Soccer: Top 10 disappointments of the World Cup

By Winston Aldworth

Golden boy Cristiano Ronaldo prepares to take a free kick in the Nike Football Write The Future advertisement for the FIFA World Cup 2010. Photo / Supplied
Golden boy Cristiano Ronaldo prepares to take a free kick in the Nike Football Write The Future advertisement for the FIFA World Cup 2010. Photo / Supplied

ONE - The fall of Maradona

The rise was great, but just as Diego Maradona had won over the world, with his wild-eyed, unschooled approach to running a World Cup campaign, the wheels came off. Germany reminded us that, actually, sticking a bunch of talented blokes on the field and crossing your fingers wasn't enough. It turns out you need a bit of a plan and some structure and - Crusaders-based cliche alert! - a champion team will always beat a team of champions.

"It's done, my chapter has ended," Maradona said, after Germany's resounding 4-0 win in the quarter-finals. "I gave everything I had."

But look at the bright side: the world was spared the sight of El Diego running naked through the streets of Buenos Aires as he promised to do if they had won.

TWO - Vuvuzelas

The thing about a vuvu-P A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R P-originality whatsoever. And when th-P A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R R P. Oh just shut that thing up!

THREE - Moaning about the Jabulani

You can forgive the laymen for muttering that there's just no pleasing some people when highly paid soccer players complain that the ball is too round. That's right: a soccer ball that's too round.

Oddly enough, the teams that have progressed furthest in the tournament are the ones who have played and practised with the accursed Jabulani the most. The roundness of the thing didn't seem to bother Dutch captain Giovanni von Bronckhorst too much in the semifinal against Uruguay when he smashed the thing into the back of the net from 37 metres out. Nor did it greatly trouble Germany in their three four-goal victories.

FOUR - Moaning about Holland

Unsure of what to say around the watercooler to sound knowledgable about the tournament? Afraid of revealing your ignorance by asking how the offside rule works? Never mind: simply lament the fact that the Dutch don't dress like hippies and no longer play Total Football.

Holland don't faff around on the ball like Spain - they work possession progressively up the park then ping it into the box, much like Germany. And with similar effect. They pack two potent defensive midfielders, thus freeing up a four-man attacking phalanx, which is four more attackers than the All Whites poured forward in the final moments against Paraguay.

Less beautiful than Cruyff and Co? Probably. More pragmatic? Absolutely. Today's Dutchmen leave fewer holes at the back and have the goods to achieve where their fabled predecessors failed. They can win the World Cup.

FIVE - Nike's legion of mega-flops

Not content with cultivating a reputation for making shoes in sweatshops, the swoosh-branded breadheads have given us what threatens to be the defining image of Wayne Rooney's career: a barely employable bum, eating beans out of a can and wondering at what might have been.

At least Rooney is young enough to have a chance to redeem his reputation when Brazil host the big show in 2014. But Italian captain Fabian Cannavaro departs the international stage after three weeks of flopping around clutching his shin and play-acting (see below), Didier Drogba heads home without firing a shot and Cristiano Ronaldo's two contributions to the tournament were a tap-in against North Korea and a tabloid story about him having a love child.

Just dud it.

SIX - The French

Frank Ribery - smart enough to sign a new deal with Bayem Munich before the World Cup - is another of Nike's big-monied flops.

But when standing among the ranks of the French World Cup team smoking Gauloises and being surly, he is merely one among a horde of disappointments.

This was a French team so miserable, so scowling, so petulant and so inept that they even took away the fun the non-French world traditionally has watching the French implode. We just wanted them gone.

A campaign of disillusionment and disgrace began with Thierry Henry's outstanding piece of Gallic cheatery against Ireland. With a handball, an insouciant shrug and a middle finger raised to the right-thinking world, Les Bleus were on the plane for South Africa.

At the tournament proper the players went on strike, refusing to train just a couple of days before a match - and judging from their performance in the 0-2 loss to Mexico, it's possible that they were on strike on the pitch.

With the likes of Ribery, Henry, Yoann Gourcuff and Patrice Evra, they've got some of the most talented players in the world. In Raymond Domenech, they have perhaps the tournament's worst coach.

SEVEN - Fernando Torres

Worried about those rumours of another global economic kablooey? Afraid there won't be enough cold hard roubles circulating to keep the world's finances fiscal?

Fear not! Chelsea's mega-rouble owner Roman Abramovich is back to his cheque-book waving best, offering Liverpool $107 million - that's more than two party centrals - for Spain's misfiring frontman Fernando Torres.

The closest Torres has come to a goal was when his frantic arm-waving was coldly ignored by the unimaginatively monikered Pedro, who having nabbed Torres' place in the starting line up denied him a chance to open his World Cup account - or fluff a sitter.

But Torres has no one to blame but himself (and an overly long injury-plagued season with malfunctioning Liverpool) for his poor form.

And as if his own form wasn't disappointing enough, Spain's persistence in keeping a formation that allows a place for Torres up front has meant that the genius Cesc Fabregas has had to comfort himself with the knowledge that he's been the most talented benchwarmer at the World Cup.

It's worth wondering how much more Abramovich would be willing to pay had Torres actually scored.

EIGHT - Diving

Luis Suarez will be forever remembered as the great cheat of 2010. His goal-line clearance against Ghana got Uruguay into the semifinals and etched his name in infamy. In truth, plenty of players around the world would do the same thing, even at the lowest levels - and they'd cheerily admit to it.

What's forgotten is that the free-kick that led to the Suarez "save" was won by a pretty shameless bit of diving from a Ghanaian player.

So which is worse? Deliberately deceiving the ref to get a chance at goal or openly breaching the hand-ball rule (well aware you'd get a red card) to deny the resulting goal?

In a tournament where deep-lying defences made it tough to break into the six-yard box, diving was the order of the day.

NINE - Danielle de Rossi

There are teetering blocks of pre-Raphaelite marble wobbling atop rotten balsa-wood panelling out the back end of Roman building sites that have a greater will to remain upright than the Italian midfielder displayed entering the All Whites' penalty area.

Danielle de Rossi's bare-faced, turf-eating plunge set back the cause of soccer in New Zealand a decade or so. There's no way armchair sports fans who take for granted the fact that Warriors, Blues and All Blacks will cheerfully tape themselves back together and charge back into the fray after near-fatal assaults on the field will get their heads around a game where Latin blokes claim pyrrhic victory by feigning mortal injury after receiving the lightest of taps.

What de Rossi needs is a long chat with Colin Meads (took to the field with a broken arm) and Red Conway (chopped off his finger in order to be available for selection).

Even a few words with Kevin Locke could be in order.

Injustice of injustices, de Rossi was named man of the match by Fifa.

TEN - The English

As the English sports press love their war metaphors, it's worth wondering if ever on a World Cup field has so much been over-promised by so many players with so few redeeming features. If South Africa 2010 confirmed one thing about World Cup hoodoos, it's that the one hanging around the neck of the England soccer team is a leaden weight that makes the All Blacks' anchor look like an elegant trinket.

A team that roared on all cylinders in qualifying, and arrived at the tournament roared on by one of the world of sport's great passionate populations hit the ground all run out.

The FA's inability to convert the Premier League's global pre-eminence into something approaching a title contender at major tournaments remains one of the wonders of modern sport.

Their defence was disorganised, with the one regular feature, John Terry, playing like a drain when it mattered most. While other teams were happy to chop and change between formations that featured three at the back or four and mixed their depth in midfield and striking options, England clung to a rigid and witless 4-4-2 long past closing time.

- NZ Herald

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