Matthew Monk is a school teacher
from the UK who has the World Cup as one of his greatest passions. He will share his views about the past, present and future of
Read earlier columns
The Luckiest Team in the World?
Sometimes at the World Cup you need a bit of luck.
Skill alone may well be good enough to get you quite a
long way, but to find that little bit extra and to get
a little bit further you need some luck. It could be
a foul the referee does not see, or a dive he is
fooled by. How about the ball bouncing off another
attacker rather than smashing into your open goal with
the keeper stranded? Or how would you like one of
your opponents to miss a header in the very last
minute, two metres out with your goalie stranded, and
the goal gaping? Add on that it will push you into
the second round, and knock your opponents out. Now
that would be a nice piece of luck wouldn't it?
But let's not stop there. Let's go forward a game,
and move right to the end of the match. It's Golden
Goal this time around and you are in big trouble. One
of your opponents breaks free in your box, twirls
round beautifully and unleashes an unstoppable drive.
Your goalie is nowhere - he can only watch as the ball
cuts through the air. It is an amazing shot, but the
post intervenes to keep it out of the net. You go up
field just a couple of minutes later and score a great
goal yourself, but it only goes in because your
goalscorer scuffs his shot, and it trickles over the
goal line. Of course it puts you into the quarter
finals of the World Cup...
Senegal have become the second African team to reach
the last eight of the World Cup and have demolished my
prediction that no African team would reach that stage
this year. I have to say that I am delighted that it
is this African team who have disproved me rather than
Cameroon who have been as disappointing as Senegal
have been exhilarating. Senegal have played excellent
attacking football - scoring the best goal of the
championships so far in Diao's equaliser against
Denmark - and have also proved that they can defend
well enough when they have to.
From the very first moment they ran at France in the
opening game, Senegal have set out their stall to play
uncomplicated attacking football. There has been no
shambolic defending like Poland, or any over elaborate
web weaving like the Italians have tried - Senegal
have played professional, expansive football that has
been rewarded with progression to the final stages.
And while there is no doubt that Senegal have been as
lucky as any team in recent memory their attacking
verve has made much of this luck, and they do deserve
Of the truly exciting players we have seen so far El
Hadji Diouf has risen above them all. What Diouf does
is very simple - he runs at defenders, utilising his
pace and skill to terrify them. In the first game he
ran Franck Leboeuf ragged, then continued to do the
same against Martin Laursen and Paolo Montero in Group
A. This morning he did exactly the same to Mellberg
and Mjallby, and while he has not scored yet, his busy
performances have created a welter of chances for Papa
Bouba Diop and Henri Camara. I have lost count of the
number of players he has nutmegged and I cannot wait
to see him doing that for Liverpool next season. He
might not really be a serial killer, but he has
murdered enough defences this summer to make all Reds
very confident of continuing success.
No one can argue that Senegal have been an African
success story, but if you are African I would stop
reading here - you will probably not like what you
read from here on out.
This has been almost as bad a World Cup for Africa as
even the biggest pessimist could have predicted.
Apart from Senegal, African teams have - for the want
of a better word - stunk. The most was expected of
Cameroon, Africa's proud champions. But apart from a
dominant first forty-five minutes in the blinding heat
of Niigata in their opening game against Ireland, the
Indomitable Lions have been as toothless as I thought
they would be. Yes, you have to give a lot of credit
to the never-say-die Irish, and to a Saudi team
determined to comeback from an 8:0 hammering, but the
truth is Cameroon were not good enough to qualify from
a group containing two good to middling European
sides. Germany were allowed to play the exact game
they wanted to in Shizuoka, and as Peter Goldstein has
so eloquently narrated to us, they were never once
troubled by a Cameroon team over confident and
ignorant to their deficiencies.
There was nothing wrong with their organisation or
defending, so no one can really criticise old Winni
Schäfer - although what new tactical genius he
brought to the championships is very hard to pinpoint.
No Cameroon lost because they did not have enough top
quality players, and did not play as a team. In the
final match against Germany they lost their discipline
- though Germany more than matched them here - and
deservedly went out. When they arrived at the
tournament, all the players could do was moan about
the convoluted route they had to 'endure' when
travelling to Japan. Never once did we see or hear
them acting like a team. I will confess to not
following Cameroon as closely as Peter did, but I got
the idea that they believed their own hype, believed
all they had to do was turn up to win, and believed
Germany, Ireland and especially Saudi Arabia would lie
down and die before them. It did not work out that
way did it? Cameroon have still only won one World
Cup Finals game since 1990.
The other African teams? Well, Tunisia were not quite
as poor as they looked as the African Cup of Nations.
They performed creditably against Belgium, and did not
give up against Japan until the last 20 minutes.
Perhaps this will once and for all prove that African
coaches can do as well as the dodgy, European
journeymen. I cannot imagine for a minute this team
playing half as good with Henri Michel still in
The same could-do-better report must go to Nigeria.
Although they did not disgrace themselves as looked
likely at one point this spring, Nigeria have the best
individual talent in Africa and should be up their
with Senegal instead of going out after two games.
Some of the young players they introduced against
England looked very capable, and this is a definite
plus. However the point remains that apart from
age-group tournaments like the Olympics or Under-20
championships, Nigeria look like being a long way from
making the breakthrough.
And of course there was South Africa - on paper the
worst of the African teams, but who almost made the
last 16. Their game against Spain was full of
uncomplicated attacking, but poor defending that cost
them in the end. The way they chased down Paraguay
from 2:0 down was excellent, but failing to score more
than one goal against imploding Slovenija ended the
dream even before they met Spain. It was a positive
performance, again masterminded by a local coach.
When they host the World Cup in 2010 they will have to
better this performance at least, but they do have
another eight years to get it right.
My original prediction was that no African team would
make the quarter finals, and I later augmented it by
saying that no African team may reach Round Two. Even
though I changed my mind a bit nearer to the
tournament, I was very close to being proved right -
only Richard Morales knows how he missed that header
in the last minute. And there is no doubt that
Senegal were lucky to beat Sweden today to get to the
last eight. But as I have written in the forums, and
indeed wrote at the end of my second article about
Africa ages ago, it is good for football that I was
This has not been the dominant World Cup for Europe
that I thought it would be - at least not yet. And it
has been a better World Cup for it. It is still
possible that six of the eight quarter finalists will
be European, which will keep up the record since 1986,
but it is far more likely that we will be looking at
four or five Europeans, Mexico, Brasil, Senegal and
maybe even an Asian team. Who knows, maybe only
Germany, Spain and England will be flying the UEFA
flag next week?
Now that would make for an unusual World Cup, wouldn't it?
Info on how
the World Cup was founded and about the trophy as well.
on every match in every tournament.
Interesting columns about the past, present and future of the World Cup.
with appearances in the World Cup. Detailed info on every country.
of many of the most influential players in history.
An A-Z collection
of strange and different stories in World Cup history.
A big collection
of various statistics and records.
since it was introduced in 1966.
knowledge about the WC. Three different levels. No prizes, just for fun.
lots of stuff. For instance Best Goals, Best Players and Best Matches.
of links to other soccer sites with World Cup connection.
and buttons for you to link to us if you want.
A little information
on who keeps this site available.