plane’s presumably still hovering, the pilot told to go round (the world) again.

Shoddiest pre-World Cup predictions: Brazil to win, Italy to reach the final, and North Korea to hold Portugal goalless... At least David Villa could still win the Golden Boot – though not with two separate hat-tricks, as I had also suggested.

Best games: Slovakia 3 Italy 2, Ghana 1 Uruguay 1, Spain 1 Germany 0. And Denmark 2 Cameroon 1, proof a game can be awesome despite – or perhaps due to – both teams being awful.
Biggest regrets: Not being able to attend Argentina games. Being able to attend England games. The fact it’s now almost all over.

Team of the tournament (elite): Neuer (Germany); Lahm (Germany), Heitinga (Netherlands), Puyol (Spain), Fucile (Uruguay); Müller (Germany), Schweinsteiger (Germany), Sneijder (Netherlands); Iniesta (Spain), Forlan (Uruguay), Villa (Spain).
Almost team of the tournament (second tier): Kingson (Ghana); Maicon (Brazil), Nelsen (New Zealand), Carvalho (Portugal), Salcido (Mexico); Donovan (USA), Annan (Ghana), Vidal (Chile); Messi (Argentina), Vittek (Slovakia), Robinho (Brazil).
Anti-team of the tournament: Chaouchi (Algeria); Cha Du-Ri (South Korea), Mokoena (South Africa), Bassong (Cameroon), Evra (France); Barry (England); Kewell (Australia), Marchisio (Italy), Felipe Melo (Brazil); Rooney (England), Anelka (Brazil).

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