Wednesday, July 12, 2006

2006 World Cup Roundup

Zidane and Materazzi - the tournament's most memorable moment.

It was a good world cup. Not a great one, although it initially looked like it could have been great. Defensiveness reigned supreme, with 4-5-1 the formation du jour. This was exemplified by the champion Italians, who didn't create much but absolutely refused to let anyone score on them.

Here are some assorted thoughts:

Best Games:
* The Ivory Coast's 3 games - absolutely riveting displays of attacking football. With a little discipline at the back and better finishing, this will be one hell of a team.

* Ghana vs Brazil - Ghana actually dominated the whole game, yet conceded a bunch of easy goals and couldn't finish. Playmaker Stephen Appiah (photo right) is a midfield collosus, and if Michael Essien hadn't been unjustly suspended they could have even beaten the Brazilians.
* Portugal vs Netherlands - an ugly game in terms of discipline, countless reds and yellows, but damn, it was exciting! The most amazing part was when Fernando Meira basically tried to kick Arjen Robben in the face in the penalty area, but the ref ignored it because Robben was offside.
* Australia vs Japan - Had everything you want in a game - provided you are an Australian fan. Tim Cahill's late-game heroics should cement his reputation as one of Australia's best ever players.
* Australia vs Croatia - Even more enthralling. It had ridiculous refereeing, goalkeeping howlers, occasional brilliance, and repeated (and largely unpunished) acts of dodginess from the Croats.

Funniest-looking player: Tied between Franck Ribery (France) and Carlos Tevez (Argentina). To quote my friend Martin Bendeler: "Tevez looks like his they had to get his father off his mother with a hose." As for Ribery, if you have a odd-looking face with a big scar, its probably not good to cap it all off with a bizarre hairstyle which suggests his barber lost interest halfway through.

Ladies - meet Ribery (left) and Tevez (right).

Best-looking players (in a purely detached hetero sense, of course): Fabio Cannavaro, Didier Drogba, Freddie Ljungberg, Hernan Crespo, Thierry Henry, Anh Jung-Hwan. Beckham is overrated - but I'm not a girl so maybe I just don't get it.

Player of the Tournament: Fabio Cannavaro (Italy). Narrowly beats Zinedine Zidane.

Best players' names: Gilles Yapi-Yapo (Ivory Coast), Razak Pimpong (Ghana) and Yahya Golmohammadi (Iran).

Most common names: South Korea had 7 players named Lee and 5 named Kim.

Most boring teams: England, Ukraine, Switzerland

Most exciting teams: Ivory Coast and Ghana.

Dirtiest team: Portugal. For 2 reasons - the game against Holland, and because they have Christiano Ronaldo.

Underachiever: Spain (surprise, surpise!) While England also underwhelmed, the Poms were bad the whole way through. On the strength of their first 2 games however, Spain actually looked like the best team at the tournament. Expected to shrug off a history of underachievement, their 4th game against France showed they were reverting to type. Honourable mention goes to Brazil, whose spectacularly gifted artistes didn't really seem to want it at all.

Worst individual performance: Louis Saha (France) coming on for the last 5 minutes against Portugal, getting himself suspended for the final with a pointless tackle, then almost gifting Portugal the winner in the dying seconds with a pointless back-pass.

Most Disappointing Player: Frank Lampard. Allegedly the 2nd -best player in the world, he took 25 shots at goal without scoring and missed that penalty against Portugal.

Stupidest individual moment: Zidane's head-butt against Materazzi in the final. Inexplicably thought he was a buffalo or something. Zidane is probably one of the 5 greatest players ever - but he will now forever be remembered primarily for his insane final moment on a football pitch.

Best goal celebrations: Tied between Fabio Grosso's delirious head-shaking run after scoring against Germany, and Ecuador's Ivan Kaviedes' act of pulling a spiderman mask out of his shorts and running around with it on.

Worst refereeing incidents: Somehow not seeing Fernando Meira's outrageous karate kick on Arjen Robben during Portugal's win over Holland. Jet Li couldn't have done better. Oh, and most of the Australia-Croatia game. 3 yellow cards for Simunic! And that's not even counting his wrestling maneuvre on Viduka in the penalty area that everyone in the stadium saw except the refs.

Worst Coaching Performances: This is a tough call...
Sven Goran Eriksson (England) for just about everything. Primarily for coaching arguably the best collection of individual talent into a dull and pretty crap unit. He did one good thing - bringing Spurs starlet Aaron Lennon along to Germany. Countering that - neglecting strikers Darren Bent, Jermain Defoe and Andy Johnson, none of whom are world-beaters but at least they are STRIKERS!

Luis Felipe Scolari (Portugal) for starting with 3 defensive midfielders against England and playing a 4-6-0 formation at one point against France. Plus he didn't select the Portuguese league's top player, excitement machine Ricardo Quaresma. How does a team with some of the most exciting attacking talent manage to play such negative football?

Jose Pekerman (Argentina) against Germany. Must take talent-squandering lessons from Sven. Being beaten by the Germans with Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez sitting on the bench is unforgivable.

Guus Hiddink (Australia) against Italy. When playing against a team reduced to 10 men, fielding a team full of defensive midfielders and leaving Skoko, Thompson, Kennedy and Aloisi on the bench is not the sign of a "genius", as much as the Aussie media loves to portray him as such. Against the defensively brilliant Italians and with Kewell injured, Australia had no one who could run at the defense with the ball at their feet. The only other player who could do this, Archie Thompson, saw not a minute of action in Germany. In contrast, the ineffectual Luke Wilkshire and Jason Culina were given plenty of time on the field in which they created nothing.

Biggest whingers: Australian fans and media following the Brazil and Italy defeats. Get over it.

Breakout talents to watch: Didier Zokora (Ivory Coast), Franck Ribery (France), Aaron Lennon (England).

My Squad of the World-Cup – the best 23

Those in italics are the starters (in the currently popular 4-5-1 formation)


Fernando Torres (Spain)

Miroslav Klose (Germany)

Thierry Henry (France)

Hernan Crespo (Argentina)


Zinedine Zidane (France)

Michael Essien (Ghana)

Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

Andrea Pirlo (Italy)

Patrick Vieira (France)

Claude Makelele (France)

Maniche (Portugal)

Juan Roman Riquelme (Argentina)

Maxi Rodriguez (Argentina)


William Gallas (France)

Fabio Cannavaro (Italy)

Gianluca Zambrotta (Italy)

Philipp Lahm (Germany)

Hatem Trabelsi (Tunisia)

Lilian Thuram (France)

Fabio Grosso (Italy)

John Terry (England)


Gianluigi Buffon (Italy)

Ricardo (Portugal)

Patrick Vieira (right) - had an inconsistent season with Juventus where he often looked tired and uninterested, yet the Senegal-born French veteran was at his brilliant best in Germany. The central midfield trio of Vieira, Zidane and Makelele could be the greatest of all time.