So that’s the end of another tournament then. “The Rainbow Nation” has had it’s hour in the Sun, and the rightful team have gone home with the trophy. We’ve heard Mr Blatter and co tell us how wonderful the tournament has been, a complete success for FIFA, that it has been a feast of football to satisfy the world. So that’s that then, right? Not quite.

In my humble opinion, the final summed up the tournament in a nutshell. Dour, defensive tactics, a lack of goals, a lack of breathtaking saves, and the deciding factor being a mistake. Quite simply, Holland were abysmal, and although Howard Webb has come in for all kinds of abuse today in the Dutch media, they should be looking much, much closer to home. Coach Bert van Marwijk’s tactics disgraced the famous Orange shirt.

Now although the Spanish misfired their way to the trophy, they are rightfully regarded as the best team in the world at this moment. However, over the course of 90 minutes, the Dutch side should certainly be able to hold their own. The difference between Holland’s 4-2-3-1 last night, and the 4-2-3-1 adopted by the Germans was breathtaking.

Looking back over the course of the tournament, how many sides released the shackles and went for the throat? How many teams set out to entertain the planet in the “best show on Earth”? Not many. Even those bastions of pure football, the Brazilians, played a style of football more accustomed to Rome than Rio. It is little wonder then, I suppose, that the country who gave us “total football” would degenerate into animals last night. For all the criticism directed by those in orange towards Howard Webb, they are clearly blind to the favours the Rotherham man gave them by allowing them to keep 11 men on the field for 109 minutes.

There were very few truly spectacular goals, or games that we’ll remember in a year’s time (even a week’s time is pushing it!) or truly breath taking individual performances. Many have blamed this on the ball, others on the games being played at altitude, but the blame lies solely at the door of managers and players.

Perhaps we should have expected a mediocre tournament when the World decided it no longer wanted to go to South Africa because of the quite extortionate prices being charged for everything from match tickets to hotels and flights. The South Africans themselves were determined to enjoy their World Cup, and I’m sure many of them will remember the competition in a very different manner to me, but nothing is more depressing than seeing a World Cup semi final played in front of empty seats.

So now the tournament moves on, and Brazil awaits the world’s coming. As disappointed as I’ve been this last month, I cannot wait for the competition to kick off in Rio de Janeiro. Neither can, I would assume, the cameramen of the BBC…

Deja Vu, anybody?

June 27, 2010

Don’t panic, I’m already in the middle of a post about England’s World Cup exit. However, just in advance of that I thought I’d refer to the disallowed Frank Lampard strike. I’m prettey sure it’s been covered here and here.

Come on Sepp, pull your finger out…

Now regular readers will know one of my major bug-bears is the people who run this great sport of ours. From UEFA’s climbdown on diving (and an acknowledgment that cheaters DO prosper) to FIFA’s absolute refusal to move into the 21st Century and embrace goal-line technology, the game’s governing bodies seem to make mistakes left, right and centre.

However, nothing compares to the latest move by the Confederation of African Football (CAF). These geniuses have decided that the decision of Togo’s Football Association, backed by their government,  to withdraw the squad from this year’s African Cup of Nations was unacceptable. This is despite the team being attacked by rebels with machine guns on the way to the tournament. The attack left two team officials dead, as well as wounding goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilale, yet CAF have announced that Togo will be banned from the next two African Nations competitions. They will also have to pay a fine of $50,000.

This decision, coming the day before the final of the competition, is quite simply staggering, not to mention callous in the extreme. The football community as a whole perfectly understood the decision taken by Togo to pull out, and anybody who saw the pictures of Emmanuel Adebayor in the aftermath of the attack would vociferously defend the actions of the Togolese. Indeed, I’d expect many of the squad to end up in a psychiatrist’s office in the not-too-distant future.

For those unaware of African history, conflict in Angola is not a new phenomenon. Indeed, the Angolan Civil War only finished in 2002, 27 years after it began. Perhaps the question of why CAF chose Angola to hold it’s largest tournament should be raised by FIFA. It seems churlish then to criticise Togo after they were attacked in a country that is almost synonymous with war.

Perhaps naïvely, I hold out faith that FIFA will overturn this decision from CAF. The African body have argued that they simply had to ban Togo, as their regulations stipulate that no country can pull out just before the competition in order to uphold the Cup’s integrity. Be that as it may, it must also understand the special circumstances behind Togo’s decision. And if it does not, it must be made to do so by Blatter and Co.

Indeed, with this being the year of the first ever African World Cup, it may even be worth the rest of the game’s governing bodies using their power to force CAF to back down. Imagine Platini’s UEFA refusing to allow the European qualifiers to travel to South Africa and fill CAF’s coffers. This would almost certainly see CAF’s decision overturned.

However, if Togo’s ban is allowed to stand, a possible solution is an invite to the Copa America, who normally invite Japan. This would allow Togo to take part in competitive football, and be a massive source of embarrassment to CAF at the same time. Hopefully, it won’t come to that.

Sepp Blatter always stated his ambition was to hold a World Cup in Africa. Before that, he should ensure the idiots who came up with this ban are sacked, and replaced by people with a degree of compassion.

This one promises to run and run, and I’ll be following it with a great deal of interest.

I really didn’t want to write this piece. I’d hoped the African Cup of Nations would be a glorious prelude to the biggest show of all, Africa’s first ever World Cup in June. I had hoped to see some brilliant attacking football, the sort of stuff exemplified by the Cameroon’s, Nigeria’s and Senegal’s of World Cups gone by. Instead, before the tournament even starts the Togo side were attacked on the way to the tournament.

Whilst this is a horrendous act of terrorism, and my thoughts go out to the team and their families, I can’t but help look at the bigger picture. Now I know, Angola and South Africa aren’t neighbours (although Angola shares a border with Botswana and Namibia, as does South Africa) the fact this is the continent’s first World Cup surely means we should be concerned by this lack of security.

Now my good friend Ross wrote a piece on the perils of Africa back in November, and this latest attack is just another tragedy in a long line of horrific events on the continent. However, if FIFA and CAF can’t keep the players safe, what chance do they have of ensuring the security of millions fans in June?

Now I’m expecting a few of you to think I’m scaremongering, and that FIFA will learn from this. Maybe I am, but I am genuinely concerned about the tournament itself. And I think the blame lies squarely at Sepp Blatter’s door.

The World Cup can bring so much to a nation. Much needed income is thrust into the economy, which can only benefit South Africa and hopefully the continent as a whole. However, I think the question needs to be asked is ‘has this World Cup been awarded too soon?’

Sepp Blatter has said throughout his reign as FIFA chief that he wanted to take the World Cup to Africa. It became his dream, his over-riding goal. And I admire that, I really do. However, it is of no coincidence that his reign is due to finish soon, and if he had not been influential in South Africa gaining this competition, he will have failed in his goal.

I must pose this question to you all though; is failure in that goal really as bad as the death of the Togolese last Friday?

I’ll leave you to make up your own mind.

Regular readers will know by now I hold most of football’s regulatory bodies in deep contempt. The announcement that FIFA are not prepared to explore technology on the goal line for at least another 18 months doesn’t do them any favours in my book.

Clubs all over the world are crying out for goal-line technology. Just a simple microchip in the ball, linked to a light behind it, would be enough to clarify whether a goal should be given or not. However, once again FIFA and the IFAB (International Football Association Board) seem to be on another planet to the people they claim to represent.

The most infuriating part of this is that on the 4th October, after a referee and his assistant failed to allow a strike from Fiorentina’s Alberto Gilardino against Lazio in Serie A, Blatter FINALLY seemed to accept technology was required.

“We still haven’t found anything which settles the problem. Now the inventor of Hawk-Eye (the system used in both Tennis and cricket) has said publicly his system would work. We will gladly take a look at it,” he said.

This from the man who instead said that more officials were the answer. We’ve then seen the controversial introduction of extra referees in this year’s Europa League, who none of us can say what they’ve actually provided in the three rounds they’ve been available for. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see this experiment continue into next Summer’s World Cup either.

However, FIFA had allowed some associations to try their own systems in non-league football, which includes the English FA. This latest ruling means that these trials cannot be taken any further until FIFA and IFAB’s AGM in March 2011.

The only positive to come from this appears to be Sepp Blatter has finally accepted that without this technology, too many big games are decided on errors of judgement. As much as FIFA insist the element of human error must still be a part of the game, even referees would like help in deciding whether the ball has crossed the line or not.

Despite my frustration that progress will not be made until 2011, I take my hat off to FIFA for finally exploring the proposal.

I just wish it hadn’t taken them so long.