Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Fri 7 July 2006

The End of the World (Cup)

"And so the end is near, and I must face the final" etc, etc. Yes, the World Cup is about to disappear from sight for another four years once again. One minute we're counting down the days with great expectation, waiting for the tournament to start, the next, we think it's all over. After Sunday night's Final, it will be.

So what have we learnt from this year's competition? Let's reflect for a moment...

1. Never write off the Africans
Before proceedings got underway, I was asked to predict the finishing positions for each first round group and yes, I admit it, I put all the African teams bar one at the bottom of their respective groups. How wrong I was. In the end, only one African team out of the five (Togo) finished bottom of their group, and I felt suitably ashamed.

It should be said that in recent times, African nations have achieved more and more at the Finals but this year saw arguably their best tournament yet. Angola and Ivory Coast finished third in their groups on their World Cup debuts while Ghana went one better by finishing second in theirs to qualify for the second round. Had they met Switzerland rather than Brazil directly after, they might have reached the Quarter Finals.

All in all, the African teams performed remarkably well and looked not one bit overawed. The Angolans, we were told, were in organisational disarray, the Ghanaians lacked fire power, Ivory Coast only played 'route 1' football and Tunisia were likely to under-perform. How wrong we were. Well, I was in any case.

2. Sexy Football gets you nowhere
Back in the heady days of Round 1, we were treated to the occasional glimpse of what World Cup football should be like. Teams like Holland, Mexico, Spain and Argentina followed the lead of Germany in the opening game by playing the ball around just like you’d expect Brazil to. Actually, they played the ball better than Brazil really did, but that’s beside the point.

While we were swooning at the performances that were laid before us, the likes of France, England and Brazil seemed to be struggling to even get a result, let alone play well, and yet when it came to the crunch, most of those teams that played sexy football were soon on their way home. All of which goes to prove that grinding out narrow victories in a workmanlike fashion with no frills can reap the ultimate rewards. Any Arsenal fan can tell you that.

3. There’s no place for sportsmanship in the modern game
For some reason, the vast majority of games at this World Cup have been littered with the gentlemanly act of kicking the ball out of play when a player is lying on the ground injured. Sadly a lot of the time, they’re just lying.

Whereas once upon a time a player would roll around on the ground for a while after being fouled (thus prompting a free kick to be awarded), nowadays the referee turns a blind eye until such a point when the injured player’s audition for RADA can no longer be ignored. The ball is kicked out of play, the stretcher bearers come on, the injured played is taken off, the ball is thrown back to the opposing team’s goalkeeper – sometimes back off the field again - and the ‘injured’ player returns to the field of play. All this causes the ball to be off the field more often than it should and everyone gets bored waiting for something to happen.

It seems the days of football becoming a non-contact sport like Basketball are now not far off.

4. Ignore the FIFA Rankings - they’re worthless
According to FIFA just before the World Cup, the Czech Republic were the second best team in the world. The USA were the fifth best. Neither made it past Round 1. Nigeria and Denmark were ranked joint 11th in the world, and they never even made it TO the World Cup Finals.

Something’s obviously wrong, and FIFA have finally realised it. Starting next month, their World Rankings will be calculated using a different system which they hope will give a fairer reflection of who’s best and who’s not. And not before time…

5. If you think you’ve got enough strikers in your squad, take one more
You never know when they might come in handy, eh Sven?

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