The Literary Salon

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Location: Toronto, now Ottawa, Ont, Canada

Monday, July 26, 2010

Why World Cup 2010 was a terrible disappointment

Another world cup has come and gone, and at this point I'm usually going through serious soccer withdrawl symptoms--after all, there were 64 high profile matches over the last 30 days, more than one usually sees in an entire year. However, this time I'm not really feeling the same sense of sadness I usually feel when a major soccer tournament ends--in fact, I'm almost glad the World Cup is over. Why this blasphemy, you ask? It's because this has been without a doubt the worst major soccer tournament I've ever seen. I've seen every World and Euro Cup since 1994 (94, 96, 98, 2000, 2002, 04, 06, 08, 10), and only the 2002 World Cup was even close to being this bad. Most friends of mine who watch soccer more than once every 4 years tend to agree with me, but for those who may still be unconvinced, here is why I feel 2010's edition was the worst, in no particular order:

1) Big teams flopping: Italy had literally its worst world cup performance ever, and the French comedy troupe managed to score 1 goal. England was not only disappointing, but, except for about 20 minutes, absolutely excruciating to watch: their game against Algeria should be a contender for most unwatchable soccer game ever at a world cup. Argentina gets embarrased 4-0 in the quartefinals. You know something is wrong when one of the best teams in the world gets smashed to bits. Brazil never really played to their potential, and seemed to completely lose it in their final 30 minutes in the tournament. Even Holland never came anywhere close to playing as well as they could, and Spain for the most part played a very conservative style that was frankly boring to watch most of the time (if you don't believe me, try watching any of their last 4 games, all 1-0 wins, even against teams like Paraguay). The only team that was actually good was Germany, who oddly lost in the semis.

2) Similarly, lack of quality games: out of the 64 matches played, of which I managed to watch about 54, only 7 or 8 were actually watchable. Most games were either snoozefests (Brazil-Portugal, any of England's games) or one-sided blowouts that were finished by halftime. I agree with Nigel Reed of the CBC on this one: most teams even AFTER the round robin played not to lose.

3) Similar to the above, lack of goals. Now, I'm not one of those sports fans who argues that soccer is boring because there are few goals. I've seen plenty of 1-0 or 1-1 matches that were edge-of-your-seat exciting. However, this is the 2nd lowest scoring world cup in history--only WC 1990 had fewer goals. I think the goal dearth is symptomatic of the excitement level provided by most matches this year.

3) Host nation disappointing: I doubt anyone seriously though South Africa would do very well, but 2010 marks the first time in the history of the world cup that the host nation failed to get past the round robin. For whatever reason, tournaments seem to suffer when the host nation doesn't get far. Even the USA in 1994 (a memorable one) at least made it to the knockout stage. At the last world cup, which was IMHO a great one, the host nation Germany made it to the semifinal, losing in a thrilling match to Italy, the eventual champions.

4) Star players flopping: Lionel Messi, C. Ronaldo, Kaka, Wayne Rooney, Van Persie, etc etc. The list goes on. These are the best players in the world, and they were sadly either invisible or dreadful to watch. Did Rooney forget how to kick a ball? Thankfully we had a few upstarts who managed to impress, including Muller and Ozil of Germany, and the veteran Forlan of Uruguay. Otherwise, I can't remember another tournament at which so many top notch players just failed to show up.

5) Jabulani: yes, at the beginning of every tournament I can remember, players always complaining about the new ball that has been developed, often arguing that it is too light or unpredictable. However, I think this time the players and coaches had a legitimate beef. Even weeks into the competition we saw countless shots from the best players in the world go sailing miles high. NASA even tested the ball and found that it was unpredictable when travelling over 60 MPH. Perhaps the altitude at some of SA's stadia exacerbated the problem.

6) Officiating: I can't for the life of me remember a tournament that had such appaling refereeing. Yes, referees make bad calls in soccer, and yes, there were a few matches in 2002 in which the referees were bribed. However, nearly every match at this world cup had at least one major blown call--offside goals, obvious goals that weren't counted (sorry Lampard), penalties not awarded, obvious dives not punished (Iniesta in the final, among others), etc etc. I don't think there's a single argument left against video replays in soccer. Even the 900 year old dinousaur Sepp Blatter, FIFA's president, is actually considering it now. You know something is seriously wrong when he wants to change something.

6) VUVUZELAS!! I watch soccer fairly often, so I'm not unaccustomed to horns and such blaring during a game. It must be said, though, that the vuvuzelas almost single-handedly ruined this world cup. Whoever thought that having 50000+ horns that crank out over 100 decibels would improve the game should be arrested--the same person must have also thought that hearing a swarm of bees going through a blender for 90 minutes is pleasurable. I feel sorry for the players and fans in the stadium, and of course viewers everywhere. On two or three occassions I heard some singing and chanting from the crowd, and I remembered how enjoyable it is to be able to hear thousands of people singing and oohing and aaaahing in unison. Again, I don't ever remember something like this ruining the viewing experience of a soccer tournament. Ban the vuvuzela please, or I will break every single one in half!

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