Economists tell us that watching the World Cup will cost the UK about £4 billion in lost productivity. This seems a bit high, frankly, but the numbers on this range all over the place. Whatever, it will be a lot, and if you extrapolate that on a global basis, it’s a whole lot more. I’m gainfully doing my part. Earlier, for example, the all-consuming Honduras/Chile match was on at work, and it got some attention. And Chile eked one out, 1-0. But Honduras looked pretty scrappy. Football is football, and World Cup football is about as fun, and as good, as it gets.
Even with the Americans in it. I remember the last World Cup, in which Italy beat Germany in the final–I was in Germany at the time, in fact. Not too many Americans, or even British, remember that the USA came pretty close to knocking Italy off in the quarterfinals of that series. And while I’ve heard some grousing that the US team hasn’t really progressed much since then, well, neither has the UK, on the strength of the England/USA game. Which we watched in our local pub, with our American friends (who are actually UK citizens now) with their cute little American flags. It was a pretty good-natured bunch, actually, who were surprised that Mrs W and I were actually rooting for England. And it looked pretty good for a while there, too. At least the English didn’t revert, as they used to do, to their “kick it really far and see what happens” strategy this time around.
But of course the big hoo-hah has been over goalkeeper Robert Green’s mistake. The ball hit his hands and bounced away, as the entire universe now knows. Which allowed the USA to tie the game, on in which the two teams looked pretty evenly matched, although I would say that the English team seemed to have a bit more discipline, particularly in the second half. So poor Green has been the subject of much discussion, and while people don’t really want to say he’s a lousy goalie, it’s there below the surface, and there’s a lot of interest in whether Capello will put him in there tomorrow night.
At the moment, we’re in halftime in the Spain/Switzerland game, in which the Spanish team seems to have a slight edge—more possessions, certainly—but with no goals by either team yet. Some very good work by the Swiss goalkeeper, but this may not be sustainable for the whole game. Spain is one of the favoured teams in the tournament, but they’re not playing like it.
Anyway, back to poor Green. The thing is, there has been lots of controversy over the fact that it’s a new ball. And as the Bloomberg article points out, some people think it means something, and others don’t. But Green isn’t the only goalie to make what appeared to be a simple and elementary mistake. The Danish goalie had the exact same thing happen to him in the Holland/Denmark game—the ball hit his hands, and just skidded away. No goal there, though, so no one cared. Poor Algerian goalie Faouzi Chaouchi had the same thing happen to him, allowing Slovenia to actually win that game. And there have been a couple of other goalie howlers in the tournament as well, so you have to wonder.
And here’s the interesting thing. The ball, made by Adidas, was introduced last February so everyone in the competition could get used to it. But the English Premier League uses a Nike ball, and were contractually unable to start practicing with the new ball until they actually got to training camp a couple of weeks ago. Blame Nike. Or not. But that may be meaningful.
Or it may not be. As has been pointed out, this has not been a particularly high-scoring World Cup so far. In fact, there have been a fair number of low scoring games. Brazil and North Korea, for example—Brazil won, yes, but by a 2-1 score, hardly a blowout. In fact, what’s interesting about the games so far is that with one exception, they’ve generally been pretty close. (For example, Switzerland has just taken a 1-0 lead over Spain, the 2008 European Champion.) Quite a few of the games I’ve seen have been pretty even, with the winning team having just a bit of an edge—Slovakia, who played like a bunch of thugs throwing the New Zealand players around, still only won 1-0. The only teams to have scored more than one goal are Germany, South Korea and Holland. There seems to be a fair amount of parity, surprisingly. Brazil looked pretty good against North Korea, true—but North Korea looked pretty good, too. Brazil was hardly dominant. And the only match I’ve seen, other than the one described below, where the winning team had a clearly superior game was the Netherlands over Denmark—and the final score there was 2-0, not exactly a crushing victory.
The only exception was Germany over Australia, 4-0. This was indeed a blowout, and what was interesting about it was that Australia actually didn’t play badly—for much of the game they played quite well, I thought. But there were just genuinely overwhelmed by an exceptional performance—Germany could just do no wrong. I tend to root for Germany anyway, so I’m pleased. But I’m genuinely curious as to whether it was just a one-off performance by a pretty good club, or whether this may be the dominant team of the tournament. We’ll see. And there has been one genuine stinker—France and Uruguay. As Mrs W said, if that had been the first football game she had ever seen, she would never watch another one.
Meanwhile, Spain is looking, well, not quite desperate, but pretty irritated. Like they can’t believe they’re losing to Switzerland, a pretty good team, but one that’s not supposed to be in Spain’s league. Spain may pull it out, but this is the way this whole World cup has been going so far—not exactly according to plan. We seem to be spending a lot of time in front of the Swiss goal. Lots of shots on the Swiss goal, but the Swiss goalie is doing a fantastic job. Ooh, final minute, and lots of corner kicks, but the Swiss are holding on. Some great defending going on. And they win! Another 1-0 game. Delightful.
The above stamp is one of a series in honour of the 2010 World Cup by the host country, South Africa.