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
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Remember how it dominated your life for a month? How you risked being sacked at work for following Japan and Australia online? Rushing home to catch France and Switzerland only for it to produce a tedious nil-nil draw? Wondering how history can keep repeating itself as England fail on penalties where the Germans succeed? How bad were the days following Fabio Grosso’s Cup-winning penalty, and the gnawing realisation that the party was over for another four years?
The World Cup of 2006 in Germany has now passed into the annals of history. How will she be judged? Well, the goal average was lower than any tournament other than Italia 90. The Golden Boot winner required only five goals to secure the prize, the lowest amount for 44 years. The sum total of goals from the seven games provided by the quarterfinals, semifinals and final was a miserable eleven. The Final started well with two quick goals but stank to high heaven as the remaining one hundred minutes crept tediously towards the inevitable penalty shoot-out. For games in general none were outstanding and Switzerland versus the Ukraine is the worst game I’ve ever seen in an international tournament. There were seven goalless draws in all, equalling the record of 1982, but at least that gave us the classic series between Brazil, Italy and Argentina and the epic semi-final between France and West Germany.
All in all it was not a great tournament, the second poor showing in a row, with the magic on which they sell the tournament off the back of notable by its absence. You may have a personal highlight if say you reside in Ecuador or Ghana but in general the old tournament spectacularly failed to live up to the preceding hype. What has happened? Was I spoilt by Mexico 86? Will it never be that good again?
Brazil are the team most people in the world pin their hopes on to lift things out of the ordinary, yet they had a dreadful World Cup. Ronaldinho failed to shine, Kaka flitted in and out and the forwards were, simply, a disgrace. Parreira knew his best team was on the bench but he cowed down to whatever absurd political machinations go on regarding team selection in their camp and left it there. They let themselves down. They let us down.
The new fashion of playing 4-5-1 also sucked the joy out of the tournament. This is the new breed of anti-football, throwing itself at the altar inscribed ‘Thou shalt not concede a goal’. We all know results are paramount, and that some teams need to bridge gulfs in class by swamping the midfield and working hard, but come on. Do some nations believe in their footballers that little that they’d prefer to keep it tight and chance their arm from set-pieces or on penalties?
This trend is epidemic in club football, even for teams with blank cheques like Chelsea. If you play Championship Manager you would use such a privilege to build a wondrous attacking team that blasts the opposition off the park by three or four goals, yet Mourinho obsessively builds his teams in the mould of the dour Internazionale teams of the Sixties. There is no sign of this sick experiment ending until at least one Champions League trophy resides at Stamford Bridge. Like the obsessive gambler who walks up to the fruit machine with two hundred pound coins to drop a fifty pound jackpot, the cost is irrelevant.
That however is club footballs’ problem. The fact that it is creeping into the World Cup is disappointing, and the tournament in general is at a worrying crossroads. Will the 2010 mundiale even be in South Africa or will as is feared the tournament be relocated for economic reasons to some ripe market like America, Australia or the Far East? Does it matter where it is if the goals dry up even further?
The legend of the World Cup is built on incredible moments seen the world over that become ingrained in our memories. When the television age began it gave us the grainy images of Pele and Garrincha in 1958 and 1962, through to Geoff Hurst’s hat-trick before Carlos Alberto’s thunderbolt in 1970 blasted the World Cup into the Technicolor age. Since that landmark World Cup the likes of Cruyff’s total footballers, Kempes, Maradona, Baggio, Romario et al have kept the magic alive at four-yearly intervals. Four years ago the return from the brink of Ronaldo just about provided a memorable story from that turgid World Cup in Japan and Korea. What can we take from 2006? There are just two things I can think of.
Firstly, that goal. You know the one – twenty-four passes, through ten players, they use no more than three touches each and it ends with a back-heeled one-two thumped into the roof of the net by Esteban Cambiasso. That second goal in Argentina’s rout of Serbia and Montenegro might well by the greatest goal scored in the history of the competition. As a team goal I’ve never seen anything like it. For three and a half of their five games Argentina were breathtaking before self-destructing with over-confident substitutions against the hosts Germany. They were so close – they could have been Brazil 70. They were Brazil 82. And now as then such a harrowing defeat will no doubt trigger a retreat into more defensive, pragmatic style of play. Pekerman walked, Riquelme has retired and the most entertaining team to play in the World Cup for twenty years is no more.
Secondly, that player. Zinedine Zidane was in a malaise for the first round of the World Cup, sparkling intermittently in an average French team that drew with Switzerland and South Korea, he was suspended as they eked through against Togo. Many predicted that Dommenech would leave him out; Spanish newspaper Marca bragged that they would cement Zidane’s retirement by knocking France out in the second round.
In the twelve days between that match and the final Zizou raised his game one last time, reviving his team whilst simultaneously propelling himself into the upper echelon of the World Cups greatest players. He scored the final goal that hammered the nail in the coffin of another false dawn for Spain before turning in the best individual display of the summer against Brazil. This confirmed the comeback – the quick feet were there, the control, the balance, that grace of movement and he arced a perfect free-kick onto the foot of Thierry Henry for the winning goal. Brazil were chasing shadows as they were in the 1998 Final that Zidane made his own, two performances that will now book-end his amazing World Cup career. How they must hate him in Rio and Sao Paulo.
His penalty against Portugal put France in the final and another nonchalant effort from the spot in Berlin after seven minutes put his team one-nil up against Italy and made him only the fourth man to score in two finals. We all know what happened from there – Materazzi equalized and later made some comment that enraged Zidane so much that he nutted the Azzurri centre-half to the floor by way of retribution. Deservedly sent-off, it had no affect on the result but many feared that this would ruin Zidane’s standing in the game.
Rubbish. Maradona’s World Cup career began with a sending off in Barcelona and ended with a failed drugs test in the United States but I defy anyone to tell me that their abiding image of Diego isn’t that glorious Mexican summer twenty years ago when he played football from another planet, or that purple patch in Naples where he briefly but brilliantly wrestled control of Italian football away from Milan, Inter and Juventus. Take your pick with Zidane – it could be the Champions League winning volley or the sheer brilliance of his displays at Euro 2000. As far as the World Cup is concerned, making the supposed masters of the game in yellow shirts dance to his tune in Paris and Frankfurt are two of the abiding memories of recent World Cups. Who cares how it ended. I hope he enjoys his retirement, he will be sorely missed. What will happen to the World Cup without him and teams like Argentina is anyone’s guess.
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