Top 5 games of the World Cup

July 11, 2010

Now, I have to admit that I did not watch every game in the tournament. If Paraguay and Japan's 0-0 draw, or Slovakia's 1-1 draw with New Zealand, or Switzerland's 0-0 draw with Honduras were better, please let me know. 5. Slovenia 2 USA 2 (Group C) -- I think I could have chosen all the USA games in this top 5 as each had drama and moments of controversy, but this one stood out for me for one simple reason, I didn't watch the second half! After the England v. USA game, which I suspected would end up as a draw, I told my friends that the US typically lose to Eastern European teams that they should beat. Within 15 minutes the US are 1-0 down, and then moments after a chance to equalize, Zlatan Ljubijankic (I'll admit it that I cut and pasted his name rather than have it committed to memory) coolly gave Slovenia a 2-0 half-time lead. Then I had to go out. An hour later I asked a non-soccer following friend what the score was, and while being told that it was 2-2, I heard in the background raucous cheering and then more shouting. "There might be another goal, or might not" was the cryptic conclusion to my phone call. A great fightback by the USA, a disallowed goal which dominated the US sports pages for four days (until the Algeria game), and a game that proved to me that the USA is a soccer-loving nation -- I could watch the whole second half that I had missed on-line -- something that would have been impossible just 4 years ago. 4. South Korea 2 Nigeria 2 (Group B) -- the final stages of the group games typically produce one or two classics that go down to the final minute. This was one. Throughout the 90 minutes, I kept on trying to calculate which of these two teams was going through. As the score changed, and the Argentina v. Greece score did too, at various times during the afternoon both Nigeria and South Korea were going out, then advantage swung to Nigeria and back to South Korea. The game also had the worst miss of the tournament -- Yakubu, open goal, 6 yards out -- and then 2 minutes later he steps up to score the penalty to level the match at 2-2, meaning Nigeria just needed to score one more to qualify. The tension built but South Korean hung on to progress. An honorable mention also goes to USA 1 Algeria 0, but then again, the Algerians were never really trying to win. 3. Uruguay 1 Ghana 1 (a.e.t.) Uruguay won 4-2 on penalties (quarter final) I've chosen this game for about 2 minutes of it, from the 119th to the first kick of the penalty shootout. The goalmouth scramble, the header going in, Suarez's handball, the melee amongst the players that followed as viewers like me were still trying to work out what had happened, the red card and then Gyan smashing Ghana's penalty against the bar. Africa's hopes were dashed in those few seconds, but Gyan still had the poise and the guts to step up and score Ghana's first penalty of the shoot-out. He must have been devastated. If only he could have taken the penalties in the opposite order. The goals in this game, by Muntari and Forlan were pretty good too, and I'll add another moment, Sebastian Abreu's chipped final penalty. A crazy move, but sometimes it works (to make the Czech's European Champions in 1976) and at others it doesn't (ask an English Leicester City fan about the Premiership play-offs last May). Abreu is known as el loco, so I guess we should have seen it coming! 2. The Netherlands 3 Uruguay 2 (semi-final) As I said in my first blog, World Cups intersect with your life and become part of your biography. This game ended up as my World Cup story for 2010. We were in Small Bar with the WBEZ Worldview team and sitting in the booth next to me, not 2 seats away, was USA player Jay Demerit. He'd been playing in South Africa a week earlier. Heck, he could (should?) have been playing in this semi-final. But instead here he was, watching the game on TV with his friends in the bar just like we were, and, incidentally, cheering just as loudly as us when Robben's headed goal sealed the game for the Dutch. All the goals were good in this game too. I chatted with Demerit after the match about the upcoming Premiership season in England, where we may see him again, and he signed autographs for me and others in the bar. The weirdest thing is that while Jay Demerit is sitting right there, Jerome introduces me, Dan Shalin and the Worldview World Cup group to the bar, who give us a round of applause (if you were there, thanks). Maybe Demerit should have been asking for our autographs?! 1. England 1 Germany 4 (round of 16) -- I was spoiled for choice about which of Germany's 4-goal performances to choose from, but rather than the total dismantling of Argentina, it had to be this one because the World Cup is all about history, precedents, stories, and goals. This game had it all. I blogged about the history of England v. Germany games, the tabloid headlines in the UK, and the animosity between these two nations. No-one thought the Germans would win quite so easily, but with the English "defense" going AWOL, Klose, Podolski and Muller (2) scored as Germany cruised through. It was not, however, as simple as all that. The moment at 2-1 when Lampard's shot hit the bar, crossed the line, and was not given as a goal was delayed justice for the 1966 World Cup final. Many people complained that getting decisions wrong ruins football; this game proved that things even out over 40 or 50 years. Although some photographs suggested that the ball did not crossed the line. In addition, this game also led to the most amusing email about the tournament that I received: "ENGLAND are heading home from the World Cup today after state-of-the-art video technology showed the ball crossing their goal line many, many times. As questions were raised over why the Uruguayan officials had spotted all four German goals, the specially positioned cameras around the Bloemfontein Stadium confirmed that England's 2010 squad will forever be remembered as the 'team that never was'. The use of television has been a source of controversy in the sport, but experts insist it offers a fool-proof method for determining whether a team is good at football or whether it is simply a collection of absurdly over-compensated, second-rate commercial brands with ghastly, vulgar wives. Back home England fans vented their fury at the technology, as Paul the Psychic Octopus predicted Fabio Capello would soon be receiving a check for ‚£12million and moving to a country where people can understand what he's saying. Meanwhile, central defender John Terry finally arrived back in England's 18-yard box last night only to find that everyone else had gone home."
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