Four days in and, if anything, World Cup 2010 is getting even worse, but why is it that the tournament described as the biggest sporting event in the world has been such a damp squib up to now?
People say that major football tournaments are always as dull as this one has been in the opening group stages, but that’s not my recollection. The last few World Cups have been entertaining and enjoyable in the group stages only for a more cautious approach to take over when the matches reach the last sixteen stage where teams know that defeat means their tournament is over.
The stats back my opinion up as well. So far eleven matches in South Africa 2010 have yielded a meagre eighteen goals and that is the comfortably the lowest figure in the last five tournaments (it’s probably lower than the ones before 1994 as well, but I didn’t go back any further). USA 1994 saw a poor 21 goals coming from it’s first eleven matches, France 1998 and Germany 2006 both had twenty seven while South Korea/Japan 2002 had seen a very impressive thirty one goals scored at the same stage.
As for reasons why South Africa 2010 has been such a yawnathon so far, well I’d suggest three of them. The first, and probably least important, is that the modern football pitch seems to be a lot harder than they were previously and need to be watered constantly.
Secondly, the new Adidas Jabulani ball seems to be designed to make playing good football as hard as possible. I saw it said yesterday that Mbia’s shot for Cameroon from twenty five yards which hit the Japanese crossbar showed that the ball wasn’t a problem, but, surely, the point is that, apart from goals stemming from blunders by the keeper, in eleven matches that is the only shot from distance which has come close to producing a goal. Most of the best players in the world are in South Africa at the moment and the fact that none of them have managed to score with a powerful long range effort (or managed to truly test the keeper with a free kick) tells you something about the ball being used.
Is it a coincidence that the Jabulani has been in use in the Bundesliga since February and that Germany have looked the best team in the tournament so far (England were given the opportunity to use the ball in the months leading up to the tournament but, typically, existing ball deals with Nike in the Premiership and Umbro for international matches stopped them from doing so)?
Football is the best game in the world because of it’s simplicity. It doesn’t need tricked up balls and lively pitches where players struggle to stay on their feet to make it interesting – in fact exactly the opposite is happening at the moment.
Having said that though, it also has to be acknowledged that the attitude of so many of the teams seen so far has been disappointingly negative. With three points for a win and only two teams qualifying from each group, you really need to win at least one match to make it into the last sixteen and, in the past at least, this has resulted in sides having a right go at it in one or two of their group matches – that could still happen of course, but up to now, the attitude adopted by some teams has baffled me.
Take that Cameroon v Japan match yesterday for example. With Denmark, arguably the second strongest team in the group, having been beaten by favourites Holland less than an hour earlier, you would have thought that would have been the signal for the teams to go out and try to take a huge step towards qualifying with a win and yet both sides seemed scared to cross the halfway line.
As it turned out, Japan can point to the three points gained and say “job done”, but the goal which came from the only incident worth remembering in the first half was almost entirely down to woeful Cameroon defending. Cameroon are nineteenth in the current world rankings, that’s seventeen places above Denmark and twenty six ahead of Japan, but, right to the end, they stuck with the bizarre selection of Samuel Eto’o on the right as they became another African nation to learn that if you put mediocre European coaches in charge of your team, they will nullify your traditional strengths and have you playing like a mediocre European team in no time at all!
Saying that this is the most boring World Cup since 1962 is probably being harsh on the tournament held in Chile forty eight years ago because the truth is that I can’t remember it – a more accurate description would be to say that this is the most boring World Cup I have seen since I first became aware of them in 1966.
Up until now, the worst World Cup I had seen in terms of lack of entertainment and negative approaches by most competing teams was Italia 90. Ironically, the game in this country experienced a boom in the years that followed which, economic downturn or not, shows no signs of stopping yet but this was entirely down to England making the semi finals and Gazza’s tears. However, the global view of Italia 90 can be gauged by the law changes brought in following it to try and make the game more attractive such as the one banning goalkeepers from handling back passes and switches in emphasis in the offside rules in favour of attacking players.
Hopefully, things might improve in South Africa 2010 in the next fortnight as players become more used to the Jabulani and the need for a win becomes paramount, but I wouldn’t mind betting that the subject of rule changes to improve the game as a spectacle has been given an airing in the FIFA corridors of power over the past couple of days.