Friday, July 16, 2010
South Africa 2010: A Review, Part 2
It would be only fair to mention that South Africa made a better fist of the organisation that many people (myself included) expected, and they deserve enormous credit for that. Not least the indefatigable and unfailingly decent Danny Jordaan, who bore the brunt of all the pre-tournament barbs of doubt from European football journalists. There were a few hiccups, notably the chaos at Durban airport prior to the semi-final and the frequent failure of the public transport infrastructure to cope with the sheer numbers, but the increased security seemed to ensure that, beyond the usual few hotel burglaries, there were no truly serious incidents.
Altogether less savoury was the unpleasant use of Nelson Mandela as a publicity tool by Sepp Blatter. Mandela's absence from the opening game, commented upon briefly and diplomatically by Jacob Zuma before the kickoff, was clearly an embarrassment for FIFA given how closely the tournament had been tied to the image of the man who has become synonymous with the sort of dignity that FIFA craves.
The refereeing in South Africa was less than impressive in many respects, Howard Webb's feeble performance in the final constituting a fitting comment on the officiating throughout. Violent play was often ignored while trivial, harmless infractions continued to attract cuckoo-clock yellow cards. The ultimate irony came when, after a final which set new standards for thuggery, Andres Iniesta was presented with a yellow card for a heartfelt tribute to a fallen comrade. The idiotic shirt-off yellow card is one of the few things in football that still makes me seethe with anger every time it is produced.
And so...to the Jabulani.
Frankly, FIFA should have learned their lesson in 2002. The ball used in Korea and Japan had similar problems, and the propensity for long shots to fly into the stratosphere encouraged plenty of teams to keep a deep line at that tournament and restrict their opposition to shots from distance; this was one of the factors which made the 2002 tournament such a poor advertisement for football. Things weren't quite so bad in 2010, but the Jabulani's tendency to swing unpredictably made life hell for goalkeepers, and it was no coincidence that this World Cup featured more egregious goalkeeping blunders than any of the past instalments. Any new ball being brought into use for a World Cup should be tested at length by top-level footballers, not just physicists.
And so we're off to Brazil in 2014, under the aegis of a certain Ricardo Teixeira. God help us.
Having said that, the best things about the tournament were
1. The best footballing team one the thing (against the most violent performance I have seen for a long time)
2. The tournement as a spectacle got better and better after a slow start (The 2002 tournament was the opposite and).
3. There was more drama in this World Cup than perhaps any other that I can recall seeing (or reading) about (the 2006 tournament was the most devoid of drama EVER...even the 1990 tournament was more riveting from a drama point of view).
4. The final was the best final since 1986
5. The tournament went without a hitch in a 'violent' country.