OK, let’s shake off the political correctness and the cheerleading.
We can talk all we want about how important it is to have the World Cup in Africa, how awesome it is to see the world come together in a way that even the Olympics can’t muster.
But, be honest with yourself.
This World Cup, so far, has been a disappointment. If we go another round with games like we have seen so far, we can replace “disappointment” with “terrible.”
Dour, lifeless games are the norm. Empty seats can be seen at stadiums throughout South Africa.
Other than the bee-buzz of the vuvuzelas, fan passion isn’t translating to the rest of the world. What we see on the broadcasts are tepid games being played in front of thousands of empty seats.
So far, only five of 14 games have seen both teams hit the back of the net. Only South Korea, Brazil, the Netherlands and Germany have generated more than one goal in their games.
Look, soccer isn’t all about scoring; it’s about buildup play, possession, making clever runs. But we haven’t seen much of those either.
What we have seen is a bunch of managers playing as if they are afraid to lose, packing the back and afraid to commit players forwards. And the players themselves, after long, draining domestic seasons and way too many friendlies played in the lead-up to South Africa, look exhausted.
Only Argentina -- which decided not to play any friendlies in June, deciding instead to rest a bevy of stars exhausted from their Europeans seasons -- bucked the trend, choosing to treat its opening game with Nigeria as its warm-up match.
Arrogant? Yes. The right move? Absolutely.
The Netherlands-Denmark match was typical of what’s wrong with this World Cup, so far. Danish coach Morton Olsen guided his team through the toughest qualifying group in Europe by being dedicated to attacking soccer.
Heck, the Danes scored three goals against Portugal, in Lisbon. But they got to the World Cup, dropped everyone back behind the ball save for one, isolated striker Nicklas Bendtner, and played tentatively against the Dutch.
The Dutch, couldn’t deal with the negative tactics, and the first half was an abomination. Only when Denmark bumbled a ball into its own goal did the game open up, slightly.
Ivory Coast met Portugal in one of the glamour games of the group stages. It was almost as agonizingly dull as France and Uruguay's 0-0 game, which might be the worst World Cup game ever played.
But, if there is a bright side to what has been a dud of an opening week, it’s the fact that defensive soccer breeds parity. Save for Australia, North Korea and Greece, pretty well everyone else still has World Cup hopes.
The giants of soccer aren’t looking so mean anymore. The longer a game goes 0-0, the more chance that one lucky bounce can propel the underdog to victory.
Japan blanketed Cameroon, and buried its only good chance.
Slovakia refused to bring men forward for most of its game against New Zealand. It sat on a 1-0 lead. The Kiwis got a late goal from Winston Reid, and the Slovaks only had themselves to blame for playing in a shell.
The World Cup needs some spice, a coach with new ideas.
It’s too late for a coach to alter a team’s tactical makeup at this point, but the international game -- which has been bogged down by cautious manager after cautious manager -- needs a tactical wizard. Someone like Hungarian Gusztav Sebes, who gave the world the 4-2-4 of Hungary¹s Magic Magyars in the 1950s, or Rinus Michels, who designed the Dutch Total Football of the 1970s.
Ironically, those are the two teams always mentioned as the best to not win the World Cup. They were beaten in finals by teams who didn’t worry about being entertaining.
Had those Hungarian and Dutch teams won their World Cups, soccer would be so different now.
We have World Cups where rigid tactics have stifled individual creativity. A World Cup where it's hard to find a player not named Lionel Messi who has a free role with his team. Has the game become so overcoached that it has become stale?
In South Africa, the results haven't been encouraging.