Mike Gibbons

Mike Gibbons is an aspiring young journalist from the UK who has followed the World Cup with passion from an early age. He will share his views about the past, present and future of this event.

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German efficiency and Italian spilt milk

    So the party is over for South Korea, and it would appear that the Germans are back. Rumours of their death have been greatly exaggerated, and on Sunday they will contest their sixth final in the last ten tournaments. Efficient is normally the word attributed to the Germans. Awesome is probably nearer the mark. An absolutely staggering record, although they must be fairly grateful to South Korea this year for eliminating their pre-tournament rivals Portugal, Italy and Spain from their side of the draw for them. The Germans have done it yet again – no stars, everyone is saying, although Oliver Kahn seems superhuman, the best performance by a goalkeeper at the finals since Goycoechea’s heroics for Argentina at Italia 90. Once again the team is the star. Everyone praises Ireland to the hilt for their team spirit but really it is the Germans who have it worked out, displacing glorious failure with sustained success. Thus far, thanks largely to Kahn, they have conceded one goal to Ireland’s Robbie Keane, and he very nearly saved that.

    Well, it couldn’t go on forever could it? The bubble finally burst today as a team hitting heroically above its weight was finally knocked out of the tournament. Perhaps today was just one fantasy to far for the Koreans, although after beating Portugal, Italy and Spain consecutively, you are entitled to dream a little longer. They have been the revelation of the tournament, and brilliantly supported along the way. All their fans ever did was hope they could win, removing the huge burden of expectation normally attached to the host nation. They still have third place to play for, and already have the honour of putting in the best performance by an Asian team ever.

    So, pats on the back all round? Doubtful. Thanks to the pathetic whining of many of the teams they have dislodged along the way, their endeavours may yet be tainted in the manner that Argentine victory was in 1978, as allegations of match fixing come flying in from all over southern Europe. It’s time to clear this up once and for all. The reason Italy, Portugal and Spain are out of the World Cup is entirely down to them.

    Firstly, the Portuguese. They arrived at the tournament all swaggering and nonchalant, reveling in being tipped as one of the favourites. They stepped on to the pitch expecting to roll over the Americans with miniscule amount of effort, and paid the ultimate price. They were certainly not the last team in the tournament to have their pants pulled down by the USA, but they were the first and it was embarrassing.

    After regathering to brush aside Poland in a downpour, they were expected to do the necessary against South Korea to get through. They could surely not have counted on Joao Pinto’s decision to launch himself into the worst tackle of the tournament (sorry Thierry Henry, another prize you won’t win) and put his team on the back foot so early on. The second sending off, shown at full speed and not after a hundred replays slowed down to a speed where only the rotation of the earth makes it go forwards, was justified as well. One swift goal of the tournament contender later and they were gone. Sure they hit the inside of the post, but that’s just bad luck. The damage had been done against the Americans and Portugal, without the great Figo ever at full throttle, were sent packing.

    And the Spanish? Well, I do have some sympathy with Spain. Two good goals chalked off, but the referee had blown the whistle very early on both occasions, causing goalkeeper Lee Woon-jae to stop and let the ball drift into the net, allowing him and his team time to reorganise. Even the Morientes header was a token effort by the man himself, although the decision by the linesman was admittedly ludicrous. But rigged? Come on, we know it isn’t that. They missed Raul and we all know it. Also, both teams looked leaden-footed after extra-time heart-stoppers in the previous round, it was one of the scrappiest games of the tournament. The quarterfinal yet again was the stumbling block for Spain, they never looked as if they had the self-belief to repeat the penalty success against Ireland. I think the reason most people jump on the match fixing bandwagon was because it was so soon after the game in the previous round against whingers in chief, the Italians.

    I have no sympathy at all with Italy and all the crying and moaning about injustice from now until the end of time will not make it different. They blame FIFA. They blame South Korea. The president of Perugia makes his pathetic comments about Ahn Jung-hwan (so pathetic that far from being insulting, they’re actually quite funny). They blame everyone but themselves. Whenever you point the finger, you have always got three pointing back at you.

    Their entire squad, packed with star names that light up Serie A, woefully under performed, with the exception only of Christian Vieri, who for the second World Cup in a row was left to carry the team on his shoulders. Their much hyped defence, which I thought would win them the tournament, let them down when they needed it most.

    Their whining starts with the Croatia match, where they seem to have swallowed the same arrogance pills as used by France and Portugal before them. Yes, Vieri had a goal unfairly chalked off, but they were still one up and in control before Paolo Maldini had a mad five minutes where he forgot how to defend and Croatia turned it around. Totti hit the post with a brilliant free kick and sulked about it for the rest of the tournament. And the final ‘goal’ – well, if you don’t think Inzaghi was pulling his marker’s shirt outside and inside the box first and all through that move you are, in the words of Blackadder, either lying, blind or mad.

    They dodged a bullet against Mexico, who outplayed them, but put in their first decent performance for eighty-nine minutes against South Korea. Then their legendary defence deserted them again for the equaliser (what was Panucci doing?), and then the controversy.

    Totti dived. It is as simple as that. Everyone who watches European football knows he falls over at the sight of a boot and, finally, we had a referee prepared to crack down on ‘simulation’, or diving as it is known to the layman. It was his second bookable offence and he had to go, there is no grey area here. Frankly, it was nice to see a referee prepared to take action against a big time player, when so many shrink before them. Totti is a brilliant footballer, he does not need to do that. Maybe this incident will make him think about that, although I doubt it. All players dive – Beckham, Owen, Figo, Zidane, Ronaldo, Rivaldo you name them – the only way to stop them is to pull them up on it.

    And the Tomassi ‘goal’ was a borderline decision as well, sometimes you get them, sometimes you don’t, and he was only through on goal, he had not scored before play was stopped – he had actually gone quite far wide of the goal. Until a serious debate is raised about video replay technology then close offside calls are the flip of a coin, but secret meetings between FIFA officials and linesmen, brown envelopes stuffed full of cash? It might make a good book. Back to reality, When Ahn Jung-hwan rose to head in the golden goal that broke the bitter old heart of Luciano Gaucci, he sent packing a team of superstars who had played a poor tournament. End of story, end of World Cup.

    Not for the Italian media though, convinced that the Azzuri were robbed and vehement in their disgust. Two things here – firstly, can anyone connected with Italian football throw allegations of bribery around without it looking like the pot calling the kettle black? And secondly, selective memory is a wonderful thing. Think back to Italy’s run in USA 94. Nigeria were one goal up with not long left when Rashidi Yekini skinned Paolo Maldini, leaving the AC Milan star no choice but to drag him down. Even though he was clearly the last man, the referee only showed him a yellow card. Italy turned it around to win. 2-1 to the good against Spain in the quarters with minutes remaining, Tassotti smashed his elbow in to the face of Luis Enrique in the Italian penalty area. That would have been a penalty and a sending off, but neither the linesman nor referee saw it, and although Tassotti was later banned, Italy progressed. In the semi-final against Bulgaria, Stoichkov and his team were denied a blatant penalty for handball in the second half when chasing an equaliser. The linesman, ten yards from the incident, kept his flag down.

    If the Italian media want to throw stones, they should check that they don’t live in a glass house first. No amount of X Files nonsense will cover up the fact that the Italians, like the French, Portuguese and Argentinians before them, just didn’t perform, and for that they only have themselves to blame.



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