Friday, December 31, 2010

Final whistles

2010 was a World Cup year on and off the field, but such an unsatisfying one on both counts.

The tournament in South Africa was unmemorable for footballing reasons - on that I agree with Sepp Blatter, but a return to golden goal would be madness. Slovakia's elimination of Italy and Ghana's heroic failure against Uruguay stood out as contests, Germany as the outstanding team.

Joachim Löw's boys terrorized on the counter, smashing a decent Argentina and England out of sight. The US had a sip of champagne with Donovan's Algeria winner, the Black Stars were inches from a first African semi-finalist and Uruguay were the highest-placed South American side for the first time since 1954, but only Spain left the Rainbow Nation satisfied.

The less said about the ugly final the better, but at least the best team on the day won. Yet the overall picture is of clear water between the club game and the increasingly frustrating international one: Arsene Wenger's dreams are coming true.

On the ground, South Africa was a challenge as its transport network was not up to scratch, even for the shortfall of fans that had made the long journey to be there. Rustenburg, where the US opened up, was a ridiculously inaccessible and ill-managed taste of things to come. Still, the locals loved the show and we were all happy to be a part of that.

Then there was the 2018/2022 hosting vote, which once and for all confirmed our game is run by a cabal of charlatans wielding excessive global influence. FIFA HQ in Zurich smelled like the Augean stables as one lump of dirt after another stuck to the egregious Executive Committee, who came out of the farce looking crookeder than ever. "All the fish are sold," Miguel Angel Lopez's premature declaration of Iberian victory, is a fitting epitaph.

*Barcelona
and Milan are the first clubs to speak out against moving the 2022 World Cup to the winter. - "It would be very difficult today to see the top five European leagues change their schedule," Rossoneri chairman Umberto Gandini told AFP. So it's a summer furnace then, or a proper host nation, like America.

*In Qatar next month, Chung Mong-Joon will announce if he will challenge Blatter for the FIFA Presidency in June 2011; if not, it's another four years of this... I almost missed our Dear Leader's New Year Message to the faithful, with some suitably sycophantic reader comments. At least they let me rate it.

*Keir Radnedge, World Soccer's star scribe, writes in the latest issue that the US lost the 2022 vote because the European ExCo members were afraid of handing another big tournament to CONCACAF Thief, I mean Chief, Jack Warner. Surely not!

*Incidentally, Happy 50th Birthday World Soccer. While other (particularly English) football writing looks inward, WS has always cast its net wide and particularly during the Heysel ban of the '80s, was a beacon amid the gloom here. Where else on paper can you find a whole page on Belarus, as you can this month, for example?

*Jonathan Wilson shrewdly analyses the year in formations, while Michael Cox of Zonal Marking, a wonderful tactics-based site which emerged in 2010, picked the Inter v Barça CL SF as the clash of the year, although Barça's 5-0 crushing of Real Madrid last month has gained greater currency.

*If the Champions League really is greater than the World Cup now and forever, at least we had Tottenham's swashbuckling exodus in it to entertain us. Before they beat the holders at White Hart Lane, Spurs' 4-3 loss at San Siro was the stuff I'd pay money for - Inter molesting the Londoners for 45 minutes and going four up, before Gareth Bale put on his Superman costume for a late hat-trick. Crazy.

Happy New Year - let's hope it's a good footballing one.



-Sean O'Conor

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