Sunday, July 04, 2010

The World cup is over, except for that last formality in deciding who is the best team

Wesley Sneijder, Brazil's most hated man
Friday and Saturday were for all practical purpose the end of the World Cup.  True, there is that final matter in deciding who is the best team, but we can already take in all the lessons of this South African edition.

Best continent

South America (or the Americas?).  In the final 8 we had 4 South American teams, all of the qualifying team but Chile.  Asia was out, Africa could only send one.  And if Europe sent three they were after yesterday, clearly, the three best teams in the world.  That is, you can be the best continent but that does not mean you own the best team.  Those are still in Europe, like it or not.

Biggest disappointment

Africa.  We have been sold the idea that Africa football was on the rise, that the World Cup should go to Africa before it went back to South America, etc, etc...   But the fact of the matter is that Ghana alone was a world class team; all the other were, well, I prefer not to say.  Asia, or at least its Far East part, seem to have a better future than Africa.  Whether we like it, being able to afford to establish local serious professional leagues is a must to eventually own a great team and, unfairly perhaps, no African Country can still do so and all depend too much on sending a player here and there to the European leagues.  At least 8 more years to see a threatening Africa.

Most delicious moment (for me!)

The exit of Brazil at the hands of the Netherlands.  I have had always a soft spot for the Netherlands, for some obscure emotional reason dating from old world cups when as a kid I watched the Netherlands bite the dust twice at a final game.  When France is not playing my sympathies were always for the dutch if they were still alive.  If to this I add that I always root against Brazil (and Italy), you can imagine that the victory of the Netherlands over Brazil was the sweetest moment for me, with the added bonus of getting rid of the Kaka prissy kid.  The short player surprise did not turn out to be Messi after all but Sneijder.  Now I have my favorite for the World Cup final as I assume that the Dutch will overpower the Uruguayans.

Most necessary moment

Germany 4, Argentina 0.  Yes, I know, normally I root for Argentina when France of the Dutch are out.  But this year I could not do so because it was absolutely unethical, totally repulsive to have someone as morally discredited as Maradona on his private life (and political choices) redeem himself by winning a World Cup as a coach.

But that victory also goes far beyond a dislike of Maradona: it also reminds us the difference between star studded teams versus hard-work coherent united teams.  Paraguay and Germany have shown that when everything is said and done, at the end it is the team that plays most unified, less selfishly, that overcomes.  You can have Messi, and Tevez, and Higuain, and Maradona and make a media show at every opportunity  but there will always be an unheralded Muller coming from behind to knock you out, to bring you back to earth.  Argentina team was all fuss and the question is how come it went so far, to be so cruelly exposed as a nothing team by Germany.  4-0!  At this level!  Unbelievable!

There will be loads of analysis on that historic catastrophe for Argentina (very appropriate to the current Argentina Zeitgeist, by the way).  For me it was that Maradona privileged his pals in the team, organizing it so that all of his friends would have a chance to shine and thus "forgetting" to organize all around Messi, the one that could erase his legend.  Messi should have been the unquestioned center of the Argentina team and yet he will leave South Africa as the most painful unfulfilled promise for Argentina.  Argentina joins France and Italy in the serious need to revamp completely its system, to reassess its priorities, its goals and vision.

Most heroic team (or what the World Cup is all about)

Tiny Paraguay did not make it to the final 4.  And yet it succumbed to the favorite, the current European champion, Spain, after a long and difficult struggle where we all thought that Spain would have to earn its pass through a difficult and risky penalty kick series.  In a way the Paraguay football lacks glamour, but it makes for it abundantly through team spirit and utmost resolve.  You may say that, well, Uruguay is small too and made it.  But Uruguay is relatively rich compared to Paraguay and has quite a tradition.  Paraguay, for me, even if it lost against Spain, is the best South American team of this edition.

Le dernier carré

As the French call it, the last square, in heroic memory of "le dernier carré" of the Imperial guard at Waterloo.  But I digress.

Uruguay will face the Netherlands.  Uruguay performance has also been heroic but easier than the other 3 teams (and Paraguay).  I think it went as high as it can ever hope to go and this week the Dutch will put an end to that saga.  We should admire Uruguay's feat but that is it (1).  Though the World Cup has a way to bring unsuspected inner resources........

Germany against Spain is a tough one.  Spain looked like the uncontested favorite and yet its road was difficult, full of self doubt.  Germany gives the impression of having grown through the contest whereas Spain is not growing.  Not bad but not improving.  And yet I think that Germany's nerves will fail after the ecstatic victory over Argentina whereas Spain will be steeled after the harsh contest against Paraguay.

The two teams of the final game?
Thus my prediction is that the final will be played between the Netherlands and Spain, which adds the bonus of probably two of  the best looking teams :)

It does not matter who wins even if my favorite is the Netherlands: both countries deserve very much their turn at carrying the World Cup home.
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1) Chavez has publicly endorsed Brazil and then Argentina bringing his usual bad luck (he also endorsed Venezuela in the softball cup just to see it lose a few hours later).  I guess that Uruguay will be terrified to hear Chavez supporting them.  There was a joke circulating yesterday, that Chavez would call for a cadena where he would wear the Spanish jersey as a way to avenge himself from being shut up by the King a couple of years ago....

18 comments:

  1. Brett9:12 PM

    http://g.sports.yahoo.com/soccer/world-cup/blog/dirty-tackle/post/Maradona-in-post-match-altercation-with-German-f?urn=sow,253409

    Numerous people were waiting to see how Maradona would hold up under adversity. Looks like we have our answer and it's not much of a surprise.

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  2. Boludo Tejano10:16 PM

    Poor old Maradona didn't get a lot of love from the anti-Chavista side of Venezuela, it would appear. Maybe Thugo will hire him as the coach of the Venezuelan team. :)

    Maradona reminds a a bit of the baseball great Babe Ruth. Both were kids from the slums who had an uncanny ability in their sport, were the best in their era and perhaps best of all time.(IMHO, the Babe: definitely yes; Maradona, no). Both had substance abuse problems. Aside from their talent in sports,both were like little brats who never grew up: neither likable nor responsible as adults.

    One difference: the Babe wanted a chance to manage/coach, but was never given the opportunity. He had burned too many bridges. Maradona had that opportunity.

    I doubt he will have the opportunity to again coach the Argentine team. I hope he doesn't, as it pained me to root against Argentina because of its coach.

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  3. Dear Dano:

    Tiny Uruguay is a two time World Cup winner and if we consider the FIFA Olympic tournaments of 1924 and 1928 they are a 4 time World cup winner.
    Granted it has been quite some time since that happened I do have the utmost respect for that "we might not win but we will not loose attitude" of the Uruguay soccer.
    Call it a long shot, hunch, wishful thinking or whatever you want but my chips are on Uruguay over Holland.
    I totally agree with you in regard to Paraguay and we certainly have to thank Paraguay and Spain for giving us the best game of the World Cup up to now... talk about drama and a nerve wrecking game.
    I'll get back to you "Dutchman" after the game on Tuesday.
    Best regards;

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  4. mousqueton

    nice reading you again!

    uruguay could make it then, less people playing football, and less intensely than uruguay.

    times have changed. if you need 5 million people per football star, do the math :)

    this is not to diminish the exploit of uruguay, actually i think that making it to the last four is more difficult today than winning 50 years ago....

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  5. Anonymous1:34 AM

    Uruguay's Suarez had to do what he did for the team's sake to move on. Unfortunately without him Netherlands in paper is set to win.

    Florin the other Uruguay star needs Suarez; alone it will be extremely hard for Florin and his team.

    Looks like the Netherlands against Germany in the Final. The German "Ozil" guy (Sr. Ojo de Sapo) is an amazing team player.

    If the Netherlands goes on to beat Germany, this country would go crazy.

    Hup from Holland

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  6. Milonga11:34 AM

    As you can well imagine, the Cup is not over for us in Uruguay and in no way we think deciding who the best team is just a formality. I want to thank Mousqueton for his support and wishful thinking. Hope he's right and you're wrong, Dano! :) And to you Dutch Anonymous friend: it's not Florin but Forlan. And maybe it's good that Suarez doesn't need to play against his teammates (he is an Ajax hero).

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  7. Germany is always my team. I am on cloud 9 that they murdered Argentina, especially since most of the wife's family are Argentina fans. I always root against Italy, Argentina and Spain. I have a healthy respect for Brazil though.

    To me the bad managment of Argentina was clear in their qualifiers to the cup. People were questioning Maradona's ability to coach back then, and they showed nothing special leading up to the Germany game. Most should have known that when they faced a team with a powerful attack they would crumble.

    Teams like Spain and Germany have played before together, the German team mostly coming from Bayern Munich and 2 other teams, and most having won the younger then 21 cup. Spain having won the Euro Cup with this team and many play together in spanish clubs. This is not true of many european and the big two SA teams like Brazil and Argentina.

    The Spain vs. Germany game will be tough without a doubt. I ofcourse will root for Germany. I don't think Germany will suffer nerves against Spain as you've suggested. These guys have played under pressure before and prevailed, Klose is a veteren, Podolski, while young has been in tough spots before, and the youngesters have been in high level competition and won. It will be a great game for sure, and to me it will be the real world cup championship, as I don't think the dutch will hold up that strong against either.

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  8. Josée1:07 PM

    Sorry Daniel, I’m European like you, but I guess you lost it. Have you overlooked that 2/3 of the teams nowadays in the WC shouldn't even be there (North Korea anybody?). They are there only because of what in US politics would be called gerrymandering, not because of soccer skills. And since when is this a battle of Continents? It's about soccer, mon amie / mein freund, wherever a team is from. I sure hope Chavez' idiocy about 200 or so year old injustices didn't make it into your brain, and somehow connect it with soccer of all things? That would truly be terrible, we like your blog too much.

    And then yes, some of these clearly inferior teams made it to the final 16 and a couple or so even to the quarterfinals. Why? Because:
    - la pelota es redonda
    - terrible refereeing that might just by chance make a very inferior team win in ONE game

    Finally, what do you mean by Holland and Spain being "the best looking teams"? Since when have looks anything to do with soccer skills? Anyhow, nothing wrong with it as Jerry Seinfeld used to say – right?

    PS: Have you noticed that it's Brazil, Germany and Italy that have made it to the final 4 more than any other countries? Argentina, with all the hype, isn't even close if benchmarked this way.

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  9. Josée

    First, you need to relax some and make room for the ironical aspects of my post, in particular when smiley faces are added.

    Second, I have no objection as t the forced inclusion of all continents. It serves several purposes, the most important to promote the sport everywhere. the FIFA uses standards for that even though they could be improved. For example they do not base themsleves on population otherwise we woudl have ten Asian teams at least. Of the lone three Asian teams South Korea and Japan had a honorable outcome, deserving their spot. And South America is overrepresented if you compare it to the rest of the world, showing clearly that the local support and enthusiasm do play a role in deciding how many teams a region can send.

    The real glaring flaw remains the participation of Oceania with a team which pretty much guarantees New Zealand a permanent berth. I understand that Australia asked to be included in Asia so as to meet more realistic challenges and training. I think that Ocenia is or will be always on the repechage list. I do not know what is the present situation with them but it should be such, that they fight out a repechage berth with either Asia or North America so their inclusion is not automatic.

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  10. Milonga

    I have to insult your country to drag you away from your post electoral funk... :-)

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  11. Anonymous3:10 PM

    Josee

    Daniel has female and gay readers. It is nice of him to point out all the good reasons to watch a football game.

    Marisela

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  12. EspañolColombiano4:18 PM

    I'm Spanish so obviously I want Spain to win, but my problem with the team can be summed up with two stats:

    Total goals for Spain the the WC: 6
    Goals by David Villa: 5

    You simply can't win a World Cup when one guy pretty much scores all the goals for your team, and you sure as hell won't beat Germany like that.

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  13. Anonymous7:05 PM

    more Venezuelans at the WC. THX yahoo
    http://www.foxnews.com/slideshow/sports/2010/06/29/introducing-world-cup-fanatics/#slide=15

    barqui

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  14. Anonymous11:03 AM

    I'd also love to see an Espana/Holanda Epic Final. Both teams deserve a World Cup by now!
    Granted, I'm biased since most of my family is from Spain, but hey!

    Couple remarks here: Even the Germans have admitted that the best team won just 2 years ago in the Eurocopa final. And that Spain will be a different animal, compared to the competition they have faced thus far in Africa. Spain has has difficulty with suffocating defenses, i.e. the Swiss and the Paraguayans. I mean, no team defends like those guys, not even the Germans or the Dutch. Spain should be able to have a little more freedom offensively against Germany tomorrow, believe it or not. The problem, of course, is the Germans are lethal offensively, they score with ice-cold blood, surgical precision, superb technique and unselfish TEAM plays. But there's a chance Spain can contain that German offense, as they did 2 years ago. IOW, I don't see a high scoring game at all, 4 goals, no way. And I'd say Spain's defense is slightly better than Germany's.

    Then again, in Soccer, anything can happen, the best team often does not win, only one chance to get it done, unlike in many other team sports with longer series and pre-qualifying methods. That being said, with all of Football's questions marks, referees calling crucial plays without video support, the system itself, which rewards certain continents more than others, and other obvious structural Fifa Flaws, can't wait to enjoy the next few games!
    Carlos I.

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  15. Anonymous2:29 PM

    The team of argentina is waiting on the airport for the team of spain jajaja

    And Uruguay has been 3! times worldcup winner, the same as germany. Netherlands never took the cup - maybe this time they will.

    France and the Uk have been to arrogant, now they got theire red card.

    The final will be germany / netherlands.

    Hans

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  16. Anonymous2:33 PM

    btw Klose needs only a few goals more and he will be the player with the most goals in international games ever. He is only 1 goal behind Ronaldo :-) That one he will hopefully make tomorrow.

    Hans

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  17. Anonymous2:40 PM

    Korrektur: Uruguay was 2! times World Cup winner, the other poster was right

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  18. The "best continent (South America)" statement needs to be put into perspective since the qualification of four of their teams was largely due to the fact that these teams did not have to qualify playing against European teams and that European teams eliminated each other in order to qualify:

    (i)
    - Uruguay vs. South Korea
    - Argentina vs. Mexico
    - Brazil vs. Chile (OK, that's an exception)
    - Paraguay vs. Japan

    (ii)
    - Germany vs. England
    - Holland vs. Slovakia
    - Spain vs. Portugal


    Then, in the quarterfinals European teams won with an aggregate score of 7-1 against the South American teams.

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