We’ve come to the end of the group stage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. The first round provided fans across the globe with plenty to talk about. So here are some of the good, the bad, and even the ugly storylines from the first round.
The mix of surprises and expected results. Many of the biggest names and countries have come out firing. Germany, Spain, Portugal and Argentina have all played well and each look poised to contend for the title. There have been plenty of surprises as well with teams such as New Zealand and South Africa going toe to toe with the well known French and Italian teams. Not to mention the United States winning our group for the first time since 1930.
Speaking of South Africa, they have done a wonderful job hosting this tournament so far. There were major concerns coming into this tournament. Most of those concerns have been laid to rest. With beautiful stadiums and enthusiastic fans filling them, the South Africans have shown they are well capable of being hosts for events such as this in the future.
The officiating has been horrible thus far. I’m not talking about the calls made against the United States either. I’m more concerned about the card-happy officials who have been handing out cards like we hand out candy on Halloween. In today’s match between Portual and Brazil, the ref gave out seven yellow cards in the first half alone. The Germans can relate. During thier second match of group play striker Miroslav Klose was sent off in the 36th minute of play for a challenge that was at most a just a foul and a free kick for their opponent.
The two ugliest storylines from this World Cup involve the teams involved in the 2006 Final. First, the fall of the Italians. Italy came into the tournament as the defending champions after defeating a talented French side in Berlin in ’06. With many skeptics saying the Azzuri were too old to contend with nine members of their squad over thirty years of age. Not only did age seem to be a factor but the injury to Andrea Pirlo were reasons many raised concerns about the Italians. How quickly those concerns shown themselves to be legitimate. A draw against New Zealand left Italy needing a win to advance and surely they were capable of beating Slovakia…or not. Not only did they lose to them but they played with no emotion or sense of urgency. In fact they seemed totally complacent until they woke up around the 70th mintue. In the end it was too little, too late for the Azzuri and they were sent out. If not for the disgrace that befell the French this would by far be the most disappointing story of the tournament so far.
France just imploded on themselves in one of the worst displays soccer fans have ever seen. A story of too much money, too big of ego, lack of respect for wearing the national jersey turned the Les Bleus into just blue. One of their best players, Nicolas Anelka, was sent home for criticizing the coach, then the team decided to skip a practice as a result of Anelka’s departure. If that wasn’t bad enough, two of the assistants for the French side also quit. Finally, France left the World Cup after losing to a South African side that they were certainly more talented than. France has a lot of work to do if they expect to reach the World Cup again in 2014.