Off the ball: Ten things to love and hate about the World Cup
In his irreverent World Cup column Off the Ball, Andy Goldberg looks at the lighter side of the football championship.
1. Fan Zones - In dozens of German cities millions of fans gathered round giant viewing screens to watch the games and turn the World Cup into a mass spectator street party.
2. Girls - Some watched because of the dishy players. Others genuinely appreciated the more subtle forms of the art. But the presence of millions of females among the World Cup followers was a civilizing influence.
3. Deutsche Bahn - The famous German public railway transport system zipped over 15 million spectators around the country with legendary German efficiency, punctuality and order.
4. Marcello Lippi - The grey-haired Italian coach went against his country's defensive traditions to bring on two extra strikers in extra time and knock Germany out of the tournament.
5. The German police - Their massive presence at every venue kept security tight but they were always polite, restrained and thoughtful.
6. Goals - There were several stunning goals but for sheer virtuosity it was hard to beat Joe Cole's spectacular long range volley for England against Sweden, or Maxi Rodriguez's similar winner for Argentina the following night.
7. Fans - Far more than the players, the millions of fans who attended the World Cup expressed the highest aspirations of football as the game that ties the world's population together. Win or lose, they were a credit to their nations.
8. Zinedine Zidane - The former world footballer of the year rolled back the years with a masterful display to knock the Brazilians out of the competition, while alone among the world's top footballers he manages to retain at least a semblance of humility.
9. Excuses - From croaking frogs, to lack of siesta, to dry grass, to the weather, the world's best footballers showed they are true world champions at coming up with excuses for failing.
10. Weather - German weather, like its people, are meant to be damp, chilly and grim. But for the month of the World Cup the weather and the people were sunny, warm and tropically inviting. It was football's and Germany's month in the sun.
1. Over-commercialisation - FIFA raked in almost 2.5 billion dollars from the tournament through sponsorship and the sale of TV rights. But it risks turning the world's most popular sport into the exclusive marketing vehicle of huge conglomerates.
2. Tickets - FIFA screwed up the ticketing system by allocating far too many to corporate sponsors. This meant there were too few partisan fans at matches and way too many dispassionate business executives on corporate freebies.
3. Referees - The standard of refereeing was consistently inconsistent and so pathetic at times that it has forced FIFA boss Joseph Blatter to consider introducing two refs for the next World Cup and the insertion of a chip in the ball to detect if it crosses the goal line.
4. Sven-Goran Eriksson - The England coach failed miserably to find his best team or inspire his superstar players to achieve anything near their potential. He paralysed them with a negative system and defensive tactics that made a mockery of the world's most popular professional league.
5. Togo fiasco - The team from Togo threatened to boycott their first round games because of a disagreement over bonuses. A FIFA mediator eventually persuaded them to participate but the fiasco reinforced doubts that African football is not ready for the big time, even as South Africa prepares to host the tournament in 2010.
6. Knockout games - Many of the first round games featured open and entertaining football. But once the knock out stages started, teams resorted to defensive tactics that almost invariably led to sterile games.
7. Red and yellow cards - There were a record number of red and yellow cards as referees implemented a by-the-book approach that often punished players for minor infractions and meant that stars like Portugese midfielder Deco were missing from key games.
8. Goals (lack thereof) - The first 62 games averaged 2.27 goals per game the lowest since the record-breaking low of 2.21 per game in 1990. This year's average would dip below that if no goals are scored in Saturday's Germany-Portugal third-place game and the France-Italy final Sunday.
9. Young players - The supposed young superstars were more like superflops. German wunderkind Lukas Podolski did bag three goals, but other great young hopes like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney and Robinho showed the dangers of being overhyped, overpaid and over here.
10. Divers - No-one wants defensive goons to kick the truly talented players off the pitch. But football is a contact sport that is as much about courage, honour and passion as it is about ball- juggling artistry. So true fans cringe when players con referees by diving under an innocuous challenge or writhing in agony in order to get their opponents in trouble. The absurd convention of kicking the ball out every time a player claimed to be injured made it all the worse.
7 July 2006
Subject: German news, World Cup 2006