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World Cup Highs and Lows!

I’ve been pretty cynical about this world cup, but you have to admit, not without good cause!

Even before the events of the England and Mexico games, I wasn’t impressed with refereeing standards at what should be a showcase for all that is best in football. While both Germany and Argentina were deserving winners, their great performances were somewhat overshadowed by atrocious decisions. Referees in football have the hardest job in sports. Usually FIFA just hangs the refs out to dry, but perhaps this time they will get some help. We got the usual crap from Sepp Blatter right after the games last weekend, but the fact that England, being such a high-profile nation, were the victims here, could see video replay actually get a fair trial.

While all the press has been focusing on the big mistakes made by the tournament referees, lets not forget that some officials have been very good. With England out of the World Cup, the outstanding Howard Webb has a great chance at being the WC Final referee, and it would be well deserved. Webb’s odds have probably increased given the Lampard disallowed goal, as FIFA is a very politically driven organisation, and it would be a consolation gesture to the English FA if Webb was to get the gig. Howard Webb’s head also has the distinction of being the only thing at the world cup rounder than the Jabulani ball!

The Jabulani Ball

The Jabulani Ball

Less has been made of the Jabulani ball in the past few games, but it still seems as erratic as ever, and goalies are still being made to look bad. When Gianluigi Buffon and Iker Casillas, arguably the two best goalies in the world, think it’s a terrible ball, you have to listen – Cassilas famously comparing it to a “beach ball”. They are not alone though, with pretty much universal agreement that the ball is affecting player performance. Outfield players have seen crosses, shots, corners, and free-kicks balloon off into the proverbial ‘Row Z’, while the travails of the goalies is already well documented.

I don’t think the strange movement of the new 8-panel ball is solely to blame for the goalie errors – although I don’t recall seeing as many goalies totally miss punches as I have with the Jabulani. Starting with Robert Greene and throughout the whole tournament, goalies have been treating the ball differently, preparing to catch it differently, and trying to simply block it away, or punch it, instead of catching it. The hype surrounding the ball seems to have frightened them, and many fumbles have resulted from poor technique and lack of confidence. They are expecting it to do something strange, so even when it doesn’t, they are liable to make errors.

Some goalies, however, didn’t seem to start the tournament with a lack of confidence. Schwarzer and Kingson were outstanding early on, putting in solid and confident displays that probably made Capello jealous! Eventually though, the Jabulani had its day, and they both fumbled balls that lead to goals. Some outfield players also figured out the ball, to a degree, and we have seen some outstanding strikes, sadly they seem to be fewer and farther between than in previous World Cups. If you believe the player himself, Maicon’s amazing strike from an impossible angle was intentional, and if so certainly shows that the Jabulani can be tamed. Japan scored two outstanding free kicks in one game (poor Denmark), and Tevez’s strike against Mexico was probably the pick of the bunch. There have certainly been highlights in South Africa.

Ronaldo

Ronaldo - and from the Russian judge?

Unfortunately, the highlights have been overshadowed by discussions of refereeing, the ball, and of course the dreaded Vuvuzela. I won’t say too much more on the annoying, droning plastic horns, but it is nice to see that right-minded teams and organisations worldwide have already banned them from future sporting events… if only FIFA had! On top of these low-lights, the usual suspect has reared its ugly head… no, not Tevez, diving. Some of the on-field antics of players at this world cup have beggared belief, but I have to admit, not as many refs were conned as in past tournaments. I don’t recall seeing as many refs telling players to simply “get up”, and that’s great, but where are the yellow cards? Cristiano Ronaldo, especially, seemed to be the ‘victim’ of his own press. Even when he was fouled, refs were ignoring his petulant pleas, and rightly so – the boy who cried wolf! His reputation preceded him, and for once refs acted accordingly.

Worse even than diving are the con jobs – the rolling around or grabbing your face like you were just assaulted. These unsporting behaviours are even more unsavoury because they are not just intended to con the ref, but are attempts to get your fellow professionals carded or dismissed. Sadly, some worked. Until FIFA gets serious about the diving and cheating, the reputation of the game will suffer. I would gladly give up goal-line video replay to see FIFA institute retrospective reviews that targeted cheats and divers, rescinding cards when required, and meting out punishment when warranted.

Finally, after discussing the seedier elements of the game, I think it is only fair to single out Uruguay and Mexico for their final group match. Both teams only needed a tie to advance, and the concern was that they would just collude to achieve that result, seeing them both into the knock-out stages. Far from it! This was probably the most entertaining match I’ve seen to date, and it was clear from the start that both teams were out to win. That game momentarily restored my faith, the integrity shown was a breath of fresh air – which sadly only lasted until the Brazil v Portugal game.

Whatever the outcome from here on in, the World Cup in South Africa has been newsworthy, and a financial success – and as far as FIFA are concerned, that is all that matters. I still think that Spain will win it … I would love to see Uruguay go all the way though.

Go Go - Diego!

Go Go - Diego!

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