I haven't written a blog in a while despite my intentions to at the turn of the year. Work kind of got away from me as I had the good fortune to be taken on full time by Onside Analysis in March and I've been kept very busy since then!!
For the past month the World Cup has been pretty much all I've worked on and thought about, this would probably be the same regardless of whether I was employed to do it, I always used to make sure I booked the first 2 weeks of the tournament off work so I could watch 3 games a day and make sure I didn't miss any! So to work on it this year has been an absolute dream! Over the course of the tournament there has been plenty to enjoy, a few things to grumble about and some general observations - I've written them down below so I hope you enjoy reading them!
Positives/Things I enjoyed
The RefereeingThe first couple of games were really dodgy. Fred's penalty, Neymar's none sending off, the disallowed Mexican goals - it looked as though it was gonna be a real 'mare for referees. But after this they settled down and on the whole I thought it was really good. There were some excellent decisions, such as the advantage given to Switzerland late on against Ecuador that allowed them to score a late winner and the general command they seemed to have over most games (Brazil vs Colombia obviously the exception).
Wow, if you didn't get a tingle down your spine watching the South American's belt out their anthems, especially the 2nd verse without the music you're dead inside!! While this obviously had no bearing on the score (Although I'd like the England players to show the same level of pride I don't think it comes from singing our anthem which is soooooo slooooooooooooooow - wish we had something more uptempo and rousing!!) it really got the fans behind them and when they were well backed anyway it really added to the occasion.
Goals!The tournament is the most exciting I can remember. The first one I watched was Italia 90 and while they are all enjoyable in their own way the tournaments had gradually been seeing less and less goals per game (from 2.66 goals per game in France 98 to 2.23 in South Africa 2010). The group stages of this World Cup seemed to abandon the shackles of defence and we saw some outstanding games. Spain 1 Netherlands 5. Australia 2 Netherlands 3, Switzerland 2 France 5, South Korea 2 Algeria 4, Nigeria 2 Argentina 3 - and of course Germany's destruction of Brazil in the semi final. While you don't necessarily need goals to make a game enjoyable they do help!!
USAThe USA were far from the most talented team. What they do have in abundance is tactical nous, team spirit and energy. It was almost impossible not to cheer for them, their enthusiasm was infectious and the 2nd half of extra time against Belgium was pretty much the most exciting 15 minutes of football I've watched in years!
Goal of the TournamentJames or Cahill? James or Cahill? (or van Persie?!?)
You can make a case for both. I was out of my seat for both goal they were so good. I love a good volley, they are the most spectacular of goals and I'd go for Cahill as the long ball and volley on your weaker foot is so difficult to get right. James put the ball exactly where he wanted it in order to volley it (which is clear a fantastic skill in itself) and I could not argue with him winning it. Cahill was just my personal preference.
Negatives/Things that annoyed me
ITV's coverage - particularly Clarke Carlise!
The build up and knock down of EnglandEngland were never going to do well in this tournament. A relatively poor crop of players, difficult group, conditions in Manaus. This led to a quite refreshing mindset from most people before the tournament of this being a rebuilding year and giving some of the more talented youngsters a chance to experience a World Cup with the hope of carrying this into the next few tournaments. So what happened? England lost to Italy. Very unlucky. Chances were there that on another day go in. Then we lost to Uruguay, again very unlucky. Rooney could hardly have been closer with at least 2 chances and a terrible defensive mistake by Gerrard allows Suarez to score at the death. Had we drawn it would have been tough but we'd have had a chance going into the final game. Again because of scheduling and due to Costa Rica's surprise performances it meant England were going home to derision and a witch hunt from the media about's who's fault it was. But if we weren't expected to do anything why was everybody so disappointed?! On a personal note I thought England's worst performance by far was against Costa Rica in the final game.
Argentina, Messi & the Golden Ball.I covered Argentina for the tournament for Onside Analysis so they were one of the teams I watched more closely than most. They were poor. Struggled against a Bosnia side who were lively. Relied on a Messi wonder goal to win it.
Poor against a defensive Iran side. Relied on a Messi wonder goal to win it.
Open and fragile against Nigeria? Relied on 2 Messi goal's to win.
Switzerland - struggled again, Messi beats 3 men to set up Di Maria for the win (Di Maria had put about 40 shots into the stand so it's a wonder Messi didn't stop his shooting privileges!)
Belgium was slightly better and then against the Dutch neither side wanted to lose, with de Jong doing a superb job of denying Messi any space.
In the Final Germany deserved to win, but Argentina had 3 great chances.
Messi looked like he wanted to be anywhere other than collecting his golden ball and the outcry began about how he had won it. Well, I wouldn't have picked him - however he basically carried a poor team into the final. Other than Mascherano nobody stood out so to get through 7 games and be within 7 minutes of going to the lottery of penalties says a lot about Messi. As for comments about he can't be one of the greats as he hasn't won the World Cup? Look at the players Pele and Maradona had on their sides and compare them to this Argentinian side.