A soccer enthusiast traces the rollercoaster of shock exits, stunning wins and unpredictable action of the 19th FIFA World Cup.
| PHOTO: Allen Yu
Prep yourself for the final game of the 19th World Cup—here’s what happened over the last few weeks.
Shocks and Surprises
The biggest shock of the World Cup must have been the ignominious exit of reigning world champion Italy. At the end of the first round matches, Italy stats read a big fat ZERO in the win column and they ranked bottom of their group, below minnow New Zealand which is ranked 78th in the world, 73 places below Italy.
Another shock was the acrimonious nature of French World Cup campaign which has baffled many. The team completely imploded with reports of in-fighting and mutiny. Their stats were terrible, with just a single goal scored in the three group games. They were winless with only a single point and were firmly rooted to the bottom of their group.
How the mighty have fallen, with the two previous World Cup finalists failing to get beyond the first stage of the competition. England weren’t much better, falling at the second hurdle to an embarrassing defeat to arch-rival Germany.
Almost every Singaporean in need of their weekly dose of English Premier League action pledged their allegiance to the England team and willed them to win the World Cup again. As always, in every major tournament, the overrated and overhyped England team underperformed.
When the last round of quarter-final matches concluded last Sunday morning, hearts could be heard cracking and many egos took a beating as the so-called soccer experts got their predictions wrong.
Many had predicted an all-South American final as four out of five of its representatives in the World Cup tournament progressed to the quarter-finals. A Brazil-Argentina final was a dream for many, but it was first torn apart by the Netherlands and then completely shattered to pieces by the German machine.
Brazil’s place in the finals was seemingly a foregone conclusion even before the first knockout stage of the World Cup. Looking at their draws, the Samba Kings were presented an almost unobstructed path to the final. Uruguay, South Korea, United States, Ghana, Slovakia and Chile were surely no match for their flowing, attack-style.
Their biggest threat in the form of Netherlands seemed unlikely to thwart their dream of a sixth World Cup as reports of in-fighting surfaced from the Netherlands camp in the lead up to their quarter-final game. But everybody’s perennial favorite Brazil was unceremoniously dumped out by the Dutch 2-1.
In the Argentina versus Germany game, many predicted a tight game, with the Argentines edging out the Germans by a single goal. How wrong they were.
The Argentines were mercilessly thumped 4-0 by the Germans. Celebrations were underway at German pubs worldwide as the German machine slammed one goal after another past the hapless Argentine goalkeeper. There was only pity for the Argentine supporters who could only stare at the scoreline with shock and disbelief.
The sole South-American representative in the semi-finals, Uruguay, was the surprise entrant as they exceeded even their own expectations. Jayaditya Gupta, writing for ESPN Soccernet, called them “unexpected guests” and “accidental tourists,” but he rightly acknowledged that they deserved their place.
“Let no one doubt that they deserve to be here—the only argument against their coming this far is that you can take the entire population of Uruguay and pack them into Cape Town, with only a couple of vineyards needed for the overflow,” he wrote.
Heartbreak for the Ghanians and all of Africa but ecstasy for the Uruguayans and relief for the rest of the South Americans as they became the only South American team left in the World Cup, after Paraguay was expectedly beaten by the Spanish matadors.
It was a cruel end for the Ghanaians. They were awarded a last minute penalty in extra time after a goal-bound shot was handled on the line by a Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez. The score was tied at 1-1. With the chance to make history, as no African team has ever progressed to the semi-finals, the weight of the entire continent’s hopes buckled the penalty taker and his shot rebounded off the crossbar to push the game into a penalty shoot-out. The Uruguayans kept their cool to win the shootout 4-2, denying Ghana the first World Cup semi-final berth for an African team.
What many soccer experts and supporters had predicted and thought to be a straightforward affair turned out to be a nerve-jangling climax in the Spain-Paraguay match. Spain was tipped to put Paraguay to the sword with ease after the Paraguayans struggled to overcome the Blue Samurai in the earlier round.
But Spanish players were made to sweat for their victory as they only managed to breach the Paraguayan’s defense in the 83rd minute. Although a low scoring affair, this match was nonetheless full of drama with one disallowed penalty goal and two failed spot kicks in normal time.
Three European teams and one South American team have made it to the semi-finals, and the biggest talking point is that Brazil isn’t that South American team. This turns the tournament on its head, with European teams initially shaky, while their South American counterparts seemed awash with confidence. Now, with Brazil and Argentina out of the equation, many are predicting a final matchup between Germany and the Netherlands.
“I foresee a Germany versus Netherlands final with Germany to triumph. Uruguay is plagued with injuries and suspensions while the German team is on an all time high morale after resounding victories over Argentina and England,” analyzed Benedict David, 25, a Germany supporter.
Fan’s hopes are high, with bosses even offering celebratory time-off from work. “I am supporting Germany to win the World Cup and my German boss has promised to give us a day off if that happens,” said a Germany supporter from Taiwan.
Self-professed Spanish fan, Mary Chan, 29, is predicting a Germany versus Netherlands final with Germany emerging as champions. Confidence in Spain is low after they labored to a 1-0 victory over Paraguay.
Simon Ng, 36, tweeted, “Germans are fast & furious, always on the lookout for space to maneuver & they strike when the defenders are off guard! Champions they are!”
Germany seems the overwhelming favorite for the World Cup, and based on their performances en route to the semi-finals, it is obvious why. They are the most in-form team at the moment, having scored four goals for the third time this tournament in their win against Argentina.
Nobody is giving the Uruguayans any shot at glory as almost everyone is predicting an all-European final. Although there are many Spanish supporters out there, but nobody dares to bet against the free scoring Germans. However, looking at past results in this year’s World Cup, unpredictability seems to be the rule, rather than the exception.
An Uruguay win is not entirely out of the picture—they are two-time champions after all—although things are not looking good for them with injuries and suspensions decimating the team.
Such is the unpredictable nature of the game which has kept many people glued to the TV screens even at unearthly hours. This year’s World Cup has intrigued and at the same time bored many. Goals haven’t been flowing as freely as expected, and in fact, it is the lowest scoring World Cup ever: at the quarterfinal stage, only 133 goals were scored in 60 matches, averaging roughly 2.21 goals per game.
Even so, many can be found in front of the screen late at night, catching every single moment of the beautiful game. Many say, “It comes once every four years, how can I miss it?” Everything else takes a backseat when the World Cup action unfolds on the screen.
With the World Cup final a week away as I write, I shall boldly make my prediction. Unlike everybody else, I think Uruguay will meet Spain at the Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg, for the final match. Spain will make history by lifting the Cup for the first time.
Enjoy the Finals!
World Cup Finals:
Netherlands vs Spain
July 12, 2010
2:30 a.m. SST (UTC+8)