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26 June 2010

World Cup Fever: the Last 16

Tag(s): Sport




As the World Cup reaches the knock out stage how was it for you?


As a long term fan I must express my disappointment with the competition so far for the following reasons. No, not that England has only scraped through.  As I explained in my blog on July 12th at the beginning of the competition it is a delusion that they under perform. They actually perform in line with true potential. Just one more goal in any of the group games would have won us the group and put us in a draw with Ghana, Uruguay and South Korea where we might realistically have expected to get to the Semi Final. Instead we only scored two goals, one of which came off Defoe’s shin. We therefore went into the draw with Germany, Argentina and Mexico.


No my disappointment came from the following issues, mostly in the hands of the organisers.


  • The ball. In case FIFA have n’t realised football is a ball game. If you have ever kicked a beach ball you know how difficult it is to control and to keep down. So why did they authorise a beach ball. Because they get loads of money from the sponsor, that's why. When I was at Pentland one of the brands for which I was responsible was Mitre, manufacturers of the world’s best football. We could demonstrate this and enlightened football organisations adopted our ball as a result. But others preferred to take the higher sponsorship fees from our competitors. The 1996 European Nations Cup final between Germany and the Czech Republic was played at Wembley with a ball from the same supplier as the one in the present World Cup. In the old days teams played a football match with one ball. If it went into the crowd it had to come back before the game could be resumed. To speed the game up FIFA decreed that matches would be played with 8 balls so that a ball boy would instantly throw one in when another went out. Now this requires that all 8 balls are exactly the same weight otherwise players will never get used to the ball and will miscue their passes and shots. But Mitre experts told me that they got hold of two balls after the match one of which was severely underweight and the other severely over weight, both balls being illegal!

The designer of the current ball defends it on the ground that no player can reproduce the exact same shot while his robot can. If he thinks football is a game for robots no wonder he has produced such a ridiculous ball.

  • The pitch, or at least the one at Port Elizabeth where England struggled through against Slovenia. Gerrard and Rooney both missed simple chances but I believe they were affected by the horrible state of the pitch which at half time was covered in divots which were not repaired during the interval!
  • The noise. The vuvuzelas are awful and should have been banned. Sport will be ruined if this is allowed to spread. In football it is important for players to hear each other. When I played we always said that if we were n't playing well we needed to talk more. Because we don’t have eyes in the back of our heads our teammates help us through the game. “Man on”, “Time”, “Turn” will all be familiar short hand instructions from teammates. Our college goalkeeper was also captain and on catching the ball at a corner would shout “Out Browns!” (We played in brown) to turn defence into immediate attack. I once saw Ryan Giggs at the start of his career win a semi final for Manchester United because his captain, Bryan Robson coached him from midfield through the entire second half.
  • The referees. Or at least some of them. The World Cup deserves the world's best referees. If that is what we are seeing then the thousands of other referees must be a useless bunch. The inconsistency, the lack of understanding, the failure to let the game run, the red cards for minor challenges while wholesale Graeco-Roman wrestling goes unpunished in the penalty box. The worst was the one from Mali who disallowed a perfectly good winning goal by the USA against Slovenia. If he decided not to award it he should have awarded at least two penalties as two Slovenian defenders were wrestling two of the American forwards to the ground. But another American forward was unmarked and scored a good goal.
  • The Europeans. Only 6 of 13 European nations have gone through. Several have failed to live up to their ranking. Italy, the holders ranked 4th in the world, went out without winning a match. So did France, the last runners up and ranked 10th. Greece ranked 12th and Serbia ranked 16th also have gone home. Only Holland has won all three games in advancing smoothly. Spain and Germany managed to win their groups while each suffering a surprise defeat. England underestimated the strength of their group. Many commentators described it as an easy draw but if we ascribe a numerical value equivalent to the FIFA ranking then England’s group was the second hardest group after Germany’s. The easiest was Italy’s but they still came bottom. The so-called Group of Death, Group G was the second easiest and so it proved as Brazil and Portugal advanced comfortably. On this performance the Europeans can have no complaints about the number of places they receive in the finals.
  • The Africans. Only 1 of 6 African nations, Ghana, has got through, even though this was the so called African World Cup. 3 African countries came bottom of their group without winning a game. The Africans have disappointed ever since Pele said an African nation would win by 2000. None has yet got to a semi final and that is unlikely to change this time. On this basis their 6 places look generous.


By contrast the South Americans have performed very well. All 5 of their qualifiers are through to the last 16 and 4 headed their groups. We expect this of Brazil and Argentina but Uruguay in France’s group and Paraguay in Italy’s group have put the old countries in their place. I think the reason is that the South American qualifying competition is much tougher and involves playing all the other countries on the continent home and away. More matches means more time together as a team and the organisation of all of these teams is good. On this basis they have a claim for at least one more country to be admitted. And congratulations to New Zealand who ranked 78th in the world go home without having lost a match.


So who will win? Well, I’m still not going to say although I think my pointers in my earlier blog have proved valid. But I also think there will be a few more twists and turns yet.


Copyright David C Pearson 2010 All rights reserved

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