My top five moments from World Cup 2010

While the football itself might have been below par, there was still plenty to savour from the past month in South Africa.

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

What will be our abiding memory of the 2010 World Cup? The deafening drone of the vuvuzelas, the Jabulani ball continually ballooning into row Z, the France squad farcically imploding, England’s über-flops playing like a pub team, or a grim-faced Howard Webb trying to keep control of the Final. The tournament might not be remembered for high quality football but here are my top five memories of South Africa 2010.

Beautiful football redefined. Spain’s triumph has been widely heralded as a victory for beautiful football. Now I’ve never swallowed the nonsense that Brazilian-style samba football is somehow morally superior. There are no points for artistic merit. But to describe Spain as beautiful is to redefine the meaning of the word beyond all recognition. Spain are not a modern incarnation of Brazil of 1970, less still the heirs to Dutch totaalvoetball. They were the best team in South Africa but were far from free-scoring. Eight goals in the entire tournament: it’s hardly champagne football is it? I guess we can marvel over the economy of their victories. Why score two when one will do? The logic is impeccably Mourinho-esque. And there’s the rub. Spain won the World Cup, not because they scored goals for fun but because they had the meanest defence. They conceded just two goals in seven games. If Italy had retained the title by grinding out a succession of 1-0 wins everyone would have been moaning about their negative tactics. But as it was Spain, their acolytes claimed it was their pretty tiki taka passing game wot won it. Wake up and smell the café con leche. Spain won because they didn’t concede goals. George Graham’s Arsenal would have been proud.

Stereotypes subverted. As I wrote on spiked recently, a defining feature of this tournament was the way so many teams didn’t conform to their national stereotypes. Germany didn’t grind out results but played with flair and adventure. Brazil were pragmatic and unflamboyant. Italy were defensively shambolic and blamed themselves rather than resorting to conspiracy theories. Ghana showed that African teams aren’t undisciplined and naïve. The Dutch swapped artistry for total anti-football. And of course the Spanish finally dispelled their reputation as big tournament underperformers. If you were unsettled by the rampant stereotype debunking then at least the English remained a reassuring constant. Now that the Spanish have learnt the art of tournament football, England are the undisputed champions of choking.

The madness of King Diego. Argentina came into the tournament as an unknown quantity. Despite boasting an array of attacking talent that no other nation could match, their qualifying campaign had been a near disaster. As a footballer Diego Maradona was a genius. No question. However, his management career had been hitherto undistinguished. Maradona’s decision to leave the experienced Inter pair Esteban Cambiasso and Javier Zanetti out of the Argentina squad was inexplicable. Selecting Newcastle winger Jonas Gutierrez to play at right back was equally bizarre. But our reservations about Maradona’s managerial skills were soon forgotten as Argentina cruised through the group stage with a combination of slick passing and adventurous attacking – not to mention the coach’s touchline histrionics and legendary press conferences. Could there be method in Maradona’s madness? Could a man with no obvious coaching ability possibly inspire a team to World Cup glory solely by the force of his iconic personality? In short, no. Maradona’s tactical naivety and his team’s defensive shortcomings were brutally exposed by Germany. Never mind. It was fun while it lasted.

The graveyard of reputations. It wasn’t just England who flopped. France and Italy crashed out at the group stage. And Brazil, many people’s favourites, fell apart against a well-organised but unexceptional Dutch side. Fabio Capello’s reputation as one of the world’s best coaches took a battering. And what happened to the superstar players? This was a tournament in which many of the big names underperformed. Lionel Messi briefly lit up the World Cup. But Rooney, Ronaldo, Ribery, Cannavaro, Kaka, Torres and Drogba all went AWOL. Most of the stars of Nike’s ‘Write the Future’ TV ad had a stinker. No-one could have predicted that Diego Forlan would have walked off with the Fifa player of the tournament award. Injuries played a part – Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba weren’t fit. The rigours of club football have also been blamed. Too many big name players appeared tired and burnt out. But maybe there’s a simpler explanation. The quality that distinguishes great footballers from those who are merely good is psychological strength. They have the knack of being able to raise their game on the biggest stage. The fact that too many of our most celebrated players seemed cowed by the occasion suggests to me that we have canonised them prematurely.

Psychic animals were the real stars. As the star footballers underperformed, the biggest star of the tournament was undoubtedly Paul the psychic octopus. His tally of seven correct predictions was unrivalled by man or beast. A whole host of Johnny Come Lately psychic animals tried to muscle in on Paul’s act. There was Mani, a Singaporean parakeet, Anton, a marmoset in Chemnitz zoo, a porcupine called Leon, Pino, an Estonia-based chimpanzee and Harry, an Australian crocodile. However, these pretenders were soon discredited when their predictions were proved wrong. Paul resides in a zoo in Germany but he was born in Weymouth. What does that tell you? The fact that Oberhausen’s most famous resident is a foreign import speaks volumes for Germany’s failure to develop its own homegrown clairvoyant molluscs. English footballers are serial chokers but our psychic sea creatures are world beaters.

Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist.

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