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
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The Legend of Europa
According to legend, Europa was the mother of Minos,
Lord of Crete. She was a princess, destined to wander
the shores of Phoenicia with her handmaidens, until
one day she was seduced by Zeus and tricked into
leaving Asia. She travelled across the Mediterranean
and established civilisation in a rocky outcrop at the
end of a massive landmass. And so Europe was born,
and came to dominate the world for millennia. Who
would have thought that nearly ten thousand years
after the legend was written, Asia would rise again to
defeat it? Well done Korea.
The most significant result of this World Cup of
shocks could well have come today. Italy, the masters
of European defence, were humbled by an Asian team
that stared them down, then clearly defeated them.
Forget Senegal beating France - the laws of world
football were truly overturned by the magic of Korea.
For Italy, the famous Azurri, three times World
Champions, to lose to Korea who until this month had
never won a game at the finals, is immeasurable. You
expect England to be capable of beating Argentina, or
Mexico of beating Croatia - these are games between
well matched teams. But Italy losing to Korea?
Korea? After being one goal ahead, with minutes left?
No, it could never happen...
That it did, and that Italy were not cheated - or even
unlucky - tells us how bad this tournament has been
for Europe. Already we (that is the European 'we')
have lost Poland, Portugal, Slovenija, Russia,
Ireland, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Croatia and France
- our champions and standard bearers. Now we can add
Italy to that tale of woe. Only England, Spain,
Turkey and Germany remain. Turkey is not even
geographically in Europe, so to be pedantic there are
only three left. What is going on?
If someone had told me before the tournament that only
four European teams would be playing in the quarter
finals I would have thought them a fool. How could
only four out of fifteen make it? Since they returned
in 1986 Europe have dominated the quarter finals -
five competed in 1986, six in 1990, and an imposing
seven in 1994. Even in 1998, six of the eight quarter
finalists were European, so to fall to four this year
is a massive failure. Of course it is indicative of
ever increasing worldwide standards, and much of this
is a result of European clubs buying up the best
players from all around the world then exposing them
to European training and tactics. Simply put, Europe
has made the best Korean, American and Senegalese
players even better. Now it is coming back to haunt
And please don't get me wrong. I do not believe that
European teams have some god given right to be
successful or to reach the quarter finals. That would
be utter nonsense - few European teams have ever
deserved success less than Slovenija, Poland, Portugal
or France. Instead I am writing this because I cannot
comprehend what is happening. I cannot really work
out if we are just seeing a series of massive flukes
and coincidences, or if the power balance is shifting.
Deep down I believe that it is the first, that this
is a fluke. But I cannot be sure - not anymore.
Why do I think this? Because European countries have
so much money, can devote so many resources to
training and development that they have to come back.
Of course African, Asian and North American football
is closing the gap with Europe all the time. For all
intents and purposes they have already caught up with
South America bar Brasil and Argentina, but I don't
think we will ever see the day that the likes of
Zidane and Figo are playing for Kaiser Chiefs or
Hearts of Oak. And until that happens, until the
world's top players start to ply their trades outside
Europe, we will never see Europe truly overtaken.
Europe does not necessarily have all the most gifted
players, but they do still have a large number of
them. The likes of Figo, Zidane, Owen, Henry, Maldini
and Raul have not suddenly become bad players
overnight. In four years time we will probably be
wondering what all the fuss was about, when back on
home territory the Europeans dominate. But failure
makes you retrospective and makes you look for
answers. Europe is failing at the minute, and I want
to know why.
Nonetheless, I am not too disturbed. First of all the
tournament has been all the better for the shocks.
Nonsense from Beckenbauer and others that say this
World Cup is undervalued should not have been said or
reported. How can anyone say that the attacking
Koreans devalue the World Cup by knocking out such a
defensive Italian team? Italy got what they deserved.
They settled for 1:0 and sat back for over an hour.
Once Korea got back into the game the Italians found
it much too hard to go back up through the gears, so
many of the team were happy to play for penalties.
And what happened? Korea won. Of course Italy still
attacked, but it was Korea who controlled the play in
Extra Time. Had the Italians searched for a second
goal in normal time instead of just restricting Korean
attempts, they would have done it. Maldini, Vieri and
Buffon deserved more, but that is football. The
valiant prosper, those who sit back often do not.
Maybe now Italy will learn...
Still there is also another reason why I am not too
worried. As a European, I like to see European teams
win things. I would rather see Turkey or Spain win
the title than Senegal or Brasil, and my feelings
about Germany and England are already well documented
on this site. And this is why I am not too worried.
I really do think we are still going to see a European
winner this year. And I do not think that Spain or
Turkey are going to win anything. If England can beat
Brasil - and it is still a big if - then they will be
so full of confidence it will be hard to see anyone
beating them. Except that is for the true home of
European football, the team we all have to beat to
truly prove how good we are, regardless of how good
they are at the moment. Europe's football superpower:
the Bundesrepublik Deutschland.
Germany are still in there. Who else but the Germans
could have come to the World Cup missing several key
players - Schöll, Deisler, Ramelow - on the back of
defeats to England and Argentina, and still batter a
team 8:0 in their opening match? Who else could have
reached the quarter finals at a canter, while everyone
was writing them off? And who else has such a hold
over the English, regardless of the 5:1 last year?
Could England really beat Germany in such a big game?
Since 1966 the Germans have stopped England four times
at the World Cup and European Championships - each
time in massive, decisive games. The only time
England has won was in a pretty meaningless game at
Euro 2000 when both teams went out anyway. The 5:1
result was a fluke. This does not mean that England
did not deserve to win, because no one can deny that
they did, but England are not four goals better than
Germany. They never have been, and never will be. No
one will. You cannot count out any German team,
especially this one shorn of its' 'stars'. That is
something the English have learned to our cost, and is
something the USA and Spain are about to find out.
Germany and Brasil have never met at the World Cup,
and the final is the first chance they can do that
this year. I for one would not be surprised to see
them finally end this irregularity on June 30. And
should that happen, I would be pretty sure that
Germany would mark the occasion with a win. They play
as the ultimate team, defensively solid yet still full
of goals. They have no stars, but do not suffer for
it. Why should they, the team is the 'star'.
It is eight-all between Europe and South America in
World Cup victories. Given the terrible time many
European teams have had these past few weeks, you
might be sensible to expect another South American
victory. But with the Germans around you can never do
The legend of Europa can happily march on - I hope.
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