Iniesta, Madiba and Gouda -- A World Cup Final/Tournament Review

July 12, 2010

Well, the 2010 World Cup has come to an end. Congrats to Spain. They are worthy winners of the trophy. Sunday's final had its moments, but was hardly the Fiesta of Football the two participants were theoretically capable of providing. Of course, rarely does a major final deliver any sort of end-to-end excitement, as both teams usually err on the side of caution. Plus, watching Spain and Holland during the last month, it was not hard to predict this would be a somewhat cagey affair. Both teams were more efficient than they ever were spectacular. Sunday's game featured a lot of roughhousing, much of it, though not all, by the Dutch, a lot of complaining and too much card waving by referee Howard Webb and the players, the latter group brandishing imaginary cards. Spain, as expected, held the edge in possession. Though Holland's Arjen Robben squandered two great chances -- Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas having a lot to do with both (incidentally, check out this link of Casillas kissing this sideline reporter after the game . . . yes, she happens to be his girlfriend ). Spain's Andres Iniesta scored the 116th-minute winner, set up by teammate Fabregas, who was brilliant off the bench. In the extra time, Holland finally put out its best attacking lineup (the one I had long been calling for with van Persie, Sneijder, van der Vaart, Robben and Elia). In truth, the group didn't create as much as I had hoped, though Robben did not have a ton left in the tank at that point. No, it was not a classic match by any means. But it's funny when I think about why I wanted the game to be a great one -- much more for others than for myself. Sure, it would have been great to witness a truly historic spectacle that would be talked about for generations to come. Plus, from a sheer entertainment standpoint, a great game is obviously better than a drab affair. But mostly I wanted a classic contest so that American fans still on the fence about the sport would tune in and witness soccer in all its glory. I was going to enjoy the afternoon no matter what. I had family and friends over to watch and good food to snack on (incidentally, the events unfolding on the television were mirrored by those on my coffee table as the Spanish Manchego cheese and quince paste clearly outperformed the Dutch Gouda, at least if you judge by which wedge was smaller by the end of the 120 minutes). Sure, I was rooting for Holland. But I also like Spain, and was not disappointed to see them win, especially because they played better. Yes, at my house, the day was a celebration of the Beautiful Game. That the day's game was hardly beautiful was only slightly disappointing to me. Hey, English Premier League teams are back in training and the European club soccer season is just a month away. However, the unfortunate result of the afternoon is that some American sports fans will have watched the game and probably come to the conclusion that soccer is not for them. That's too bad. I just hope they remember how much they enjoyed the US/Slovenia and US/Algeria games. One should remember that despite having had some memorable Super Bowls in recent seasons, the game has historically been pretty poor. But few use those contests to make judgments about the entire sport If I had to draw a conclusion about the entire 2010 World Cup, I would probably say it was good, sometimes very good, but not great. At least from a soccer standpoint. There were some great moments for the U.S. squad, some teams that surprised (Germany, Ghana, Uruguay, Japan, Chile), high-profile flops (England, Italy, France, Ivory Coast) and new stars emerging. I don't think this World Cup had a signature game like the Germany/Italy semifinal in 2006. There were some moments that were memorable for the wrong reasons, like Luis Suarez's handball, Asamoah Gyan's agonizing penalty miss and a couple of high-profile refereeing mistakes. Off the field, there were vuvuzelas and cool official songs by Shakira and K'naan. There were fantastic stadiums, some of them in previously unheard of places like Polokwane, Rustenburg and Nelspruit. There was the passion of the South African fans, even though their beloved Bafana Bafana did not hang around long. And finally, on Sunday, the appearance by Nelson Mandela this whole event would have been incomplete without. Yes, I loved every minute of it. Before I go back to paying attention to what's happening in the real world (no longer simply skimming news stories about oil spills and spy scandals on my way to Jozy Altidore's Twitter page), here is my 2010 World Cup Best XI and list of "11 New Stars," players who entered the competition in relative obscurity but emerged with burnished reputations and higher price tags in the transfer market. Best XI Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas (Spain) Defender: Philipp Lahm (Germany) Defender: Gerard Piquƒ© (Spain) Defender: Maicon (Brazil) Midfielder: Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany) Midfielder: Xavi (Spain) Midfielder: Wesley Sneijder (Holland) Midfielder: Thomas Mƒ¼ller (Germany) Midfielder: Mezut ƒ"“zil (Germany) Forward: David Villa (Spain) Forward: Diego Forlƒ¡n (Uruguay) 11 New Stars of the Cup (In no particular order) 1. Alexis Sanchez (Chile) 2. Keisuke Honda (Japan) 3. Pablo Barrera (Mexico) 4. Andre Ayew (Ghana) 5. Kwadwo Asamoah (Ghana) 6. Kevin-Prince Boateng (Ghana) 7. Michael Bradley (USA) 8. Park Chu-Young (S. Korea) 9. Antolin Alcaraz (Paraguay) 10. Fabio Coentrƒ£o (Portugal) 11. Eduardo (Portugal)
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