JOHANNESBURG – You can sense a turning.
Perhaps it hasn’t happened completely yet but there are hints good things are coming for this World Cup.
We hope, we hope, we hope.
There was Switzerland’s win over Spain, Germany’s swarming of Australia, Argentina’s textbook offensive display against South Korea.
Good stuff just when it was needed.
A World Cup that so far has had few goals, minimal pizzazz and less personality than Stephen Harper was in desperate need of an injection of raw energy. And while it’s not all good yet, it’s going in the right direction.
So far the big news out of this World Cup is a plastic horn that never made it big in North America, balls that don’t feel or fly right according to many, an English goaltender with bad hands and a bad relationship with a Canadian lingerie model and underpaid and underappreciated stewards who walked off the job because their boss wanted to pay them $28 a day, less than half what they were promised.
Hold the presses.
The fans have been great, the South African people outstanding hosts. The colour and noise has provided a distraction to the lack of good play on the pitch.
But how often can you write about horns.
To the ardent attacker of the beautiful game, this tournament has provided them with ample ammunition. Two games ended 0-0, five 1-0 and four 1-1.
Of the few goals scored, not many will make the list of best-ever. We have had, though, some goalkeeping blunders that will head that list.
Not the type of legacy a World Cup would like.
There was great hope for this tournament.
This was winter in Africa. The weather was supposed to be ideal for soccer. No one would pass out from the heat. The players could run forever without getting tired.
It is cool, cool enough to stage a hockey game. The wind blows and it isn’t the gentle breezes of the Sahara we’re talking about. And then there’s rain, plenty of rain, especially in Cape Town. Not the lightly falling kind but the kind that would make a duck look for a snorkel.
Aside from the conditions, during the first set of games many teams have played with one thing in mind – not to lose.
It’s not unusual to see teams with nine men behind the ball. This type of cynical soccer does nothing but stifle the creativity of the best players in the world.
Diego Maradona, coach of Argentina, says a lot of things but he’s absolutely right about the need for the sport to protect its best players and let them showcase their skills.
Too often a defender is allowed to get away with way too much before the referee intercedes and metes out punishment.
And maybe bad balls have something to do with it. The Jabulani ball has come under criticism for its lightness and feel. You could put it down to whiny players and most times that would be the truth. But when you see players like Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi over-hitting short passes, there has to be something to it.
The biggest problem is the teams themselves. First, games are always a nervous time for teams that don’t want to put themselves in a situation of having to win their last two games to move on.
They’d prefer to settle for one point rather than play an open game and risk losing all three.
So what’s going to change as the tournament advances?
Games now become more important. Teams that lost their first games have to push to win their second, opening up the game a little more.
Teams that won their first game understand that a second win will almost certainly put them through. The stakes are ratcheted up considerably.
Teams have now spent a lot more time together and players have had the opportunity to get used to their teammates.
They are learning how balls react to the wind and playing surface.
Great teams with great players are great for a reason … they are capable of producing memorable moments at any time.
It’s that stuff of whimsy we’ve all been waiting for.
If it doesn’t arrive, it’s going to be a long and unbearable month.