My World Cup: The Best Ever? Or the Worst Ever?

By Paul Gardner

It is to be expected that each World Cup will, from now until eternity -- or until television and the marketers and the sponsors and the hype-merchants bury the whole thing under the relentless flow of their infantile antics -- will be the best ever.

We shall be told that, over and over again until we -- feeble-minded consumers that we are -- are bludgeoned into believing it. Such will be the fabulously expensive brainwashing that, quite probably, we shall come to believe it even when contrary evidence is staring us in the face.

I’m hoping that we haven’t already reached that stage. By which I mean, I hope we haven’t reached the first stage of that deterioration, the stage at which we cease to judge the World Cup by the one criterion that really matters: The quality of its soccer.

I’ll admit I haven’t been paying that much attention to the range of best-ever categories that are now being touted -- most of them involving money or showing off some sort of economic power -- most tickets sold, biggest payoffs for the teams involved, highest fees ever collected from official sponsors and so on.

We’ve also been deluged with political propaganda reminding us of the significance of this first-ever World Cup in Africa. I have no doubts that all of it is true. But I’m interested in the soccer, of all things, and I’d have to say that, by that yardstick, South Africa fluffed its lines badly by becoming the first-ever host country not to get out of the first round.

The political triumphs represent precisely nothing on the soccer front. Ditto for the marketing successes. It is of no interest to me to learn, in the middle of this supposedly soccer event, that FIFA has managed to get a couple of ambush-marketers arrested.

As for FIFA’s, and Sepp Blatter’s, and the South African organizers’ attempts to convince everyone that those moronic vuvuzelas are an indispensable and traditional part of the fun, please guys, credit us with some common sense.

By any of those synthetic, and to me irrelevant, criteria World Cup 2010 may well be the best ever. But can we take a look at what’s been happening on the field, you know, the soccer? This is what matters, and the news is not good.

The quality of the soccer has been decidedly ordinary. Yes, we’ve had a few dramatic games, well dramatic finishes anyway. But outstanding games memorable for great soccer? Forget it, not a single one. Star players? Wayne Rooney, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Franck Ribery have all gone home, having left no indelible memories for us to feast on. Landon Donovan did better than any of them -- and he’s already back playing in MLS.

Even the referees, who started the tournament so well, have suffered a letdown and given us one too many distorted results.

You may retort that all of my evidence is subjective. A lot of it certainly is -- actually, that is what we deal with mostly in this sport -- opinions. But I can move away from opinions, over into an area of figures and numbers. Let’s take a look at some stats.

The key one here is goalscoring. Those of you who do not agree, those who find low-scoring games completely acceptable may as well stop reading right now. Because I consider this the biggest of soccer’s problems.

As things stand, we have so far played 60 games in this World Cup, and 133 goals have been scored. An average of 2.21 per game. Make that 2.2166. The extra figures are necessary because World Cup 2010 is in a tight race with World Cup 1990 for the crown of worst-ever World Cup -- well, lowest scoring. The 1990 figure was 2.2115, so the South African edition will probably escape being tarred as the worst. Just second worst.

Of course, the South Africans are not to blame for this mess. Nor for that matter, is the “controversial” Jabulani ball. Remember how all the Jabulani hogwash started? As always, with goalkeepers, who moaned loud and long that the ball was a disaster for them, therefore it must mean more goals. There is no need whatever to listen to those guys, they’ve never made any sense.

The Jabulani has not been a factor. The blame for the goal drought -- I should say for the growing goal drought, for there is no sign at all that it will go away -- belongs squarely with FIFA and its tame little rules-making group, IFAB.

It is from those bodies that instructions and rule changes should have come, over the past decades, designed to maintain a balance within the sport between offense and defense, to ensure that it is neither too difficult nor too easy to score goals. A plan of action well known to American sports, but something that has so far proved to be beyond the grasp of the FIFA minds.

So massed defenses and their ever-complaining goalkeepers dominate, and coaches put on the field frightened formations with just one forward.

Rightly and properly all of those teams have gone. We are left with the Netherlands and Germany, both lively and committed to attack, Spain -- an attacking team, for sure, but one that so frightens its opponents that they all prefer to confront it with a massed defense -- and Uruguay, which may well have to rely on defense against the Dutch.

A flurry of goals in the semifinals would be nice -- to make sure this isn’t the lowest scoring-ever World Cup, and just to give us a taste of what we’ve been missing so far.

20 comments about "My World Cup: The Best Ever? Or the Worst Ever? ".
  1. Thomas Brannan, July 6, 2010 at 1:59 a.m.

    I'm not overly enthused with this World Cup either. Would this help. A change to the Offside Law. The attacker to whom the ball is played must have one man between him and the goal line and any part of his body can be even with any part of the second last defenders body.

  2. Dave Kaufmann, July 6, 2010 at 7:33 a.m.

    The GOALLESS Millionaires go back to continue fattening their bank accounts.
    Meanwhile Germany & USA stay on the
    "Success in Soccer" DEVELOPMENTAL method of creating players who can play the game comfortably @ the HIGHEST level against any team in the world.
    Congratulations to the DFB & USSF for your hard work with your Youth players.
    They ARE the future of the BEAUTIFUL game.
    Dave K
    Samba Soccer

  3. Mark Edge, July 6, 2010 at 8:59 a.m.

    Not the greatest World Cup (so far), but let's not miss the point. While the global game has grown and national leagues and their scouts populate their teams with players from all over the globe, the playing field has been leveled. We shouldn't be surprised at the decrease in goals scored as most teams, (North Korea the exception) can boast players represented from La Liga, Serie A, the Premiership or the Bundesligue, In other words, there are no more whipping boys. Ever since Cameroon played England in a quarter final, the African teams are no longer the "also ran" teams they used to be. The so called,second tier teams are harder to beat, and upsets are always in the offing. But the point is, that for the best part of a month once every four years, an entire country's soccer fans unite behind one team. Manchester United supporters stand next to Liverpool fans, Real Madrid fans drink Sangria with their Barcelona enemies, The River Plates lay down with Boca Junior fans and so it goes throughout the league rivalries all over the world.
    No greater passion is aroused as your National team carried you through an emotional roller coaster, with inevitable disappointment for all but one team. It makes the event glorious, no matter the tactical post mortem. Mr. Gardner's disapointment is another inevitabilty as he rarely finds anything positive to say about the modern game.

  4. Gene Jay, July 6, 2010 at 9:25 a.m.

    Dear Paul,
    Dude, just admit you don't like the World Cup, period.
    Beauty is in the beholder--I thought all the quarterfinals were great-especially the drama of Paraguay-Spain and Uraguay/Ghana. And watching Argintina and Brazil sweat were priceless to those who do not favor those particular teams. Its do or die, man--how can you not get excited is beyond me. Unless you write stuff negatively just to get folks fired up?

  5. Lloyd Elling, July 6, 2010 at 9:53 a.m.

    This is the best FIFA World Cup for me...the fan!! This is my 4th FIFA World Cup to attend. Every USA match exceeded the excitement of the USA winning against Portugal in Korea. We rarely sat down in all the USA was that exciting. USA fans have swelled in numbers and have grown in their expression of excitement, game knowledge and expectations...even anger. We do indeed stand equal to the fans of the world. We are truly becoming a soccer nation. However, I believe the key factor to making this the "most fun" FIFA World Cup for the fans has been the people of South Africa. The FIFA World Cup 2010 was alive and celebrated everywhere we traveled in the country. The South African pride to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup was evident in all corners of this beautiful country and people. The FANFEST sites were equally wonderful settings to share the experience. THANK YOU SOUTH AFRICANS! THE RAINBOW NATION EMBRACED ALL OF US! CHEERS TO SOUTH AFRICA!

  6. Gus Keri, July 6, 2010 at 10:13 a.m.

    I wouldn't classify this cup as the best ever or the worst ever. But there are few things that have made the situatuion worse for me. First: the vuvuzelas made it impossible for me to injoy the game. I like the fans interaction with the plays. Their cheering, singing and even booing add a human touch that was absent. Second: the jabulani ball made it hard to score goals, not because of the goalkeepers' complaints but because the awkward flight of the ball. In my opinion, the new ball had affected the strikers more than the goalkeepers. Third: I am disappointed with few teams that we always look forward to watching on the world stage and gone wrong here. Brazil (with their defensive style), Englnad, France and Italy are few examples. Fourth: The refereeing; (no need to add to this point). But there are possitive things also about his cup. Some games, although lacked soccer sophistication, provided some wonderful drama. The USA's games were all filled with drama. The underdogs, overall, provided good performances like New Zealand and Slovakia. Overall, I am satisfied with what I have witnessed.

  7. Brian Something, July 6, 2010 at 11:59 a.m.

    After the first set of group stage matches, I feared this would be by far the worst tournament I've ever seen. Fortunately, it's gotten better since then. The goals per game average was at something like 1.5 at that point, which shows how much more attacking it's been since.

    Still, I'm heartened that three of the four semifinalists are positive, attacking teams (though the fourth is a pretty good volleyball team), while the negative, defensive teams like Brazil, Italy and Paraguay are home. After Inter's success in the Champions League, I was afraid their style was going to gain ascendancy in world football.

    Some of these top players are playing up to 60 matches with their club (not counting World Cup qualifiers and friendlies) even before the World Cup starts. So after all this, it's no surprised many of the top players are just gassed. And since attacking play requires a lot more energy than defensive play...

  8. Julio Moreira, July 6, 2010 at 12:13 p.m.

    Mr. Gardner, I believe that because of your age you don't recall that the game has advanced, goals will be scarce, hard to come by, defensive tacticts have evolved, players are bigger, stronger, fit to the maximum and therefore there will be less goals.

    Get on with the times, if anything FIFA should change some of the off side rules, allowed technology to confirm the goals that referees have disallowed and then and only then you will see higher statistics on goals scored.

  9. Alvaro Bettucchi, July 6, 2010 at 12:21 p.m.

    I enjoyed this world cup, as I have all the others. The excitement was present, and I found that any country can upset anyone, which adds to the excitement. Regarding the need to score additional goals, we all would like to see that happen. In the 30's, most goalkeepers were short (Baciagalupi for Italy, 5' 8")and the goals were the same as now. Today, goalkeepers are over 6', agile, athletic (compared to the 30's and 40's) and the goals are the same. I have alway stated, FIFA should try one country's league (Italy, Germany, Spain, or in South America)and increase the size of the goals one yard larger and one foot higher. Another possible change, the goalkeeper cannot ever come out of his small box. Then make a decision.

  10. Roberto Avey, July 6, 2010 at 12:25 p.m.

    Terrible world cup - I agree with you

    You forgot Kaka, as a Superstar? WHY? He didn't do well either.
    The Jabulani, was a piece of Crap.

    I don't blame the BAD soccer on FIFA, it is a direct result of a universal soccer mentality. The coaches have a lot on the line and so do the players. The pressure is immense, therefore teams opt to play defensive. Also, Chile played "WONDERFUL" against Spain! I don't consider Spain offensive whatsoever, but YES, possession ball. Germany is offensive. Every team I saw play against Brazil played defensive, Except Holland, who outplayed Brazil MENTALLY.

    It seemed as though certain teams were tired, and/or had NO CREATIVITY. England, played SO direct. Italy, played so lame and had no-one in the midfield. France, had little spoiled kids playing and a crazy coach. Brazil, is still hurting from 2006, and opted for strict, defensive style and didn't have hardly any of it's NEW big stars (Neymar, Ganso, Pato, Hernanes, R. Gaucho, Adriano), also Brazil had a terrible left side.

    The teams this year were sad, even the African teams I was so exited to see, played awful. They had strength and speed but lacked creativity and the soccer (chess) mind. Ghana, was the least exciting team and they made it FAR! I thought Ivory Coast would do better!


  11. Kent James, July 6, 2010 at 1:10 p.m.

    Paul is a curmudgeon, but he's also right. Teams defend with at least 9 players behind the ball, and keep those players compact, because it makes it difficult for the opposing team to score (see most of the games against Spain). I think the only way out of this is to follow Alvaro Bettucchi's suggestion to try a bigger goal. If teams could successfully score from outside the packed defenses, then the defenses would have to challenge farther away from goal which would open up the space. Yes, 1-0 games can be exciting (the US-Algeria was one of the most exciting I've ever seen) but generally speaking, most games would be enlivened by more goals. How often have you said to yourself "this game needs a goal"? Additionally, more goals would make controversial referee decisions (involving goals/pks, etc) less significant, because one goal would no longer determine the winner or loser, as if often the case in low-scoring games. And since eliminating referee error is impossible, reducing the significance of the referees would return the game to the players.

  12. Mark Landefeld, July 6, 2010 at 3:16 p.m.

    My two questions:

    Do we need Law 11 anymore? It rewards a team for NOT DEFENDING TO WIN THE BALL, but rather for taking a position on the field -- that's not why I enjoy good defending -- let's make defending about good tackles and reading play for interceptions.

    Would we look at banning defensive double-teaming of the ball outside the penalty area? This is sort of the change the NBA took on in 1947 to promote attacking the basket by outlawing zone defenses. New rule -- no 2nd defender within 2/3 yds of the ball without a 2nd attacker in the same proximity (outside the penalty area).

  13. Loren C. Klein, July 6, 2010 at 4:49 p.m.

    Who cares if Rooney, Messi, or Kaka didn't leave their mark? Mesut Özil, Thomas Müller, Diego Forlan, David Villa, Luis Suarez, and Wesley Sneijder sure have! As for your point that there were no memorable matches, I point to Germany-Argentina and Ghana-Uruguay for being memorable from end-to-end for varying reasons. But I guess since those didn't involve Brazil or Messi doing something special they don't count.

  14. Jim Dickinson, July 6, 2010 at 7:15 p.m.

    Lighten up just a're too bitter. Maybe you should get out and kick a ball around to work some of the anger out. You're writing too much. No one on the planet would benefit more from blowing a vuvuzela than you.
    Try it.

  15. Kevin Leahy, July 6, 2010 at 8:42 p.m.

    I am not sure how to return the balance between offense and defense, but you should probably start with enforcing the laws. Jersey grabbing should not be tolerated and it was not in my youth. It should be more important to win with style than just to win, but that is not the mandate coaches are given. Five fouls from any field player should be an automatic yellow card and eight an automatic red card. Our best chance is to clean up the game, because the coaches will always be cautious, because they have to win to keep a job.

  16. Brian Something, July 7, 2010 at 9:30 a.m.

    As horrible as the first set of group games was, the five goals in the Netherlands-Uruguay match was the most scored in regular time of a World Cup semifinal since 1962. That's certainly a good sign.

  17. Robert Schaefer, July 7, 2010 at 12:06 p.m.

    The goal is already the perfect size. When the ball is struck perfectly, there is very little any keeper can do to prevent the goal. The best way of restoring offensive balance is to enforce the current rules, which favor shirt and shorts grabbing, body checks, arm grabs, etc. In short penalize players for playing the man instead of playing the ball. This would allow a lot more offensive ball skill to be on display.

    Also, believe it or not, because defenders have been allowed to get away with garbage play, it INCREASES the amount of diving being done by the offense, because the offensive player has to "sell" the foul way too much. It has gotten so bad, that today, when a player is fouled but stays on their feet, we find that no foul is called AT all!

    In sum:
    Yellow Card the defensive thuggery +
    Yellow Card the blatant diving
    = a return to the beautiful game.

  18. James Madison, July 7, 2010 at 10:49 p.m.

    Wah, wah, wah. Maybe I'm dazzled by the ready availability of the games on tv with intelligent commentating to boot, but this has been the most engrossing WCup I've watched, including 1998 and 2006 when I saw multiple matches in person.

  19. Anthony Pignataro, July 8, 2010 at 10:42 p.m.

    Paul... you are the crankiest guy discussing soccer. Do you let the air out of the ball when it rolls on your lawn?

  20. Christopher Holden, July 9, 2010 at 2:35 p.m.

    For those of you who want to complain about the World Cup officiating, particularly offside, go ahead, you're 100% correct. The good news is that there were some moments in this World Cup that were incredible. Don't tell me you weren't screaming at the top of your lungs when Donovan scored the winning goal against Algeria. That feeling was incredible. The Uruguay / Ghana game was an emotional roller coaster - talk about drama. And the comeback game of the tournament Brazil vs Netherlands felt good. I would have liked to see Team USA close out Ghana in regulation time (we had plenty of chances), but that's the way the cookie crumbles, next time. The Germany / Spain game was influenced by Mueller's 2nd yellow card, and that was a shame. He would have finished that chance in the 2nd half when the game was still 0 - 0. It has been a great World Cup, and the best is still to come this Sunday. I root for the underdog ... go Oranje go! Spain looks to be the first team to lose their opening game and still win the World Cup -- that is incredible.

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