Only twenty years prior, Nelson Mandela had been released from the prison on Robben Island that was used to house many dissenters of the South African apartheid movement. As the world’s premier sporting tournament became ready to take shape, the views expressed in the mining song “Shosholoza” gave the team a new sense of optimism after almost a century of political isolation and despair for many of its citizens. As the song’s lyrics go, “Shosholoza kulezo n’taba stimela siphume South Africa” (Move forward on these mountains on this steam train from South Africa). This tournament saw both finalists crash in spectacular fashion, the defending runner-up embarrassing themselves to an unprecedented degree; it saw the host team earn a measure of national pride, even though they would fail to be the first host nation to advance past the first round; it saw a plucky American team have this sport’s equivalent of the Miracle On Ice; it saw their counterparts in England struggle all tournament, their humiliation coming full circle on a disallowed goal against an old rival; it saw many old powers suffer defeat early, even Germany; it saw a shocking team from south of the equator, the lowest ranked team in the competition, leave with their first points in their history, and even more (not to give too much away); it saw the rise of Africa’s third quarterfinal team, famous for a black star, only for them to be eliminated in controversial and heartbreaking circumstances; and it saw a revolutionary style of play, popularized in La Liga only a few years earlier, to lead a long-divided country overcome all its self-sabotage on the world stage to become one of the best international teams in any international competition, on their way to finally, finally winning their first Cup title.
(The 2010 FIFA World Cup logo. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)
(Once a mining song, “Shosholoza” became a rally song for all of South Africa. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
2010 FIFA World Cup
June 11-July 11
Runner Up: Netherlands
Third Place: Germany
Fourth Place: Uruguay
Golden Boot: Diego Forlán (Uruguay); Thomas Müller (Germany); Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands); David Villa (Spain) – 5 goals each
There was still some fury left over from the 2006 vote that awarded the Cup to Germany. FIFA president Sepp Blatter was determined to spread the game as wide as he could, and although a short-lived idea of continental rotation was quickly abandoned, South Africa earned the right to host its first Cup, only forty years after having its first guaranteed spot. At the official announcement on May 15, 2004, South Africa won the vote (14 in total) over Morocco (10) and Egypt (0), and as hosts, Bafana Bafana qualified for their third tournament overall. But as the world would quickly find out, the Blatter administration was rife with corruption and allegations of bribery. British newspaper The Daily Telegraph even alleged that Morocco had won the vote, but South Africa was chosen anyway. Although various officials inside Blatter’s cabinet, legendary ex-player Franz Beckenbauer among them, began doubting South Africa’s viability, FIFA launched no formal investigation. Upon hearing the result, an emotional Nelson Mandela lifted the trophy in triumph. Barely twenty years from the collapse of apartheid, South Africa was now a major player on the world stage.
(Nelson Mandela is overcome as he lifts the World Cup trophy. Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated.)
Qualification and preparation
The format remained the same from each of the last three tournaments: 32 teams overall, with three points for a win, one for a draw, and goal difference used as the first tiebreaker. Official seeding began in Durban in November 2007. Reigning champions Italy were forced to qualify as per new FIFA policies, but they won their group by six points, ahead of Ireland and Bulgaria. Thirteen spots were guaranteed in UEFA, and there was one newcomer, the only official one, although it could have been counted as the first World Cup without any newcomers. What do I mean by that? Well, Slovakia won their group by two points over Slovenia, and since FIFA recognizes Czech Republic as the successor of Czechoslovakia, I’m counting them as a newcomer. Also winning their respective groups were Denmark, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, England, Serbia, Italy, and Netherlands. Eight of the nine second place teams made a two-legged playoff for the final four spots. The worst second-place finisher would unfortunately be eliminated, which in this case was Norway from Group 9 (paired with the Netherlands). Advancing to the playoff were Portugal, Greece, Slovenia, Russia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ukraine, France, and Ireland.
(Slovakia made their first official World Cup as a separate country in 2010. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.)
The UEFA playoffs matched Portugal against Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ireland and France, Greece and Ukraine, and Russia against Slovenia. The Slovenians managed to get into the Cup in what was considered a pretty big upset, using the away goals rule to advance on aggregate (in a two-leg playoff, whomever scores more goals as the visiting team would own the tiebreaker). Zlatko Dedic scored the goal to get them in. Russia filed a protest for the match to be replayed, but it was denied. They took their lead from the Ireland-France matchup, which ended in controversial circumstances.
France won the first match 1-0 at Dublin’s Croke Park with a Nicolas Anelka goal (72′). In the return leg at Stade de France in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis, it looked like Ireland would force the issue with a Robbie Keane goal (32′). Since the away goals were tied, they used the same rules as the knockout stages of the Cup. If everything remained the same, it would go to penalties. In extra time, Florent Malouda took a free kick for Les Bleus. Two blown calls would doom the Irish – one was an offside call. As frustrating as those are to miss, it does happen. The other one was unforgivable, and many accused the French of outright cheating. The ball sailed toward the right side box of Irish keeper Shay Given. Racing toward the ball was Thierry Henry, heading toward the left, the ball bounced twice. Henry stuck out his hand and stopped the ball from going out of bounds. It was an obvious handball. Surely, Henry would be disciplined, or at the very least, Ireland should have won a free kick. But Swedish referee Martin Hansson made no call. Having corralled the ball, Henry now passed it to an onrushing William Gallas. Gallas’ subsequent header didn’t miss, and France had leveled the score 1-1, 103 minutes in. Ireland didn’t get a second goal (which would have put them in on away goals) and France managed to qualify. But even many neutral fans claimed it was stolen. Henry didn’t say anything, likely caught up in the heat of the moment more than anything else. La Fédération Française de Football (FFF), France’s organizing committee, seemed hellbent that Henry keep his mouth shut. Henry admitted that he had done the handball, but went unpunished for it. His reputation was never the same after that – not only did he receive threats of physical violence, but many now saw his career as a punchline. Henry contemplated retirement, but the FFF basically encouraged him – some would say forced him – to stay for one last go round. Manager Raymond Domenech was still there from 2006 as well, but he was a sour, unfriendly man who had lost control of the locker room and much of the respect of his players along with it. These tensions would break into out and out mutiny during the competition. Ireland filed a protest to have the match replayed completely, but FIFA refused. Hearing this, the Irish delegation became more furious and threatened suing FIFA, even asking to be added as a 33rd team. All subsequent appeals were rejected. This was one of the first incidents that called for video technology. Perhaps out of spite, Blatter turned it down for the World Cup. He would live to regret that decision later on.
In the other two playoffs, Portugal won both legs 1-0, and Greece beat Ukraine 1-0 after a scoreless first leg. Greece were in their second overall and first since 1994.
(A handball from Thierry Henry led to a goal that got France into the World Cup. Photo courtesy of USA Today.)
In hopes of securing easier qualification, Australia switched confederations, moving from OFC to AFC. Now in Asian qualification, Australia’s gamble paid off as they won the first of four spots by five clear points. Also qualifying from their group was Japan, with Bahrain advancing to a playoff. In a politically charged second group, South Korea managed to take top spot, with their neighbors to the north, some would say biggest rivals, North Korea right behind them. For North Korea, it was their first appearance since 1966 and second overall. But with Kim Jong-il having developed nuclear weapons over the years, not only were they seen as over their heads, but won few fans. Advancing to the third place playoff was Saudi Arabia. In that two legged playoff, the Saudis were shockingly knocked out, falling to the upstart Bahrain team on goal differential. A stoppage time goal from Bahrain’s Ismael Abdullatif was enough to put them into a continental playoff against OFC winner New Zealand. But New Zealand would manage to advance 1-0 on aggregate, making their second appearance and first since 1982. In that first appearance, they had lost all three games. They came in ranked #78 in the world, the lowest of any team in the competition. They were even worse than Wales, who hadn’t come close to qualifying. But it was a goal from forward Rory Fallon that put the All Whites in.
(Rory Fallon’s goal put New Zealand into their second overall World Cup. Photo courtesy of http://www.stuff.co.nz.)
CAF in Africa saw four teams make it from 2006 – Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon. The last spot came down to Algeria and Egypt, bitter rivals and both looking to end long droughts. They finished tied on both points (13) and goal differential (+5) and goals scored, so they were forced into a special one-game playoff played at a neutral site. Omdurman in Sudan was chosen, and over 15,000 extra police forces were in effect for the match. Algeria got a goal from Antar Yahia (40′) to advance in one of the most exciting matches in history. But both sides alleged violence against the other; two days before the match, Algeria’s team bus was pelted with stones by Egyptian fans, and many of their fans alleged that Algerian fans had brandished knives and flares among other weapons. Another return was in the works – Algeria made it for the first time since 1986, and third overall. Egypt was still left waiting.
(In an amazing one-game playoff, Antar Yahia scored the goal to get Algeria in. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
CONCACAF saw three teams make it in – the usual teams of the United States and Mexico, and Honduras got back for the first time since 1982 with a 1-0 victory over rival El Salvador. They qualified for the final automatic spot ahead of Costa Rica on goal differential, and had to rely on the United States to help them get there, as a stoppage time goal from Jonathan Bornstein at RFK Stadium in Washington helped the U.S. earn a 2-2 draw with the Costa Ricans, who were forced into a playoff against Uruguay. So pleased were the Hondurans that Bornstein was given honorary citizenship.
(Jonathan Bornstein equalized against Costa Rica to send Honduras through automatically. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
The final confederation was CONMEBOL in South America. Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay. and Chile all qualified automatically, and fifth placed team Uruguay made the playoff. Uruguay won on aggregate 2-1, although a potential goal for Costa Rica was denied in the second match for a missed offside call. Two stars led Uruguay, who had arguably their best team in forty years. The first was Diego Forlán, who had widely been known as a high-profile bust at Manchester United, desperately trying to put his career back together. The other was Luis Suarez, with long protruding teeth (and yes, he did pass as a Freddie Mercury lookalike), probably more talented, but also more temperamental and perhaps a Maradona on the other side of the Rio de la Plata. Over the years, Suarez would earn a reputation as one of the game’s most disliked players, for bad dives, biting opposing players, and a reported racial slur he made towards Patrice Evra during a match between Arsenal and Liverpool.
(Diego Forlán in action for Uruguay. Photo courtesy of http://www.cbc.ca.)
(Luis Suarez was about to become a great but controversial player for Uruguay. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)
Two elements would come to the Cup, and both would be ridiculed. The first was a wooden horn that was said to capture much of the sound of Africa, called a vuvuzela. As well-intentioned as they were, the constant noise (and it was constant, almost non-stop). It sounded as if there was a constant swarm of bees surrounding the field. One person described it this way: imagine if Italia ’90 had been played to the sound of revving Vespa motorcycles. Not quite as loud this time, but certainly just as annoying.
The other one was the Jabulani, the official ball. It was supposed to have thermodynamic panels bonded on, and was supposed to have a low bounce variance. But it was later found out that the ball was widely packed too tightly, which led to numerous strange bounces and would unpredictably change direction in the air. In other words, it was like a beach ball. But how could a ball be too bouncy? Strikers would soon find out the hard way.
(The vuvuzela would become famous for the wrong reasons. They are seen here in the North Korea-Portugal match. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)
(The Jabulani, the official ball, would also cause criticism. Photo courtesy of http://www.worldcupballs.info.)
The draw went this way, with seeded teams listed first and in order of who played whom.
Group A: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, France
Group B: Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea, Greece
Group C: England, United States, Algeria, Slovenia
Group D: Germany, Australia, Serbia, Ghana
Group E: Netherlands, Denmark, Japan, Cameroon
Group F: Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand, Slovakia
Group G: Brazil, North Korea, Ivory Coast, Portugal
Group H: Spain, Switzerland, Honduras, Chile
The competition was about to get underway.
Few gave the host South Africans much of a chance. They didn’t have a lot of big names, and were thought to have a tough group ahead of them. Even the Americans in 1994 were given better odds. But Bafana Bafana would defy them all. South Africa faced off against Mexico first. The latter surprised many by coming out in a black jersey. An exciting first half resulted in a scoreless draw at halftime. But only ten minutes after the restart, South Africa would be rocking loudly at the famous Soccer City in Johannesburg. After winning the ball in their own half, Katlego Mphela played the ball to Teko Modise, who then sent it forward to rushing teammate Siphiwe Tshabalala. After a good first touch, he fired it past goalkeeper Oscar Perez, and not only did South Africa go berserk, but so did an entire continent. It wasn’t that impossible, was it?
(Tshabalala opened the scoring in the World Cup and sent an entire continent into ecstasy. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
Unfortunately, eleven minutes from the end, any potential dreams of a major upset would come to an end. Off of a deflection, longtime defender Rafael Marquez fired the ball past South Africa keeper Itumeleng Khune for a 1-1 draw. The scoreline held up, and both sides seemed content with a point. But South Africa had left a clutch two extra points on the table. Elsewhere, Uruguay and France played to a scoreless draw, just like in 2002. Every team had at least one point, but for France, many were criticizing them for their “lackluster” effort, Zinedine Zidane among them. They also had a man advantage as Nicolas Lodeiro was sent off with under ten minutes to go. They couldn’t even score, and it would prove to be the high point of the tournament for France. Les Bleus, the defending runner up, would be turned into a laughingstock by the end of the round.
(Rafael Marquez equalizes for Mexico. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.)
The next match saw South Africa against Uruguay on June 16. I remember watching this game live on my birthday, and it was a national holiday in South Africa. But it quickly turned disastrous. Diego Forlán scored twice, the first off of a sublime free kick (24′). The second came after Suarez won a penalty (76′) and also got goalkeeper Khune sent off by referee Massimo Busacca of Switzerland. Four minutes later, it was 2-0 Uruguay. They got one last goal in stoppage time, when Suarez played in a cross that was fired in by Alvaro Pereira. South Africa needed a miracle to qualify now.
(Diego Forlán scores the first of his two goals against South Africa. Photo courtesy of CNN.)
(Goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune – #16 in red – was sent off with under fifteen minutes to go. Photo courtesy of The Telegraph.)
France not only lost 2-0 to Mexico in Polokwane, but forward Nicolas Anelka went off on his manager Raymond Domenech. Anelka was critical of Domenech, who was seen as in over his head. Anelka was thrown off the team and sent home for the final game against the hosts. But France wasn’t done yet. The team began to mutiny on Domenech. Captain Patrice Evra was one of the highest dissenters. They not only refused to practice in the lead up to the final match, but they wrote their grievances on a piece of paper and made Domenech read it aloud to the cameras. Elsewhere, cameras caught Evra having a major argument with another assistant coach, resulting in Evra slamming his playing badge down on the ground. Domenech had lost his team. Their humiliation was complete one match later.
The Mexico-Uruguay match was a relatively tame affair, with Uruguay winning 1-0. Luis Suarez scored the winner two minutes before halftime. The last match saw France and South Africa face off. With Moeneeb Josephs now in goal, the hosts were still being written off, but then they took a shocking 1-0 lead after only twenty minutes through Bongani Khumalo. Five minutes later, midfielder Yoann Gourcuff was sent off. Then South Africa went up 2-0 after only 37 minutes when Mphela added one as well. France did manage to score one this time through Florent Malouda (70′), but South Africa held on for a massive 2-1 upset. There was one more wedge, though. South Africa’s Brazilian-born manager Carlos Alberto Parreira went to shake Domenech’s hand after the match. But Domenech completely snubbed him, and seemed to be lecturing him on the touchline. Parreira tried again, but still had no luck. Domenech had broken one of the game’s oldest traditions of sportsmanship, and was soon out as French coach. For many of the French players, much of the goodwill towards them had been completely eroded away. They finished last in the group with only one point.
(France’s Raymond Domenech, right, refused to shake the hand of rival manager Carlos Alberto Parreira, costing him his reputation. Photo courtesy of BBC News.)
For South Africa, they had earned a respectable four points. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to advance, as Mexico beat them on goal difference. They thus earned the distinction as the first host team to fail to get out of the first round. Still, for many pundits, getting a point at all was seen as a step of pride, and the players left as heroes. Uruguay managed to win the group, and Mexico took second.
Funnily enough, many of the superstar players, like Messi, C. Ronaldo, and Rooney, would fail to live up to the expectations. For Messi, it certainly wasn’t due to lack of trying. He just couldn’t get luck on his side. But Argentina actually did okay without him, winning all three games. And they had Diego Maradona as their manager.
(The legendary Diego Maradona was now Argentina’s manager. Photo courtesy of http://www.goal.com.)
Their first one was a 1-0 victory over Nigeria, with defender Gabriel Heinze (6′) scoring the game’s only goal. South Korea won over Greece 2-0 to get their first victory away from home. Lee Jung-soo (7′) and Park Ji-sung (52′) both scored to lead them. Greece were still looking for their first victory, and their first goal as well. Park’s goal was especially good, as he made a legal tackle on Loukas Vyntra inside the Greece zone and didn’t give it back, sprinting all the way down and putting it beautifully in the net.
(Park Ji-sung’s beautiful goal helped South Korea beat Greece. Photo courtesy of http://www.goal.com.)
Facing off in the next game, Argentina beat South Korea 4-1. But the Koreans weren’t as bad as the final score indicated, as it was 2-1 at halftime. Argentina got an own goal (17′) to open the scoring, followed by a goal from Gonzalo Higuain (33), but South Korea leveled right before halftime. The sad part was that Higuain completed a hat trick in the second half, and that was all Argentina needed to advance.
(Argentina advanced with one match to spare thanks to a hat trick from Gonzalo Higuain. Photo courtesy of http://www.goal.com.)
Underdogs against Nigeria, Greece certainly looked the part in the beginning, as they went behind 0-1 thanks to Kalu Uche (16′). But things began to change for the Super Eagles after a red card (33′) to Sani Kaita. Greece would get back into the game after going one man up.
(A red card to Nigeria’s Sani Kaita was the break Greece needed. Photo courtesy of http://www.goal.com.)
One minute before halftime, Greece finally broke through from a goal by Dimitris Salpingidis. It was followed by a winner (71′) by Vasilis Torosidis, and Greece had their first two goals and first points. Favored by many to do well, Nigeria were on life support.
(The Salpingidis goal was the first in Greece’s history. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.)
(Vasilis Torosidis scored the winner to give Greece their first points. Photo courtesy of Seattle Times.)
Argentina earned a perfect nine points from the group, earning a 2-0 over Greece. Two lesser-known names were the scorers, one from defender Martin Demichelis (77′) and a later goal (89′) from Martin Palermo. Needing a win to stay alive, Nigeria played South Korea. Once again, an early goal from Kalu Uche gave them a lead (12′). But South Korea rallied and equalized 38 minutes in. They took the lead in the forty-ninth minute through Park Chu-young, and Nigeria looked to be in trouble. They were almost redeemed on a great through ball to center forward Yakubu. He was wide open…and missed it wide. Although he later converted a penalty (69′) to make it 2-2 and earn Nigeria a point, they would be out. In what would become a recurring theme, African teams would struggle in their World Cup. South Korea’s draw earned them four points to go through in second place.
(A wide open miss from Yakubu was a memorable moment. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
England and United States would get under way first in the town of Rustenberg. Under new manager Fabio Capello, the Three Lions felt they had something to prove. Under previous manager Steve McLaren, widely considered the worst manager in England history, they had failed to qualify for the 2008 Euros after a shock loss to Croatia, who weren’t playing in this World Cup. A big problem in that 2007 match was goalkeeping. It would come back again this time.
United States did them an early favor by allowing a goal from Steven Gerrard after only four minutes. Notorious for giving up fast starts, especially to superior opposition, it took the Americans a while to find their footing.
(Steven Gerrard – #4 in white – beat Tim Howard to put England up after only four minutes. Photo courtesy of The Telegraph.)
Forty minutes in, England’s dam broke. Goalkeeper Robert Green took a goal kick, but the U.S. won the ball back to keep possession. Fresh off of a finals berth at the previous year’s Confederations Cup, the Americans weren’t pushovers either. One of the stars was Clint Dempsey. He spun out of a challenge, and fired toward goal. It should have been an easy play for Green, because Dempsey didn’t hit the ball that hard. But suddenly, the Jabulani’s notorious bounce would come into play. Green tried to catch it, but he only parried it, and watched helplessly as the slippery ball rolled past him into the net for an American equalizer. Already known for their surliness, the English press would never let Green live it down after that. It was still only 1-1 at halftime. But it was rightly known as a “howler” from then on out.
(Robert Green’s big mistake allowed United States to equalize. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
(A better angle of the Robert Green blunder. Photo courtesy of http://www.goal.com.)
Later in the match, Green made a fantastic save on Jozy Altidore, on a shot that would have otherwise given the United States the lead. Nobody remembers that part, of course. Late in the match, Emile Heskey almost won the match for England but his shot was saved by Tim Howard. The two teams managed to hold on and each earn a point with a 1-1 draw. But few people, England or otherwise, ever forgave Green. Coach Fabio Capello turned his back on him. But few were worried. Many in England were concerned with the performance, but most laughed it off as an off night. In the other match, Slovenia won 1-0 over Algeria after a similar error occurred to keeper Faouzi Chaouchi. It was Robert Koren (79′) credited with the goal. Still, few expected Algeria to do much. Even The Guardian seemed to be giving Algeria zero chance to get a result. And unlike Robert Green, Algerian fans and players rallied around Chaouchi. Many felt like slippery gloves were the cause, not the ball.
(An error by Faouzi Chaouchi led to Slovenia’s first Cup win. Photo courtesy of The Telegraph.)
Slovenia played the Stars and Stripes next. Once again, the Americans fell behind early. Only thirteen minutes in, Valter Birsa put Slovenia (one of the few teams without an official nickname) up one-nil. It got worse as well, as Zlatan Ljubijankić (42′) added a second. Bob Bradley’s men needed a spark. Fortunately, they got it in the second half.
(Valter Birsa scored the first of Slovenia’s two first half goals. Photo courtesy of New York Times.)
Landon Donovan may have left the USMNT ungraciously four years later, but he had a Cup for the ages in 2010. Right after the restart, Donovan took control of the pace, making darting runs and making good passes, even if they didn’t always find the target. Only two minutes in, he took a pass from Steve Cherundolo, which missed a diving Slovenian defender and left him wide open. He dribbled a few times, then went top post against the keeper and smashed it home, absolutely smashed it. Many players would miss it, but Donovan’s frustration was controlled enough to make it 2-1. The U.S. still had a chance. Those that know what happens next don’t need a spoiler, but for those that do, this goal was a prelude to what was coming next.
(Donovan’s goal started an American rally. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
Still, one goal wasn’t going to be enough. The pace was about even for another 35 minutes or so, before the Americans got the equalizer they were looking for, when Michael Bradley, coach’s kid and midfielder, lofted on into the back of the net. His was nearly missed, but Altidore was able to control the ball by getting his head on it and Bradley slid in behind to finish. It was now 2-2 and many American fans went crazy.
(Michael Bradley’s equalizer broke Slovenian hearts. Photo courtesy of http://www.ussoccer.com.)
Soon after, the comeback was almost complete. Almost. United States won a free kick right outside the Slovenian box. The ball was played in by Donovan and it looked like Maurice Edu had gotten to the ball and headed it in for a 3-2 U.S. lead. But a whistle was blown by Malian referee Koman Coulibaly and it was disallowed. Many times, this is the right call, and many times, fans love giving the Americans a hard time on the football pitch. This time, they were all in agreement: this was a blown call. If anything, Edu had either earned a penalty, scored, or at the very least earned the right to have the free kick re-taken. But Coulibaly’s decision stood. What was more infuriating was that FIFA referees are not obligated to explain their decisions. Fortunately, both teams escaped with a 2-2 draw. But America could have been in the driver’s seat with one match to play, especially with what England did next.
(Referee Koman Coulibaly of Mali had a notoriously missed call late in the Slovenia-United States match. Photo courtesy of http://www.goal.com.)
As jingoistic as the media is in England, this time it was at a fever pitch. Most announcers were ridiculing the Algerian team, in shades of xenophobia, if not outright racism. They also took potshots at the French debacle. But there was nothing to laugh about that night. In fact, many have considered this the night when England fans – and many pundits – finally woke up.
Admittedly, Algeria weren’t really all that good that night. Nothing against them, but they created few chances and lacked a big star player. (That’s why I think the Iceland game last year wasn’t as bad as this one, because Iceland had better talent in the tournament it was playing in, and played tactically amazing.) But if Algeria were bad, England were worse. Numerous adjectives have been used: atrocious, pathetic, embarrassing. All game long, they attempted to counterattack, but failed to realize that they didn’t have the players to do it, and one of Algeria’s strengths came in luring them into it. Sloppy passing, hogging the ball (much of it, I’m sure, coming from Frank Lampard), and what many saw as uninspired play was on display that night in Cape Town. Even Emile Heskey got off pretty easy that night – several of them said that while he hadn’t played well, he couldn’t have reached a ball five feet over his head, time after time after time. And Wayne Rooney was one of the biggest culprits, not controlling the game, and just lacking a great IQ. Both teams earned a point in a listless nil-nil draw. But something had changed in the England fans. After forty-four years of optimism, combined with sleepless nights of travel, not to mention the money they spent, many England players heard something they’d never really heard before, and probably never expected to: loud, deafening boos. But Wayne Rooney was having none of it. He spotted a TV camera and fired back: “Nice to see your home fans booin’ ya. That’s what loyal support is.” It probably wasn’t premeditated, if only because Rooney wouldn’t be smart enough to plan that far ahead, but it wasn’t entirely in the heat of the moment either. Many began to look at Fabio Capello suspiciously. And the United States was no fluke. Maybe a stark realization was beginning to hit England fans, summed up in eleven words: their team was not as good as they thought they were.
(Wayne Rooney ranted to a camera after the Algeria match. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
Following a disastrous team meeting, including a moment when former captain John Terry re-appointed himself captain without telling anyone and answered the majority of the questions at the press conference. No players supported him, at least not publicly.
Unbelievably, England were able to get through to the round of sixteen that year. Jermain Defoe (23′) scored the only goal of the match against Slovenia, who were still mathematically in it, pending the U.S. versus Algeria result.
(Jermain Defoe scored the only goal against Slovenia to put England through, after a disastrous first two matches. Photo courtesy of New York Daily News.)
Frustratingly, United States was finding out the hard way that Algeria was better than anticipated. Algeria couldn’t and wouldn’t break for most of the game. An early Algerian shot hit the post, and Clint Dempsey had one goal ruled out for offside, and later hit the post himself, and then missed a wide open rebound shot. As the match approached second half stoppage time, many discouraged U.S. fans were planning to lament an elimination despite not losing a match (three draws wouldn’t have been enough). Then came American soccer’s version of the Miracle on Ice.
Following a yellow card to DaMarcus Beasley, Algeria fired a shot, which Tim Howard saved. American players sprinted the other way on the counter. Howard rolled the ball to Landon Donovan, who sprinted up the pitch. He found Altidore, who then passed to Dempsey. With new goalkeeper Raïs M’Bolhi in pursuit, Dempsey tried a shot, but it was blocked. Still, it wasn’t saved cleanly, and Donovan was right behind on the rebound. British announcer Ian Darke became an American hero himself with his call: “…but Donovan has scored! Oh, can you believe this! GO, GO, U.S.A.!!!”
(Broadcaster Ian Darke had his legendary call on the Donovan stoppage time goal. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
(The United States got one of its most memorable moments with Landon Donovan’s last gasp goal. Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated.)
It was still in stoppage time, so anything could happen. But Algeria’s offense wasn’t likely to score, and after the Donovan goal, they fell apart. Later in stoppage time, Belgian referee De Bleeckere sent off captain Antar Yahia for two yellows. America’s resolve – and defense – held, and they had gone from the brink of elimination to the knockout stages. Not only that, but they finished ahead of England on goal differential to win the group, the first time that happened since the first tournament in 1930.
Germany, on the other hand, needed no late heroics to make its name known. Unfortunately, Australia was in a tough group, and it was apparent as Germany ran over them four-nil. With the score already 2-0, Tim Cahill was red carded and missed the next match. Australia had fallen back from 2006, and pretty quickly at that.
(Tim Cahill’s sending off was the icing on a foul-tasting cake for Australia. Photo courtesy of BBC News.)
Ghana beat Serbia 1-0 in their match, after a late penalty by Asamoah Gyan. Ghana took the early initiative, and would prove to be the only African team to advance in Africa’s first World Cup as host (mild spoilers, sorry).
(Asamoah Gyan won the match against Serbia with a late penalty. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.)
Australia managed to get back in it against Ghana, as they drew 1-1. Gyan scored another penalty (25′), cancelling out an early strike by Brett Holman. But another Australian star was sent off en route to Gyan’s goal – this time, it was forward Harry Kewell.
(Referee Roberto Rosetti of Italy shows Harry Kewell a red card. You can also see Asamoah Gyan celebrating behind him. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.)
In the other match, Germany suffered a shocking 1-0 loss to Serbia. This time, it was Germany’s turn to feel the fury of a red card. And it went to Miroslav Klose, who was shown a second yellow (37′). One minute later, Serbia had their winner. It could have been a 1-1 draw, but something even more surprising happened (at least by their standards). Lukas Podolski missed a penalty, the first German player to do so since 1982. It was a pretty weak one, too, hit right at the keeper. That kept Serbia in it, and suddenly, Germany were on the ropes a little bit without one of their best players.
(Miroslav Klose – #11 – sees red against Serbia. Photo courtesy of NPR.)
(The winner came via Milan Jovanovic. Photo courtesy of New York Times.)
(Lukas Podolski became one of the few German players to miss a penalty, which cost them a point. Photo courtesy of The Telegraph.)
Germany rallied to beat Ghana 1-0 with a goal from Mesut Özil, born in Gelsenkirchen with strong Turkish heritage. Australia rallied to win 2-1 against Serbia, with Cahill scoring in his return, and Holman getting the winner in the 73rd minute. Serbia’s Marko Pantelic got one back with six minutes to go, but it wasn’t enough. Unfortunately, Australia’s win wasn’t enough either, as Ghana qualified ahead of them on goal difference.
Netherlands started their group play with a 2-0 victory over Denmark. A scoreless first half was brought to life early on an own goal by Dan Agger immediately after the re-start. Five minutes from the end, Dirk Kuyt added a second goal of his own. Japan’s Keisuke Honda (39′) beat Japan in their first game. Netherlands-Japan was an exciting game, but a very frustrating one for the Dutch. Wesley Sneijder missed several chances, and Robin van Persie couldn’t get into a rhythm. Japanese midfielder Daisuke Matsui was very good in midfield in the first half, and even had one of their two shots. Finally, Sneijder broke through in the 53rd minute to finish the winner for the Dutch. Japan had several chances late, one a denied penalty on Yuto Nagamoto, and one that went over the bar from Shinji Okazaki. Barring a loss in their final game, they were through.
(A strategically balanced game ended in a Dutch victory over Japan. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
Denmark stayed alive with a 2-1 win, although Cameroon scored first ten minutes in through Samuel Eto’o (10′). The halftime was 1-1 after Nicklas Bendtner equalized (33′).
(Samuel Eto’o was great as usual for an otherwise not-so-good Cameroon team. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.)
The Danes broke through for the win in the 61st minute from 2002 World Cup hero Dennis Rommedahl. With that loss, the Cameroonians were the first team to be eliminated. The Japan-Denmark match would decide it all.
(Dennis Rommedahl – #19 – won the match for Denmark and eliminated Cameroon in the process. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.)
In said match, Japan scored first off of an amazing Honda free kick, only the second free kick goal of the entire tournament to that point (17′). It was soon two-nil (30′), off of another free kick from Yasuhito Endō, who caught Thomas Sørensen napping, forcing a deflection that bounced in after hitting the post. Denmark got one back (81′) after a rebound, but Japan put one more in six minutes later, off of a beautiful fake and pass from Honda to Okazaki. It was the first time that Denmark had failed to advance past the group stage, and Japan’s first wins away from home soil.
(A beautiful free kick by Keisuke Honda helped lead Japan through. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
(Endō also had a great free kick goal for Japan. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
Netherlands prevailed over Cameroon 2-1 in their final game. Van Persie started the scoring (36′) before Eto’o leveled for Cameroon (65′) on a penalty. Finally, the winning goal was scored in the final seven minutes by Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Cameroon had lost all three games, while the Dutch won all three to top the group.
(Samuel Eto’o scored a penalty for Cameroon, but it wasn’t enough. Photo courtesy of FIFA.)
(Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scored the winner for The Netherlands. Photo courtesy of The Australian.)
Italy’s title defense started off very slowly, with a 1-1 draw with Paraguay. And it was Paraguay that scored first, through center back Antolin Alcaraz (39′). Fresh off of his controversial red card four years prior, Daniele De Rossi (63′) scored the equalizer to earn Italy a point. But it was clear that something was wrong with Italy – age was likely a factor, and perhaps the lack of fear was part of it.
Both New Zealand and Slovakia had something to prove in Rustenberg. In their first ever Cup game, Slovakia scored first through Robert Vittek (50′). It looked like the score would hold, until Winston Reid, whose parents were Maoris, hit the goal that tied it three minutes into stoppage time, although he also got a yellow card for excessive celebration. That 1-1 scoreline held and both sides had their first ever points.
(Robert Vittek scored Slovakia’s first World Cup goal. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
(Winston Reid helped New Zealand earn their first ever point. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
When the teams were originally drawn together, ESPN announcer Bob Ley fanned the flames by mentioning the Italy-New Zealand match, to be played in Nelspruit: “Lord knows what that final score’s going to be.” But after only seven minutes, Shane Smeltz (who had assisted Reid’s goal) put New Zealand in the lead!! You’re reading that correctly – the worst team by ranking had the defending champions on the ropes within the first ten minutes. Italy ultimately scored (29′) on a penalty, by Vincenzo Iaquinta, but that scoreline held up and New Zealand had a momentous second point. Many Italian fans were furious. They were still mathematically alive, but had to beat Slovakia to have a real chance.
(New Zealand’s Shane Smeltz sneaked past the Italian defense and gave New Zealand a shocking result, a 1-1 draw. Photo courtesy of New York Daily News.)
Paraguay managed to beat Slovakia 2-0, with Enrique Vera (27′) and Cristian Riveros (86′) helping them to the cusp of the second round. Slovakia needed a win to stay alive.
And against Italy, they unbelievably got it. Vittek scored twice (25′ and 73′) to give Slovakia a lead in the final twenty minutes. Italy got back from Antonio Di Natale before a third goal from Kamil Kopunek (89′) seemed to put Slovakia through. Italy had several chances before that, one of which hit the post. They got a stoppage time goal from Fabio Quagliarella, but Slovakia held on to win 3-2. The defending champions were out with only two points. Known for their reputation as whiners, many Italian fans actually took the high ground this time. They admitted that this year, their team just wasn’t goo enough.
Elsewhere, Paraguay and New Zealand finished with a scoreless draw. It was a third point for New Zealand. Sadly, it wasn’t quite enough to advance, as Slovakia’s win allowed them to advance in second place with four points. Paraguay won the group with five. Nevertheless, minor spoiler ahead: New Zealand would be the only team in the competition not to lose a match. It’s a weird game, huh?
For those that don’t know, a “Group of Death” refers to a group where you have at least three quality teams but only room for two to advance. Portugal opened their match with a scoreless draw against Ivory Coast. Nothing really came of it except for a yellow card for both teams in the 21st minute, one to Guy Demel and one to Cristiano Ronaldo for diving.
Many eyes were on North Korea as they took on Brazil. And while they didn’t have a lot of offensive firepower, they managed to go into halftime scoreless. Brazil eventually scored twice (Maicon 55′, Elano 72′) to win the game, but North Korea got a consolation goal on a nice breakaway by Ji Yun-Nam (89′). Several people were impressed with North Korea, although in hindsight, maybe it said more about the Brazilians and their impending collapse four years later.
(Ji Yun-Nam gave North Korea their only real highlight that year. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.)
The next game saw North Korea play Portugal. As a result of their performance against Brazil, the North Korean government was persuaded to broadcast this game live. It was the first sporting event of any kind to earn that distinction. Many fans all over the world tuned in, interested to see what would happen. Portugal wasn’t considered as strong as Brazil at that time, and so, many felt that the North Koreans could earn a draw.
Unfortunately, the result was an unmitigated disaster. To be fair, it didn’t start off that bad for them. Raul Meireles made it 1-0 before the half hour mark, and a plucky Korean defense kept them in the game. But in the end, a bad strategy let them down. Chasing an equalizer, North Korea tried to widen the space, but it allowed more holes to a more technically precise team. Then the roof caved in. Six goals poured in during the second half, including a bizarre one from Cristiano Ronaldo, which deflected off the goalkeeper, hit him in the neck, rolled over to the other side, and miraculously landed at his feet. In the end, six different players scored, and only one player – Tiago – scored twice. While the North Korean media claimed they won 7-0, there was no way to spin this one. They were out in the blink of an eye.
(It only took one half for North Korea to come apart piece by piece. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
Brazil put Ivory Coast on the ropes by winning 3-1. Luis Fabiano scored twice, although one of them came from a very deliberate handball – and he did it twice in the same motion. Most announcers missed it, and the referee not only made the same mistake, but seemed to be laughing along with Fabiano. Elano added a third goal before Didier Drogba (79′) added a consolation goal. Two minutes from time, Kaka was sent off for a second yellow, although the Ivorian player undoubtedly took a dive.
(A missed call led to a red card for star Brazilian player Kaka. Photo courtesy of Daily Mail.)
Ivory Coast managed to win 3-0 over the star-crossed North Koreans, leaving the latter as the worst team in the tournament. Brazil and Portugal played to a scoreless draw, and both teams managed to advance. Ivory Coast didn’t quite earn enough points to advance.
One of the biggest shocks came in the opening match of this group. Switzerland beat Spain 1-0 on a sliding goal by Gelson Fernandes. Was this the real Spain? Even worse, they had to re-write history – no team had won the Cup after losing their opening match. Chile beat Honduras 1-0 in their opening match.
(Gelson Fernandes led Switzerland to a shocking upset of Spain, whom many predicted to win the whole thing. Photo courtesy of New York Daily News.)
Unfortunately, Switzerland couldn’t seize the momentum, as Chile beat them 1-0 in the next match, scoring via Mark Gonzalez (75′). The Swiss also had Valon Behrami sent off just past the thirty minute mark. Spain rallied two win 2-0 over Honduras, scoring twice from David Villa. Spain were still in it.
(David Villa’s two goals kept Spain in it mathematically. Photo courtesy of Daily Mail.)
Fortunately for La Furia Roja, there was no need to worry. They beat Chile 2-1, with two goals in the first forty minutes helping Spain rally to win the group. Even worse, right after Andres Iniesta scored the winner, Chile’s Marco Estrada was sent off for arguing with the referee. Switzerland and Honduras fought to a scoreless draw, but it wasn’t good enough for either one to advance.
(Marco Estrada of Chile was sent off in their final match. Photo courtesy of BBC News.)
Round of 16
Just under 31,000 fans showed up in Port Elizabeth as Uruguay won 2-1 over South Korea. A pair of goals from Luis Suarez (8′,80′) were sandwiched around a South Korea goal from Lee Chung-young (68′). Suarez’s winner was considered one of the best of the tournament, as a free kick deflected around to him, which he curled around the post and in. Uruguay made the quarterfinals for the first time since 1970.
(Suarez’s goal that won the match for Uruguay. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
By contrast, 19 million fans watched the U.S. play Ghana in Rustenberg. It was the most watched soccer game in American history. Unfortunately, the Ghanaians crashed the party, with Kevin-Prince Boateng scoring after only five minutes. Landon Donovan equalized (62′) via penalty, but ultimately, Asamoah Gyan scored three minutes into extra time. In Africa’s first World Cup as host, the only African team remaining was in the quarterfinals.
(Asamoah Gyan’s goal sent Ghana into the quarterfinals. Photo courtesy of WBUR.)
Next up was Germany versus England in Bloemfontein. Many in England still had the old prejudices against the Germans intact. But for many, this match would finally, finally erase that aura of invincibility once and for all. And Germany also got revenge for a notorious incident. Even after 44 years, it was sweet revenge.
England’s back four was troubled from the start. And David James was better than Robert Green in goal, but he was too impulsive – his nickname was “Calamity James,” after all. Still, James was probably England’s best player that day, although it wasn’t saying much. After several chances, Germany won a goal keep twenty minutes in. According to rules, you can’t be offsides in that situation (which England pundits would hilariously obsess over during the highlights recap). Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer sent the ball in…and it kept carrying into the England half. It bounced twice in front of a rushing Miroslav Klose. As good as Klose was, he wasn’t known for his technical precision. But England’s weak back four allowed him to slip past center backs Matthew Upson and John Terry (with many noticing that they should have switched positions from where they were on the kick), and he one touched it in for a one-nil Germany lead.
(Miroslav Klose’s goal in the early going gave Germany the lead. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
Twelve minutes later, Germany won the ball again in the England half. Lukas Podolski won it, and actually got a poor first touch. But he was so wide open it didn’t matter. He pushed it past “Calamity” James and Germany were now up two.
England were able to get back in the match five minutes later. Upson atoned for his earlier mistakes (although he would have a pretty bad game for the rest of it) and headed it past Neuer to get England back in it. They almost had a second one two minutes later, but controversy was right around the corner.
Right after the re-start, England controlled the ball again. Frank Lampard, unable to break through for so long, fired the ball down. Here’s where the Jabulani came into question. The ball hit the crossbar and clearly bounced down behind the line. It should have been a goal, and this time, replays clearly backed it up, but Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda didn’t see anything. To his credit, it was a split second decision, and the topspin of the ball caused it to bounce back into Neuer’s hands. Back on the other end, Germany fired a shot that went just wide. Imagine how furious England fans would have been had that gone in. After seeing replays, broadcaster Mark Lawrenson called out FIFA president Sepp Blatter for not using goal line technology, sitting in the stands that day: “Thanks very much, Sepp Blatter….I hope he’s squirming in his seat, by the way.” Although judging from the video, he seemed to be smugly confirming his own spite. On the one hand, had it counted, Germany would have had to readjust defensively, and perhaps the match would have been different. I highly doubt it, though. Given how poor England had played up to that point, it probably wouldn’t have mattered.
(Replays clearly showed the Lampard shot bounced behind the line. Photo courtesy of http://www.worldsoccertalk.com.)
(Video of the controversial no goal. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
Thomas Müller broke English hearts in the second half, scoring twice in four minutes. One came off a counterattack following an England free kick. Once again, Upson was out of position, allowing a long ball to be played. All four Germany goals came off of piss poor (I’m sorry, but I have to say that) defending from England, mistake after mistake after mistake. Germany’s 4-1 win spelled the end of England’s campaign, and got revenge for the missed call in 1966. It was their worst loss ever in a World Cup. As furious as England fans were over the disallowed goal, some later admitted that they were glad to see that Germany scored four, because it proved that many fans were in denial. Some England fans – not all, but some – admitted that they were no longer a world class team. They finally realized that for them, it was all about excuses.
As a result of this match, they finally began to consider goal line technology, which would be implemented in 2014. And Jorge Larrionda is said to have cried out “No!” in horror upon watching the highlights. As a result, some of them forgave him. They never forgave Blatter.
Another controversial goal was coming in the Argentina-Mexico match. This one came from Argentina’s Carlos Tevez, who took the ball in a clearly offside position. There was nobody in front of him. If there was one obvious offside call that everybody could see, it was this one. But Italian referee Roberto Rosetti and assistant Stefano Airoldi both failed to wave it off. Even worse, they showed the replay on the monitor. Rosetti had to see that he had made a huge mistake, but he couldn’t take it back. Argentina added a second from Gonzalo Higuain, who used a bad pass from Mexican defender Ricardo Osorio, who then dribbled around goalkeeper Oscar Perez. As the halftime whistle blew, the two teams began fighting on the touchline. The story I go by is that an Argentinian player was rubbing the Tevez goal in the faces of the Mexico bench.
(A brief skirmish broke out near the Mexican bench. Photo courtesy of The Telegraph.)
Tevez added a second to make it 3-1, before Javier Hernandez, aka “Chicharito,” (“little pea”) added a consolation goal for Mexico. Argentina advanced to play Germany in the quarterfinals. Tevez admitted that his first goal shouldn’t have counted, and Mexico manager Javier Aguirre admitted Argentina were better, although he also handed in his resignation that same day.
Netherlands beat Slovakia 2-1 in Durban, and Brazil won over Chile 3-0 in Ellis Park. Paraguay made their first quarterfinals ever after a scoreless draw and emerging 5-3 on penalties. It was a pretty dull game throughout, with a few sporadic chances created. Spain beat Portugal 1-0 in the battle of the Iberian Peninsula, winning the game on a goal by Villa (63′), although replays showed it was just a fraction offside. A few early chances were created by Portugal, with Hugo Almeida nearly breaching the Spain defense. A disappointed Cristiano Ronaldo was said to have spat at a camera walking off the pitch in defeat.
Netherlands faced Brazil in the first quarterfinal in Port Elizabeth. Brazil took the early lead on a goal (10′) from Robinho. This was largely due to an injury to back Joris Mathijsen, and a defensive miscommunication left Robinho wide open. But Brazil’s defense was sloppy as well, and eight minutes after the restart, Wesley Sneijder went up for a 50-50 ball with Felipe Melo. The ball landed in the net for an equalizer. Initially credited as an own goal, it was later amended to counting as a goal for Sneijder. Fifteen minutes later, he won the match with a second goal. And for Melo, he was later sent off for blatantly stamping down on Arjen Robben’s legs with his cleats. The Dutch, seen as a slight underdog coming in, made it to the semifinals and Brazil went home.
(Felipe Melo was sent off for stamping on Arjen Robben. Photo courtesy of http://www.goal.com.)
Ghana and Uruguay faced off next at Soccer City in Johannesburg. While Uruguay had most of the possession in the first half, it was Ghana who scored first with a goal in first half stoppage time via Sulley Muntari. But ten minutes later, a Forlan free kick leveled the score, and it was even more impressive that it came from 40 yards away. It went high post above the reach of Richard Kingson. Regular time ended one apiece.
(The goal that tied the score. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
Late in second extra time, with the match only seconds away from penalties, Ghana won a free kick. They swung it into the box, and Dominic Adiyiah had a header down towards the goal. Luis Suarez reached out and blatantly punched the ball away with his hands. The Portuguese referee didn’t miss the call and sent him off. Asamoah Gyan stepped up to take the penalty for Ghana. They were seconds away from being the first African team to make the semifinals.
So many times, one moment is a microcosm of a broader event. As the anticipation built, the whistle blew. Gyan raced up, took his shot…and could only watched as it hit the crossbar and bounced out. Seeing what happened in the tunnel en route to the locker room, Suarez began excessively celebrating. For many, myself included, it wasn’t the act itself that was infuriating as it was the lack of humility. The whistle blew immediately afterward and penalties loomed.
Gyan was willing to take a penalty again, and this time, he scored to make it 1-1. Unfortunately, Ghana’s luck ran out as Adiyiah and John Mensah had their penalties saved. Sebastian Abreu converted the winning penalty. For the first time since 1970, Uruguay made the semifinals.
(The Suarez handball that led to a penalty and a red card. Photo courtesy of http://www.goal.com.)
(In one of the most heartbreaking moments in World Cup history, Asamoah Gyan unfortunately missed the penalty. Photo courtesy of http://www.buzzghana.com.)
Even more infuriating for many, Suarez was carried off the field by his teammates. His lack of humility continued in the locker room, claiming that he now had the true “Hand of God” and claimed he made the save of the tournament. Ethical lines over cheating and competitiveness remain divisive to this day. Africa’s last remaining team was out. Even worse, it took a villainous act to do so.
Germany managed to avoid controversy and ran over Argentina 4-0. The one downside is that Müller received a yellow card that meant he would be suspended for the semifinals, after scoring only three minutes in. Klose scored two more goals and the last one came from Arne Friedrich, a defender not known as much of a scorer. In fact, it was his only career goal in 82 caps for Die Mannschaft. But it was a technical master class of play. Maradona was relieved of his duties, and never got a coaching job after that. It was once thought that elite players would be able to translate that into management. But the embarrassing performance by Maradona’s men caused many to reconsider.
Spain and Paraguay was a dull game overall, but did have a few moments. A potential Paraguay goal was ruled out for offside, and Spain was frustrated by Paraguay being able to counter their possession style well. In the second half, Oscar Cardozo of Paraguay won a penalty but had it saved by Iker Casillas. Shortly after, Spain also won a penalty. Xabi Alonso took it and scored, except that referee Carlos Batres of Guatemala ruled it out because he claimed a Spanish player encroached before he blew the whistle. It had to be retaken and it too was saved. Finally, with seven minutes to go, David Villa scored the winner to put Spain into the semifinals for the first time since 1950. But even that was tricky, as it hit both posts before rolling in. It was Paraguay’s best finish ever to that point. Spain were very lucky to make the semifinals, and manager Vicente del Bosque later admitted that Paraguay’s defense frustrated him.
The first semifinal matched up Uruguay and Netherlands. Another unheralded defender opened the scoring, as Giovanni van Bronckhorst fired a shot off the post and in after only eighteen minutes. It was fired from at least forty yards away, perhaps even fifty.
(Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s wonder goal opened the scoring for the Dutch. Photo courtesy of Daily Mail.)
Diego Forlán managed to get one back after a goalkeeper error, and the match went into halftime 1-1. But the Dutch put two goals in four minutes (70′ and 73′), one from Sneijder, and one from Arjen Robben. That second goal was crucial, as Maxi Pereira added a second for the Uruguayans in stoppage time. Nevertheless, the Netherlands made their third final overall and first since 1978. In the other semifinal, it would be 1-0 Spain, with Carles Puyol heading in the winner with under 20 minutes to go. Finally in the championship match, many predicted the Spanish to win it. It guaranteed that there would be a first-time champion that year.
(Carles Puyol headed the winner to send Spain through to the final. Photo courtesy of ESPN FC.)
Third place game
Thomas Müller returned from suspension for the third place game, and he opened the scoring 19 minutes in. But shockingly, not only did Uruguay rally through Edinson Cavani (28′), a Forlán goal actually put them in the lead. But ultimately, their defense broke, and five minutes later Marcell Jansen equalized. The winning goal game from Sami Khedira (82′). Nevertheless, Uruguay was praised for its performance.
(Sami Khedira scored the winner to give Germany third place. Photo courtesy of http://www.goal.com.)
Technically, England did make the final that year, as Englishman Howard Webb would be the referee. As hard as he tried, it would quickly get out of control. It was one of the ugliest finals ever.
The Dutch would attempt a new strategy – if they couldn’t contain the possession, they’d hack them off the ball. Ironically, it worked a lot of the time, but they lost a lot of respect in the process, and they didn’t have a reputation for playing dirty. For the record, Spain wasn’t that clean either, but the Dutch were sort of the “other” team in what many thought would be Spain’s coronation.
One of the dirtiest players was Mark van Bommel, midfielder for Bayern Munich. He had gotten away with numerous fouls and had been unpunished. The first time he was booked was in the semifinal, and it was for dissent to the referee. He would get booked in this match as well.
(Mark van Bommel was probably the dirtiest player in the entire tournament. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.)
Combined, the two teams would accumulate fourteen yellow cards – nine for the Dutch alone. The worst one came midway through the first half, when Xabi Alonso and midfielder Nigel de Jong both went for the ball. Neither one won it, but then de Jong karate kicked Alonso in the sternum. In what should have been a clear red, Webb later admitted his view was obstructed, so de Jong got off with only a yellow.
(Nigel de Jong committed a reckless foul, but unbelievably wasn’t sent off. Photo courtesy of CNN.)
The first half ended scoreless, and most fans thought of it as ugly. It seemed like Netherlands couldn’t win on talent, so they were trying to wear the Spanish down with bad fouls. Nevertheless, Arjen Robben almost had the opening goal in the 62nd minute, but at the last second, Casillas got a foot to it diving the wrong way for a clutch save. That miss would haunt Robben for years to come.
(Iker Casillas’ clutch save on Arjen Robben kept Spain in the game. Photo courtesy of The Telegraph.)
Instead of really writing about the action, I’m trying to get done as fast as I can. That’s how dull the final was this year. The match finished scoreless in regulation and went to extra time. The first extra period was also scoreless. Early in the restart, John Heitinga was sent off for a second yellow, and the Dutch would be one man short for the last ten minutes. Seven minutes later, the Spanish broke through, although in a controversial moment as well.
Netherlands took a free kick that looked like it had deflected off a Spanish player for a corner. But Webb ruled it a goal kick instead, and Casillas put the ball back in for the counterattack. Jesus Navas started a series of intricate passes that Spain was known for. The last one went to Andres Iniesta, who scored at 116 minutes in, the latest goal scored in a final. As a result of what looked like a missed call, another yellow card was shown to Dutch player Joris Mathijsen for arguing with Webb. The Dutch would never get that close again. After decades of falling short, Spain had its first title. The best team had won, but they did it in a way that wasn’t all that likable. As Spain changed into their red jerseys for the medal ceremony, referee Webb was booed by both sets of fans. But that didn’t matter. La Furia Roja and tiki-taka were on top of the world.
(Andres Iniesta scored the goal that won the final for Spain. Photo courtesy of Guinness World Records.)
(After changing jerseys, Spain lifts the World Cup trophy. Photo courtesy of http://www.football2014wc.com.)
As mentioned, Spain became the first team to win the World Cup after losing their opening match. The Dutch also became the first team to lose three finals without winning.
Additionally, Spain set a record low by scoring only eight goals in seven games. Still, they only allowed two as well.
Andres Iniesta was listed at 5’7″ (1.71 m), and had such an unglamorous look to him that a woman once thought him to be a waiter at a restaurant in Barcelona. Not only that, but he actually fulfilled her order!
Germany-Ghana saw a first of their own: half-brothers Kevin-Prince (Ghana) and Jerome (Germany) became the first siblings to play on opposing sides. Despite being half-brothers, there was a lot of bad blood over the years. Kevin-Prince had reportedly injured Michael Ballack in a friendly, so Ballack didn’t appear in 2010.
Speaking of crucial injuries, England defender Rio Ferdinand was knocked out of action after perennial punching bag Emile Heskey tripped over his knee in a practice session and crushed it.
England’s Frank Lampard also set an unwanted record: most shots in a career without scoring. He shot 40 times over the years, breaking the record of Jay-Jay Okocha of Nigeria.
Speaking of Nigeria, their FA president Goodluck Jonathan (yes, that is his real name) planned to withdraw his team from any games for two years. FIFA intervened, and he relented.
North Korea reportedly played so well against Brazil only because their head coach had a radio transmitter implanted in his ear, receiving direct orders from Kim Jong-il. Also, some of the few fans they had in the stands for them were rumored to be actors from China.
As a result of that disastrous loss, North Korean players were screamed at in the locker room by high-ranking officials for six hours, and then were punished with hard labor on a construction site.
When Iniesta scored his goal, he wore a sleeveless shirt underneath that said “Dani Jarque siempre con nosotros” (Dani Jarque always with us), in reference to a Spanish player who had suffered a fatal heart attack on the pitch at age 21 in 2009.
One year before this, the United States had beaten Spain to reach the finals of the Confederations Cup, and lost in a hard-fought final to Brazil. It was the first world final the Americans have played in. They also beat Italy along the way.
Argentina player Sergio Aguero was not only coached by Diego Maradona, but was his son-in-law, having married Maradona’s daughter.
New Zealand were considered such massive underdogs that one of their players, midfielder Andrew Barron, wasn’t even a professional player. By day, he worked as a banker in the capital city of Wellington. He is the only non-professional player ever to play in the World Cup, appearing as a substitute against Italy, and returned to banking exclusively soon after.
The best team in many years had won. After winning in Euro 2012, many thought they would be invincible for years to come. But age started catching up to them, and others began to form plans to beat them.
References and Sources
Guinness World Records
New York Times
New York Daily News
World Cup’s 50 Greatest Moments (documentary)
World Cup’s Most Shocking Moments, Vol. 2 (documentary)
England’s Worst Ever Football Team, Vol. 1 (documentary)
England’s Worst Ever Football Team, Vol. 2 (documentary)
The All-Time Biggest Sports Jerks (Michael Freeman)
Soccer Men (Simon Kuper)
Das Reboot: How German Soccer Reinvented Itself and Conquered the World (Raphael Honigstein)
Eight World Cups: My Journey Through the Beauty and Dark Side of Soccer (George Vecsey)
Soccer’s Most Wanted: The Top 10 Book of Clumsy Keepers, Clever Crosses, and Outlandish Oddities (John Snyder)
Soccer’s Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves, and Fantastic Free-Kicks (Jeff Carlisle)
¡Golazo! The Beautiful Game from the Aztecs to the World Cup: The Complete History of How Soccer Shaped Latin America (Andreas Campomar)
The ESPN World Cup Companion: Everything You Need to Know About the Planet’s Biggest Sports Event (David Hirshey, Roger Bennett)
The Mammoth Book of the World Cup (Nick Holt)