Matthew Monk

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 this event.

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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 us.

    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 that.

The legend of Europa can happily march on - I hope.



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