Monday, July 10, 2006


World Cup 2006 - The Football Tragic Awards

The tournament is over, the fever has subsided, the cup has been covered with Italian saliva. Time for the unofficial awards ceremony, courtesy of your resident tragedian.

Player of the tournament:

No question here. Fabio Cannavaro is streets ahead of the contenders.

Despite a few lapses of judgement in the final, his overall tournament performance was the most commanding we've seen from a defender in a very long time. His nullifying of Mark Viduka in the round of 16, his endless clearances against Ukraine, his telling role in Italy's second goal in the semi-final...and the list goes on. Cannavaro was dominant in the air and on the ground, impeccable in his positioning, and refreshingly "clean" in his tackling. Simply magnificent.

Flop of the tournament:

Plenty of those players expected to make a significant impact in Germany were hampered by injuries; Michael Ballack, Andriy Shevchenko, Wayne Rooney, and even Francesco Totti failed to fire when their teams required something special. But these national talismans can provide an excuse, of sorts. No such allowances can be made for Ronaldinho.

Even as the beneficiary of a number of "free kicks by reputation", Barca's magician was simply unable to make much impact in Germany at all. Targeted by opposition defenders, it's true, and not helped by Carlos Alberto Parreira's eccentric formation, which virtually compelled him to peel off to the left in order to find sufficient space in which to operate. But extraordinary players are expected to rise above close marking and tactical awkwardness. Ronaldinho emphatically did not.

Luckiest team of the tournament:

One is tempted to say Italy, but the gong goes to England.

"England? Lucky?? The team that had its star player seriously injured before the tournament?"

Ah, but that's before the tournament, isn't it...

An easy first-round group, in which they played execrable football for the most part, was followed by a second-round matchup against perhaps the weakest team in the final 16, who treated them with far too much respect. Even so, the game could only be decided by a typically accurate Beckham free kick, just as the opening match against Paraguay had seen England go ahead thanks to a lucky deflection.

In the quarter-final, they could surely hardly believe the Portuguese tactics after Wayne Rooney's deserved send-off: no extra strikers, and Cristiano Ronaldo, a winger in anyone's language, playing centre-forward, with predictable ineffectuality. The team did fight well when down to ten men, but the game should have been done and dusted long before the shootout.

Unluckiest team of the tournament:

We Australians have a right to feel aggrieved about the manner of our exit. But what about the USA?

Beaten pointless by the Czechs in the opening game, Bruce Arena's team rallied superbly in the final two group matches, only to be denied by some abominable refereeing. Even against Italy, they could count themselves unlucky to be down to nine men - Eddie Pope's dismissal seemed somewhat harsh - and they deserved to go ahead in the second half, when wave after wave of American attacks were thwarted just shy of the Italian goal.

Their loss against Ghana was just a travesty. A goal conceded after Claudio Reyna had been fouled, an obvious penalty denied, and then a penalty given wrongly to the Africans to decide the encounter.

The USA ended up last in Group E, with only one point from their three matches. Extremely unjust.

Most entertaining team of the tournament:

FIFA, ridiculously, gave this award (from the result of an online poll, apparently) to Portugal. That's right, the side that gave cynical play-acting a bad name.

By rights, and against stereotype, it surely belongs to Germany.

After they reached the final in 2002 thanks to a strong defence and an outstanding goalkeeper, the world could have been forgiven for expecting the Germans to adopt a stonewall approach, especially after their ignominious exit from Euro 2004. Instead, Klinsmann fielded two central strikers, encouraged his fullbacks to get forward, and his team banged in the goals. Even against Poland, when the Germans only just broke through in the final stages, they always looked likely to score. The winger David Odonkor showed much promise (although the Italians dealt with him most efficiently in the semi-final), and Miroslav Klose is now so much more than the aerial poacher of 2002.

The friendly attitude of the German people was not all there was to like about Germany at this World Cup.

Most boring team of the tournament:

Take a bow, Ukraine.

Although one has to give them credit for rallying after the shock of their 4-0 defeat to Spain, it was hard to feel much sympathy for Oleg Blokhin and his side after their quarter-final exit. They finally came to life in the second half against Italy, after two deadly dull performances against Tunisia and Switzerland. Defeating the former thanks to a non-existent penalty, they bored the latter to death before strolling past them in the shootout.

Andriy Shevchenko's injury struggles help to explain their blunt, over-physical style at the tournament, but they surely had enough talent in their ranks - Voronin, Tymoshchuk, the sadly under-used Ruslan Rotan - to provide the fans with better memories. On behalf of football fans everywhere, I wish Oleg Blokhin a long and successful career in the Ukrainian parliament. He can stay there.

Best match of the tournament:

Several pundits have nominated the Germany-Italy semi-final for this accolade. Although it featured a number of memorable moments and two splendid goals, the second half, sandwiched between the intriguing opening forty-five minutes and the thrilling extra-time period, was mediocre.

My vote goes to the first-round clash between Holland and the Ivory Coast.

A first half shaded by the Dutch, and featuring two fine goals, was followed by a second in which the Ivorians demonstrated just how unfair the draw had been to them. In almost any other group, they surely would have reached the knockout stage.

Bakary Kone's marvellous solo goal was followed by as sustained and inventive an assault on the opposition goal as we saw in Germany. The Dutch could only hang on for dear life as the Africans took control of the midfield and sent telling through-balls everywhere; but Edwin van der Sar, and the Dutch defenders, were in defiant mood, and held out. It was a thrilling, uplifting display of football, a real treasure of a game.

Worst match of the tournament:

Several contenders here. Ukraine v. Tunisia, Ukraine v. Switzerland, France v. Switzerland, Mexico v. Angola...but for sheer, sustained, unutterable banality, the award goes to England v. Paraguay from the first round. I had the misfortune to be present at this game, and, not without a certain malicious pleasure, I quizzed some of the English journalists milling around afterwards about their team's performance. Red faces and heartfelt apologies were the order of the day.

Decided by an utterly trivial winner, an own goal from a long, hopeful free kick, the game featured virtually nothing else of interest. Paraguay's star striker was clearly struggling for form and fitness, and England, under Sven-Goran Eriksson's less than glorious aegis, were a wretched sight, lofting constant long balls in the direction of Peter Crouch while a half-fit Owen chased pitifully after the knockdowns.

A diabolical display of football.

Let me close by offering my congratulations to the champions. Their success was aided at times by some unsavoury gamesmanship, but any team that concedes only two goals - one of them an own goal and the other a highly debatable penalty - in over eleven hours of football is a pretty worthy winner in my eyes. Twelve goals scored is a perfectly respectable total, too; more, for instance, than the Brazilians of 1994 managed.

Rallegramenti, Italia.

I think it's probably just Unluckiest team, luckiest team and the best/worst games i disagree with you. So not much.
Unluckiest team: definately Ivory Coast. In any other group they would have easily made it into the R16, but with Argentina and the Netherlands there, they struggled. Plus they played well in all 3 of their group stage matches, something a lot of teams struggled to do.
Luckiest team: Ukraine. Abysmal all World Cup, helped by the easiest draw (even easier than England's) to reach the quarter-finals despite not playing well at all throughout the group stages.
Best game: Argentina-Mexico. The only game in the R16 and beyond where two evenly matched teams both tried to win by using their attack. An awesome match.
Worst Game: Ukraine-Switzlerand. both teams played for penalties from the 5th minute. Disgraceful game.
I think Brazil were pretty lucky too. The group would have been interesting with a stronger non-seeded Euro team than Croatia. If Brazil finished second in the group they would have had a much tougher octavofinal, which was in fact even easier than it should have been: Ghana with no Essien. If the Czechs had performed and had all their strikers, Brazil would have faced either Italy or Czech Republic.

I reckon Italy had the easiest ride though, all the way to the semi against Germany. And look at the way they won their tougher games: all could have easily ended up with the opposite result but for some good fortune.
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