The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
Email This Page
A Cup without the football to show for it
- Tournament to be remembered for a Germany at ease with itself, not for the matches

Berlin, July 10: “This was the best-ever World Cup,” said Fifa president Sepp Blatter even before the fun and games of Germany 2006 had come to a scrubby, negative little conclusion in Berlin’s Olympic stadium.

Those were empty words indeed. Fifa presidents ' Joao Havelange between 1974 and 1994 and Blatter since then ' say that after every World Cup and, financially, they are always right.

But, beyond the business end, the World Cup is a sporting romance and Fifa does not give the competing countries the respect they are due in terms of logistics and schedule.

Have we just lived through a football classic' Was it a demonstration of organisational perfection' Was it a fan fest' Or was it just a cash cow for a world authority recovering its financial feet after the shocks of five years ago'

Once upon a time, a finals tournament generated its finest football in the concluding knockout stages when the shackles came off and the players were into all-or-nothing.

Sadly, now, the opposite is true. The best football of the finals ' and the finest goals 'came in the opening two rounds of the group stage when the players were more relaxed and still at the peak of condition after the four-week break since the end of their domestic competitions.

By the time the groups were over, every surviving coach understood the dangers posed by long-range shooting and drilled their teams to close down the shooters at high speed. The penalty shootout conclusion in which Italy out-fired France ' in the suicidally self-inflicted absence of the sent-off Zinedine Zidane ' was the logical conclusion of a World Cup whose football content sank without trace.

Yes, fatigue had set in. But whose fault was that' Fifa must bear a share here for squeezing the fatted calf into little more than a four-week pocket handkerchief.

On top of that, a number of teams underestimated the weight of the heat in the afternoon and oppressive atmosphere within the tent-style stadia even in the late evenings.

Some nations had so little ambition they did not even think beyond the first round ' notably Switzerland and Ukraine as their horrendous second-round tie demonstrated.

Germany 2006 was an enjoyable tournament for those involved but the significance of its legacy will probably rather concern how Germany looks at itself than with the football.

Great matches' None. Outstanding performances' Argentina against Serbia but that was compromised because Serbia was so poor. Maybe Italy against Germany in the semi-finals but by then the snap had gone out of Germany’s legs as the emotional weight of domestic expectation took its toll.

Disappointments' The Czech Republic, who ran out of strikers which was more bad luck than bad planning. And awful England, an embarrassment whose displays should prompt a realistic reassessment of what is supposed to pass for quality in the Premier League.

Then again, what sort of World Cup is it when a team ' Italy ' need perform “properly” only once to reach the final and with no individual player having aggregated more than two goals'

Fifa, for all Blatter’s self-congratulatory tone, has problems with discipline and the structure of the tournament.

Fans pay huge sums to see players not referees but the suggestion of going to three, rather than two, yellow cards for suspension could prove a dangerous downgrading of the disciplinary alert.

Refereeing common sense would appear to be the answer but, as we have seen before at World Cups, an Argentine referee and an Armenian referee may not judge common sense in the same context.

As for structure, the 32-strong field means some countries are strictly there for the first-round party and nothing more, which compromises the event’s competitiveness. It did show up, however, a disturbing lack of progress within Asian football.

No change is sensibly possible with the structured, seeded draw. But this contributed 'Ghana excepted ' a marginally disappointing predictability about the top two in most groups. On the other hand, the World Cup, as the overarching yardstick of global football power, needs the top nations to progress and prove their worth.

What does need changing is running straight from the groups into the second round. The end of the first round is a decisive stage, a natural break and the progressing teams deserve the opportunity to catch a little extra breath. The semi-finals should also be staged on the same day so both winners enjoy the same preparation time ahead of the final.

The climactic stage of the competition demands players be given due respect. They are, after all, the ones sporting history will remember long after all the sponsors, partners, associates, etc have gone bust.

Email This Page