The REAL Football Rant & Chant: World Cup Special

Howdy football fans,

My name is Will Cooling. You may know me from Writings From The Soapbox Moodspins’ best irregular political column or you may have noticed me lurking round the Nexus currently talking about some simply fabulous gay comics. However, you probably won’t remember that years ago I did two excellent football columns called ‘The Real Football Rant ‘n’ Chant’. Well with the greatest show on earth, the FIFA World Cup having finished on Sunday it seemed an opportune time to bring it back for a special World Cup Special, as I ask the Seven Deadly Questions of the 2006 World Cup.

Did the Italians deserve to win the World Cup?

Well yes and no. It can’t be denied that the Italians have been one of the two teams of the tournament, and they defeated the other one (Germany). They played a technically excellent, high tempo game and successfully married an excellent defence with a positive, attacking attitude (well for Italians). And, there’s something to be admired by a side that was able to ignore all the chaos that is surrounding their domestic game (the match-fixing scandal engulfing Italian football and the attempted suicide of Gianluca Pessotto) and just concentrate on the game. However, it cannot be ignored that they had a ridiculously easy tournament with Australia probably being the toughest team they faced until the Semi-Final, and they needed a good slice of luck to beat them (*cough*neverapenalty*cough*). However, I think the thing that clinches it, is the quality of their penalties in the Final Shoot Out. The Italians have a truly miserable penalty record having lost all three world cup penalty shoot outs they contested in the nineties (against Argentina in 1990, against Brazil in 1994 and France in 1998) and the dread they inspire was obvious in Italy’s maniacal attempts to get a goal against South Korea during Extra Time in 2002. To actually sit down and solve this problem and deliver penalties of such outstanding quality was incredible.

And if you disagree, look on the bright side. In recent years, no European World Cup winner has gotten beyond the Quarter-Finals in the next World Cup. So at least you won’t have to put up with the Italians being anywhere near the semis next time :).

STOP THE PRESS: Marcello Lippi Quits.

No surprise here. He’s won a World Cup, it’s all down hill from here, especially with a very tough Euro 2008 qualification group that contains both the Ukraine and FRANCE. Lippi exits a hero, and nothing can change that.

What was Zidane thinking?

Simple, some Italian SOB had called him a ‘son of a terrorist whore’ (Zidane is the son of Algerian immigrants) and goddamit he wasn’t going to let the filthy Italian get away with such racist abuse. Of course Matterazzi is currently denying using racist language, but he’s also using the always fun ‘some of my best friends are black’ defence, which short of a white hood or the phrase “I’m not a racist but…’ is the most cast-iron proof that someone is indeed racist. So yeah, whilst it seemed sad and a moment of disgrace at the time, we can now see it for what it was, a furious ram-charge of righteous politically correct vengeance. You see, to Zidane even the World Cup Final won’t get in the way of his holy mission to spread racial tolerance and love. So all Hail Zizou, arse kicking civil rights leader of the 21st Century.

NB/ And in it should be said, it is nice to see some violence of the football that actually looked like it could do some damage. You have no idea, as a rugby fan the blind fury I feel when I see the handbags at dawn that passes for ‘violence’. Jesus Christ, even Hulk Hogan worked stiffer than the likes of Lee Bowyer and Kieran Dyer.

Isn’t Germany Brilliant?

Yes it is. Germany has had a bad press for oh the past hundred years for little things like constantly waging war on the rest of Europe, genocide and David Hasslehoff’s music career. But what we were missing was the modern Germany; a Germany of busty blonde hardcore porn stars, copious lager and above all genuinely nice people who in no way want to rule the world. This World Cup perfectly showed this with the Germans’ natural efficiency and courtesy making them perfect hosts. The fact that under the once controversial management of Jurgen Klinsman they had produce their most attacking and exciting team in years was the cherry on the cake.

STOP THE PRESS: Klinsmann Quits.

Well not a big surprise this, he was hardly emphatic about his future when asked after the third/fourth play off. It actually underlines how smart Klinsmann is, he knows that he’s had a great ride this World Cup but that its highly unlikely he’ll be able to top this, if only because the pressure/expectation will be so much greater. Better to go out on top. The German FA appointing his influential assistant Joachim Loew to the manager’s job is a smart move. Hopefully Loew will be able to keep Germany playing the same high tempo, attacking football that won over so many fans (including me).

There also very interesting rumours that USA resident Klinsmann may take the USA job. Personally, I think this would be a bad decision for both parties. For Klinsmann seemingly reject Germany in favour of America would bring back all the contorvesory and accusations of lack of patriotism that his decision to live in America prompted. And for the Americans it would be a waste of money, Klinsmann isn’t that good a manager to get a good team out of painfully mediocre set of players. The Americans would’ve been better off going after Gus Hiddink, who has proven with both South Korea and Australia that he’s just the man for getting great performances out of football minnows. Sadly, the Russians beat you to him :).

What the **** happened to England?

Ah, England what happened? Well there’s a number of things that went wrong for England, but the key thing that should be noted is that there was nothing about England’s piss poor performances that should’ve surprised us. England had been given the easiest qualification group, and had promptly struggled dismally for a year against teams of the quality of Wales, Northern Ireland (who we somehow managed to lose to) and Poland. The key weaknesses in the England squad can be traced back to the manager Sven-Goran Eriksson and two flaws of his in particular. Firstly, was his complete tactical ignorance, which included an inability to make effective substitutions and a complete failure to take talented attacking midfielders such as Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Joe Cole and blend them into a coherent midfield. Worst of all however, was his absolute refusal to move from a flat back four when any rational analysis of England’s squad, with its abundance of central defenders and midfielders but near complete lack of quality wingers would recommend an adoption of either 3-5-2 or 5-3-2.

His second and much more damaging flaw was his cowardice to properly confront star players who weren’t performing. Now the old cliché is that form is temporary but class is permanent, but what that forgets is that football tournaments are temporary too. Eriksson repeatedly insisted on selecting players such as David Beckham and Michael Owen who simply weren’t performing for the side, and worse kept fiddling with the tactics to fit them in. This could be seen in the qualification campaign, where to get Shaun Wright-Phillips as a right-winger without dropping Beckham he experimented with 4-5-1 and placed Beckham in the wholly unsuitable ‘quarterback’ role. This World Cup was even worse, as he constantly kept chopping and changing the side to get a holding midfielder into the side whilst still playing Frank Lampard, when by the third game it was perfectly obvious he no longer warranted a starting place. A hard headed assessment of what was best for England, would have seen Lampard drop to the bench, with Haregreaves or Carrick partnering Gerrard in central midfield. And yet, instead we got a god awful 4-5-1 formation despite the fact that England lack the two things essential to make that system work, a number nine who can properly lead the line and (with the exception of the largely unused Lennon) pace on the wings.

These two flaws were the key reasons why England failed to make any real headway in Germany despite being placed with a ridiculously easy road to the final, with the easiest Group, the easiest second round opponents, the easiest quarter final (with the exception of Italy vs Ukraine) and what would probably have been a relatively easy semi-final against a knackered France. Of course there were other reasons; poor conditioning, England players believing their own hype and above all Sven’s ridiculous squad (I mean what idiot takes two injured strikers, one who can’t score for toffee and one who has never played a top flight game?). Oh well, there’s always next time.

What the **** happened to Brazil?

Brazil went into this tournament the runaway favourites, indeed after their storming performances in the Confederations Cup it was almost as if the other teams’ needn’t bother turning up. They had all the best players, and in Ronaldinho, they had the player that was going to dominate the World Cup. Well, things didn’t turn out to plan. Instead, of wowing us with their always-annoying tricks and flicks the Brazilians came to the World Cup looking extremely…well…ordinary. They were playing boring, conservative football and if it wasn’t for the pace and skill of their forward players and an easy draw they could have really struggled. The reasons are the usual ones, old players still in the side long after they passed their prime and stifling tactics. Thankfully, the French did us all a favour and put them out of their misery in a wonderful quarter-final, where the French and in particular Henry and Zidane showed the Brazilians what the beautiful game should look like.

Saddest of all was the sight of Ronaldo, formerly the greatest talent of his generation he was now a bloated, out of shape fattie with all the coordination of crack addicted penguin…whose been drinking…nit mouthwash. However, as the old cliché goes, the last thing a striker loses is his shooting skills and despite being barely mobile he was able to get the three goals that made him the greatest world cup goal scorer of all time. Just goes to show you can prove everything with statistics.

Time for penalties to go?

The always excellent Daniels brought this up, with a wonderfully bitchy attack on penalties. However, I’ve gotta disagree with him on this. Penalty Shoot-Outs are a perfectly proper part of the game and are in no way a lottery. Penalty Shoot Outs, test nerve and skill to a supreme degree and produce some of the most riveting sporting action around. And they are by no means unique; almost all sports have some form of ‘tiebreaker’ be it Penalty Kick Shoot Outs in Ruby, tiebreakers in Tennis or some bizarre and complex calculations in One Day Cricket.

In addition, we have to be practical, in today’s world major sporting events are primarily hosted for TV and the television schedulers would have an absolute fit if confronted with (say) a four hour Switzerland vs Ukraine match. And believe me, there are some games that could last four, five hours and there still wouldn’t be a goal because the teams would just sit back and play on the break. Lastly, with the pace modern football is played at it is very arguable that even 120minutes is simply too long for them to put on an interesting match. I mean if you go back to the excellent FA Cup Final between Liverpool and West Ham this season, after 90minutes of brilliant action you saw thirty minutes of half the players walking around the pitch whilst the other half were being treated for cramp.

So penalties should stay, unless you want to bring back the coin toss?

Who was the player of the tournament?

This is the first World Cup I’ve seen where it’s actually been difficult to pick the player of the tournament. Normally, World Cups produce a player that really stamps his mark over the whole tournament be it Gaza in Italia ’90, Dunga in USA ’94, Zidane in France ’98 and the superhuman Oliver Kahn in Japan/South Korea 2002 whose efforts in goal single handily got Germany to the Final. This World Cup does not have such a dominant player that really lit up the whole tournament.

Some are saying that this (along with the lack of goals) is proof that this has been a poor World Cup. I disagree, in many ways this has been a very good World Cup with some good games (especially in the group stages) and its never descended to the cynicism of Italia ’90, possessed the tedium of USA ’94 or suffered from the dearth of quality as Japan/South Korea 2002. I think there were two reasons for the lack of a ‘star’ player. Firstly, many of the players who could’ve been that player failed to perform to their best either through injury or poor form. Secondly and more importantly, no team built themselves around one player. If you take Brazil, they didn’t build themselves around Ronaldinho in the way that many people expected them to. This was a World Cup that placed a great emphasis on the team, with the sides that were successfully being the ones that were the most cohesive and coherent. That’s why we don’t have an outstanding player of the tournament simply because the really successfully teams were teams that eschewed any focus or dependency on one player. Instead the likes of the Germans, French, Italians and even the Portuguese had their players work together as equals, with no truck given to prima donnas.

However, if I had to pick a player of the tournament I’d probably go for the Italian Captain Fabio Cannavaro, who was a rock at the heart of the Italian defence. I know this will be controversial but I think Cristiano Ronaldo is probably a close second, he was by far the best thing about Portugal’s play and I doubt they’d have gotten anywhere near as far without him.

Quick Thoughts

Why have France kept Domenech’s on? Okay he got them to the final, but it was becoming painfully obvious as the game went on that the senior players, in particular Zidane were really running the team with Domenech’s as some sort of well-paid spectator.

The English media are an annoying bunch of racist crybabies. Rooney stamps a player in the clackers and all they can do is lecture the Portuguese on sportsmanship. I mean Jesus Christ fellahs what was Cristiano Ronaldo meant to do? Run up and praise Rooney? And I could only laugh when I heard the likes of Alan Shearer and Hansen attack the Portuguese players for trying to get Rooney sent off when the press (and nation) had gleefully reacted to two key Portuguese players being sent off against Holland.

Daniels doesn’t like the World Cup Trophy? How can such a wise man be so wrong? It’s the most beautiful trophy in the world (a close second is the FA Cup) and if he thinks that’s too small he should take a butchers at the Ashes trophy.

Wasn’t it great to see in Horacio Elizondo a ref who was actually completely 100% competent at his job without being flashy or attention seeking? He was flawless when officiating the England match (despite what our media said) and he handled the Final magnificently.

I can’t believe more hasn’t been made of the Irony that if Patrick Vieira’s legitimate goal against South Korea had have been given we’d never have had a France vs Italy final, instead that fixture would’ve been played at the Quarter-Final stage. Isn’t it funny how the shape of a whole tournament can hinge on one decision?

Graham Poll…what a wanker.

The Final Word:

So was it a good World Cup? I think it was, although I can see why some people are currently badmouthing it. The problem for this World Cup is that it peaked too soon, with the Group Stage being full of excellent games and good attacking play only for all that to pretty much stop dead the minute we got to the knock out stages. That meant that everyone was deeply disappointed with the knock out stages and so became slightly disillusioned with the World Cup as a whole. That’s unfair, as I’ve already said this World Cup was not a dirty world cup, it wasn’t a boring world cup nor was it a particularly weak world cup. It just wasn’t a great World Cup, but we can’t hold that against it.

That said I leave you with a possible way to improve the World Cup. There’s no doubt that the group stages produced by far the best matches, largely because that without extra-time/penalties evenly matched teams don’t just play out for the draw and that because a loss isn’t the end of a country’s World Cup the fear of failure isn’t quite as stifling. With all this in mind, maybe its time to scrap the Second Round and the Quarter Finals and bring back the Second Group stage. Four groups of four, winners progress to the semis. We’d get more matches (ten more by my count) and proper heavyweight clashes that weren’t stifled by teams being petrified of losing.

And on that note I must take my bow. I hope you’ve enjoyed this one-off column and please do join me over at The Nexus and Moodspins (whenever it comes back).