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The Libero - My World Cup A-Z

Published: 14 Jul 2010 - 07:19:26

A - Azzuri. The reigning world champions' efforts to defend their crown were as insipid as their early exit was ignominious. Marcelo Lippi's side were a shadow of the organised, disciplined, smart and technically gifted team that triumphed four years previously, and a last-placed finish in a group containing Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand understandably prompted headlines in the Italian press such as "Shame!" and "Disgrace of the world".

B - Bafana Bafana. Everybody's second favourite team at the tournament can take a great deal of credit for enlivening proceedings right from the moment Siphewe Tshabalala's fierce strike hit the back of the net in the opening game against Mexico. Let's be honest, no one had given the hosts much hope of progressing, but victory over France in their final group game gave South Africa, and the continent as a whole, a great deal to shout about.

C - Cheating. "He's not a hero, he's a trivial cheat. What hand of God? It was the hand of the devil." The words of Ghana coach Milovan Rajevac resonated with millions after Luis Suarez did a fine impression of a goalkeeper to deny the Black Stars a historical place in the semi-finals. The Uruguay striker paid the price with a red card but his later reference to Diego Maradona's famous boast angered many and ensured the debate over whether he cheated or not will rage for some time to come.

D - Devil's trumpet. Ah, the vuvuzela. If there is one lasting image of this World Cup, surely it will be the multi-coloured and ingeniously decorated plastic trumpets. The incessant wall of noise created by their playing has split opinion in South Africa - atmosphere-enhancing celebration of local tradition or tinnitus-inducing irritation? We'll only really find out when they rear their noisy, bulbous heads at English grounds next season.

E - Europe. Much had been made of Europe's supposed cession of power to South America, with Uruguay and Paraguay joining Argentina and Brazil in the heavily Latin-influenced quarter-finals. But that was about as far as it went, with just Uruguay flying the flag any longer as Europe provided three of the four semi-finalists. An all-European final confirmed the continent's domination of the tournament, although things are like to be very different in four years' time on Brazilian soil.

F - Former Manchester United players. It used to be true that when players left Old Trafford, their careers generally went downhill. Not so any more, as the trio of Diego Forlan, Gerard Pique and Carlos Tevez proved in South Africa. All three former Reds stood out at the tournament with Forlan winning the Golden Ball, Pique a winner's medal and Tevez weighing in with a couple of goals and some energetic performances. Still, Alex Ferguson can at least console himself with the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo was rubbish.

G - Goal-line technology. Frank Lampard's 'goal' that wasn't could prove to be one of the most important incidents in world football for quite some time. The ramifications of the decision not to allow the England midfielder's goal to stand could be huge, with pressure now mounting on FIFA to drag the game into the 21st century by introducing instant video replays of goalmouth incidents.

H - Howlers. It's a shame, but bloopers are just as much a part of highlight films as the brilliant goals, fancy flicks and wild celebrations. South Africa will be remembered - certainly by England fans - for a series of goalkeeping blunders that baffled, shocked and entertained in equal measures. Rob Green, take a bow. But also step forward Vincent Enyeama, Faouzi Chaouchi, Mark Schwarzer and Alexandros Tzorvas

I - ITV. The battle for television supremacy was just as fiercely contested as events on the pitch, with ITV surprising many with a performance of some standing. That was mainly due to one man - former BBC employee Adrian Chiles. He may not be everyone's cup of half-time tea, but Chiles managed to make the transition seamlessly, losing none of his dry humour on the way. Four former pros in open-necked shirts can only offer so much; Chiles provided a little something extra. It's just a shame Andy Townsend had to be there too.

J - Jabulani - Along with the vuvuzela, the Jabulani ball was the most talked about new addition to the game in South Africa. The adidas creation was roundly criticised for being too lightweight, and the dearth of free-kicks that actually hit the target throughout the tournament was testament to the difficulty players had in controlling it. Verdict: bring back the Tangos of '82.

K - Karma. Wind the clock back to November last year. Paris, the Stade de France, the 103rd minute of the second leg of the World Cup qualifying play-off. Thierry Henry stock plummets as he handles the ball twice in the build up to the decisive French goal. Fast forward to June 11, 2010, Green Point Stadium, South Africa. France are drawing 0-0 with Uruguay in their opening game of the tournament when Henry's goalbound effort strikes Mauricio Victorino on the arm. No penalty; cue a rueful smile from Henry as he realises that karma has a nasty habit of coming back to bite you on the backside.

L - Les Miserables. France's ill-fated campaign had all the drama of the Victor Hugo novel, but none of its class. A foul-mouthed half-time bust-up between Nicolas Anelka and Raymond Domenech sparked a barely credible sequence of events, which included a training ground fight between captain Patrice Evra and a fitness coach, accusations of a mole within the squad, a player boycott, some tearful TV appearances, the resignation of the head of the FA and an investigation headed by the French President himself. Truly brilliant.

M - Mannschaft. Equally brilliant was the performance of Joachim Loew's vibrant young Germany side, who roared through the tournament with breathtakingly destructive victories over England and Argentina before finally meeting their match in Spain. Solid as a group, with no disruptive egos and playing a counter-attacking football that few could handle, Germany proved they will be a tough team to beat in 2014.

N - New Zealand. Considering New Zealand is a nation where rugby is the majority sport, the All Whites' record of three draws, making them the only team to go the entire tournament undefeated, was hugely impressive. Factor in a spirited display against world-champions-at-the-time Italy, and the feats of Ricki Herbert's side become even more formidable.

O - Octopus, Paul the pyschic cephalopod. When it emerged that one of the World Cup's biggest stars had made a shock decision to retire immediately after the final, to be honest, Paul's name was not the first to spring to mind. But having captured the imagination of the world with his predictions - and delighted journalists who may otherwise have struggled on slow news days near the end of the tournament - Paul has called it a day. Presumably, before anyone realises his 100 per cent record was nothing more than luck.

P - Premier League prospects. As with every World Cup, there are several players whose performances have thrust them into the spotlight and maybe, just maybe, won them a contract with an English club. Three leading contenders to be plucked from obscurity: Asamoah Gyan, Pablo Barrera and Michael Bradley.

Q - Questionable refereeing. It's a tough gig, but some of the refereeing at this tournament has been pretty awful. From the previously-rated Roberto Rosetti's gaffe in the Argentina-Mexico game to England's favourite Uruguayan Jorge Larrionda. And dare we add England's very own Howard Webb to the list after his performance in the final?

R - Revolt. John Terry's public rally against the Fabio Capello regime was never going to help England's cause in South Africa, but it was the way it failed so spectacularly, with even Chelsea club-mate Frank Lampard backing out at the last minute, that did much of the damage. If JT is thinking of having another crack in the future, perhaps he should first ask Patrice Evra for a few pointers on how to launch a proper mutiny.

S - Spare seats. FIFA claimed to have sold every ticket for the finals and there is no reason to dispute that. So why so many empty seats, even at the final? It''s an issue that Sepp Blatter and his cronies at world football's governing body need to address, although with their job done - and their wallets full - it may be wishful thinking that something will be done.

T - Total Football. Or rather, the death of it. The days of Johan Cruyff and the Netherlands' stylish campaigns in 1974 and '78 are long gone, the final nail in the coffin of Rinus Michels' legacy being hammered down by a brutal Dutch display against the artisans of Spain. Opinion in Oranje country may be split over Bert van Marwijk's destructive tactics, but another final apperance would suggest that at the very least, it's an effective way to play the game.

U - Underachieving stars. Kaka, Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba all failed to live up to the pre-tournament hype, disappointing the marketing men at FIFA (and, no doubt, Nike), but allowing the likes of Forlan, Wesley Sneijder and Thomas Mueller to shine instead. The shame is, you can bet your bottom dollar all five will be back to their blistering best once they don their club shirts once again in a few weeks.

V - Van Bommel, Mark. The poster boy of Dutch anti-football, Van Bommel is the prince of the dark arts of the game, and for mastering such a difficult line of work, surely he should be admired, not pilloried. A ceaseless stream of tackles that fall just the right side of legal and the inevitable 'who, me?' protestations of innocence, just in case there is any doubt in the referee's mind, combined to confuse officials throughout the tournament. And it worked. Van Bommel played seven games in South Africa and was booked just twice and was not sent off at all. Incredible.

W - Winners. Spain. Undeniably the best team at the tournament and the best team in the world for the past three years. No one can argue with the adding the world crown to the European title they won two years ago and while their brand of tiki-taka passing may not have produced the glut of goals expected, Vicente Del Bosque's side nevertheless emerge from the tournament as fully deserved winners.

X - Xavi. Thank goodness for players whose names begin with an X when compiling A-Z lists. And even better that Xavi also just happens to have been the best player of tournament. While Andres Iniesta won the plaudits for his decisive, late intervention in the final, his Barcelona team-mate was the creative heartbeat and the most important cog in the well-oiled Spanish machine throughout the tournament.

Y - Yellow cards. Fourteen of them to be precise, all brandished in the final by Mr Howard Webb, the last Englishman standing in South Africa. Webb has since been pilloried for his performance, but other than his decision not to dismiss Nigel de Jong for a chest-high karate kick on Xabi Alonso that Jackie Chan would have been proud of, he didn't really put a foot wrong. And considering the tone set by the Dutch, he had little choice in showing so many cards.

Z - Z-list WAGs. The lack of them. Thankfully we were spared the sight of a posse of attention-seeking, pointless England WAGs tottering down the road in high heels this time round and were instead left to admire the talent of the likes of Sara Carbonero, the girlfriend of Iker Casillas, who as a journalist actually had a purpose in South Africa. Although that said, even she ended up making the headlines, first for 'distracting' Casillas for the goal against Switzerland and then for being on the receiving end of a snog with the keeper during a post-final interview.

DSG


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FOOTBALL.CO.UK BLOGGER:the libero
Libero (noun): 1. Versatile, ball-playing defender given licence to roam. Expected to break up opposition attacks while instigating counters. Role patented by German legend Franz Beckenbauer. 2. Versatile weekly football columnist, aka journalist Mike Hytner, given licence to write what he likes. Expected to file every Wednesday. Not nearly as talented as his boyhood hero Der Kaiser.

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