It was Spain.
Had to be. It hardly makes me a prophet but I did say here just as the World Cup was about to begin
that the Spaniards had the best team. They began badly, improved steadily and
then cut through a sometimes cynical if highly skilled Dutch team in the final
after extra time. The trophy has never gone to Madrid before and the Spanish
team as European and World champions now have a right to boast.
So, though, do
the organisers and pretty much everybody concerned. There are always the
habitual moaners and, of course, the professional Americans who bore us all
silly with how dull the game is and how few goals there are. It doesn’t matter.
In fact there
are plenty of soccer lovers who hope the United States never embraces it fully
because they don’t want it to be, well, Americanised. That might be beyond
anybody’s control as soccer takes over the middle classes and Americans at long
last realize just how insular and limited are their national spots.
American outcome, the World Cup was an enormous success. Pure and simple, no
predictions? Stadiums not ready on time; inexorable violence as street hoodlums
robbed tourists; drunken fans fighting on the streets; a dreadful lack of
organisation that would wreck everything; too much boring soccer?
was a marvel.
The only dream
that didn’t become a reality was an African winner – especially South. Frankly
South Africa weren’t really good enough to qualify and only made it because
they were the host nation and the best of the rest, Ghana, just didn’t have the
depth of talent. But that’s a small issue and the South Africans, to their
credit, didn’t let it dampen their enthusiasm. Odd how many of them – English,
black and Indian as well as Afrikaners, discovered their Dutchness as the final
nations had various experiences. The German squad included ten players who are
of non-German background – Turkish, Polish, Serbian and so on – and a third of
the team would not have been accepted in the Kaiser’s Germany, let alone in
that of the little corporal with the dreadful moustache. The team reflected and
represented the new Germany, although the Muslim player who recites Koranic
verses to himself rather than sing the national anthem at the beginning of the
match doesn’t make most Germans feel warm all over.
and achieved far better than most people had anticipated. As the great English
striker and now commentator Gary Lineker once said, “Football is a game played
by two teams for two halves totalling 90 minutes. Then the Germans win.”
Not this time.
Third place and a convincing win — over an England team which looked about as
attractive as rancid yoghurt.
The English, my
team, were awful. Over-paid, over-famous and over there, when other, younger
and more committed players should have wearing the three lions and doing their
nation proud. English fans always wonder why their footballers play so well
every week in the English league but never win as a country. What they need to
know is that Spanish and Dutch fans have said the same thing about their
players for years as well. Now the Spanish have broken through. England? Not on
these performances. And to show how distraught they were, half of them went
straight on holiday and paraded on the beach or with their trophy partners. No,
not trophies but trophy partners.
have had a perfectly good goal disallowed but they didn’t deserve to beat the
Germans. What that debacle did accomplish was to make the introduction of some
sort of new technology inevitable. England’s goal was not given because
referees simply can’t run as quickly as a ball can travel. The same thing
happened when Tottenham scored against Manchester United in the English
Premiership not so long ago. The ball was four feet behind the line and stayed
there for much longer than England’s goal against Germany. A simple one-angle
camera would solve all. Once this is accepted and seen to work other cameras
will follow. Gradual, slow and non-threatening – the only way soccer will
Italy had an
old and weak team and were even worse than the English. That the champions
could go out in the opening round and never look like being a serious force
says far a lot about what has happened to Italian soccer in the last three
years. Complacency has run wild and nobody has taken the national team by the
collar and given it a good shake.
exposed as being what many of us already knew: the team relied upon the spoiled
Ronaldo and some other guys who weren’t that amazing and wouldn’t make the
Spanish or Brazilian squad. Ronaldo himself is a gifted players but he’s
selfish, fades out of a game if he doesn’t dominate and sometimes hurts the
team. Anyone who watched him at Manchester United saw brilliance but far too
many horribly bad crosses and temper tantrums when he almost cried and he
banged the field with his fists because a defender had gotten the better of
better than they had been in two years but they just aren’t the side they were
when Maradona was player and not a manager screaming from the sidelines. He’s a
national hero in Argentina but an international disgrace elsewhere. He lacks
stability, consistency and the ability to manage a team at such a level.
Because of his hold on the country’s emotions he may keep his position but that
would not be good for Argentine soccer.
Uruguay and not
Argentina were the most successful South American team and they did the
continent proud — rather than Brazil who never seemed to change gear and show
us the football they began to give to the world in the 1950s. All of these
teams will sort themselves out to a certain extent
But France is
in profound trouble. Their failure and defeat in the group stage was as much a
national problem as a sporting one. There were ethnic, religious and political
divisions in the squad and once politicians get involved – the President and a
senior cabinet minister have intervened – you know it won’t end well.
If there is a
flaw in the World Cup system, it is political correctness. Russia, Poland,
Croatia, Ukraine, Ireland and Israel, for example, weren’t there but North
Korea and New Zealand were. With all due respect, this means some of the
world’s best remained at home so that some of the world’s mediocre could be
Now come the
transfers and the signings as English, Spanish and Italian club teams pay
hundreds of millions of dollars for young men who performed particularly well
in South Africa. Within a month national rivalries will be forgotten as
millionaires from across the world play together for teams like Real Madrid,
Barcelona, AC Milan, Chelsea and Manchester United and suddenly it’s the badge
and not the nation that matters.
Oh well, it’s
Coren is a broadcaster and writer living in Toronto, Canada.