World Cup good, bad and ugly
Lapping up against the very edge of this World Cup were brutal worries. In the hours before the opening group game between Brazil and Croatia, tentative jibes were made about a temporary stand at the Itaquerão being met head on by the sound and fury of the hosts while never having been tested. In the days before the most significant group game between Spain and the Netherlands, welders and workers carried sheet metal around the Fonte Nova stadium in Salvador. But after months and years of concern, it’s been a tournament so good that it’s amazingly left us to mostly focus on what’s happened on the field — positive, negative and occasionally stone mad.
So Wayne Rooney was lost to the flank and the flak, Cristiano Ronaldo to his knee and an average side and Eden Hazard has slotted into a merely functional Belgium. But even that can’t take away from how this tournament has been about one-man teams.
From Lionel Messi we’ve had a moment of breath-stripping brilliance in each game, to the extent that without him it’s not inconceivable Argentina wouldn’t have won once.
It’s a sentiment that applies to Neymar almost as much, considering his strike against Croatia, performance against Cameroon and penalty against Chile. But it’s not just their otherworldliness; it’s the world they are doing it in. The pressure on their sides is incomprehensible but both played like it was a kick about on a housing estate green.
The cult of the manager
Regardless of the talents of their sides, it’s a lesser competition without Miguel Herrera (dubbed a cross between Nick Griffin and Peter Griffin) and Fernando Santos (the Portuguese-born Greek coach who makes Jose Mourinho looks like football’s happiest man).
They’ve thankfully brought the joy and the misery to the sidelines as every World Cup needs its mad man and its whining villain. But when considering both, look past the antics too because they’ve done extremely good jobs.
Not only has he and they given us the headline to elevate all others (the Times of India ran with the ‘The name is Bond, James Rodriguez’) but Colombia gave us the story to close out the circle. Twenty years since the deaths of Andres and Pablo Escobar sucked the life out of the nation’s football, these guys returned the nation to the highest levels.
Make room for the little guy
Ever since Costa Rica came from behind to beat Uruguay, there’s been a search for experts on the side. Not many have been found because not many cared about them coming into the competition. But that win was followed by a deserved flair-filled victory over Italy and even more sat up and took notice at the grit of the side when Greece were pummelling them on the ropes but they somehow hung on, fought back and won on points. Think Ireland 1990, only entertaining.
End of an era
Before their opening game against the Netherlands, Xavi talked about how Spain would live or die by their style of play as tiki-taka had delivered over and over. Well they died by it, but also by miles on the clock and by lumping Diego Costa into a system that he wasn’t suited to.
But that’s the problem with the end, you never focus on the full story. Spain had a horrid time, to the point Jordi Alba was telling a journalist he’d rip his head off, but after all they’ve given us, it’s best to remember better times.
Same old, same old.
It says much that the era of tiki-taka came, dominated and went, yet England plod about with the same tactical conservatism that does nothing to mask ongoing technical ineptitude. After a stalemate with Costa Rica, quotes even emerged about how they’d restored pride. Okay so…
The wrath of Russia
So Fabio Capello thought he’d a torrid time of it here, exiting the stage with barely anyone noticing their awful performances.
Well the highest paid manager was called a thief by a Russian MP, calling for the Duma to launch an inquest into Capello.
AND THE UGLY
Show me the money
Cameroon were late arriving after a row over appearance fees, Ghana boycotted training before €2.2 million was thrown onto a plane courtesy of their president and flown across the Atlantic, Nigeria then boycotted training too before Cameroon were thrown into turmoil via serious match-fixing allegations.
It wasn’t so much the performances — which varied hugely — but a turning of sub-Saharan football into a laughing stock that sits really uncomfortably.
Don’t show me the money
For all that the football has tried to make us forget, some things we cannot. That’s because of reports like that coming from Brasilia regarding the Mané Garrincha stadium. Originally meant to cost €300m, it ran to treble that as, for instance €1.7m of materials was listed multiple times on bills and €12m was lost when the local government didn’t enforce a fine against the builders. Granted those builders donated over €25m to political campaigns in 2010 after winning the contract.
Hungry for more
There’s little else you can say about Luis Suarez but there’s plenty more to be said about his country. From Uruguayan FA members claiming agendas, to captain Diego Lugano saying there was inconclusive evidence, to the national president branding Fifa fascists, the nation has embarrassed itself. But more tellingly, Uruguayans have looked like the sort of apologists that have forgiven Suarez over and over, meaning he never learns.
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