Sene-who?, Surprises, Referees, Korea Team Fighting, and la Penta!
The 17th FIFA World Cup
Sometimes it is impossible to digest a World Cup just days after it has ended. The 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan is no different. 64 games played over the course of only one month is a lot of football and to be able to successfully analyze the style and quality of play is quite difficult. Also difficult is putting the events in a somewhat greater historical framework. Will we really appreciate what Senegal did until a little further down the road? The same applies to the performances of Turkey, USA, or South Korea (although the Italians and Spaniards will have something to say about them) for that matter. The answer to that question is no. Not until some later date in the future will we fully be able to look back and determine whether this World Cup was as successful as previous versions of the event. One thing is for sure however, and that is that the Korea/Japan version of the World's greatest sporting event left us with a bunch of goals and near misses, an inordinate amount of surprises as well as countless memories.
There were many themes that characterized this World Cup. Here I present to you what I believe to be the most important of those themes.
Senegal really set the stage didn't it? Anyone who follows the World Cup knows that the opening match is always a tricky affair. However, few, very few thought Senegal had a chance of stealing any points from the defending champion. Pape Bouba Diop's goal however changed all that and Senegal pulled off a memorable upset against the team who most thought was the one to beat. Ok fine one upset, people expected that, however who could have ever predicted what was to come. France, and Argentina, the two heavy pre-cup favorites, out after one round-dare we say impossible. There was more to come however. Portugal, picked by many as a serious contender for the title also was unceremoniously dumped first by the USA, and then by co-hosts South Korea. The second round came and even more upsets were to follow. Italy goes down (rather controversially) to South Korea by a golden goal. The final eight gave us Brazil, Germany, Spain, and England, perennial powers who many could have seen making it that far. The other four teams included Turkey, USA, South Korea, and Senegal. I came to two conclusions after seeing all these surprises. The first is that the gap is starting to close between the perennial football powers and the teams that used to be the cannon-fodder for those powers. The second conclusion I came to is that certain teams looked fresher than the others. The amount of games played through one season especially in European competitions is taking a heavy toll on its players. Teams such as South Korea, Japan, and USA seemed better equipped to handle the rigors and physical demands of the month long tournament, especially when compared to their European counterparts. This is to take nothing away from the performance of these teams; but it shows that many players who ply their footballing trade in Europe were exhausted come time for the World Cup (which was played this year sooner because of the worry that the monsoon rains would interfere with play). The question UEFA, national federations, and big sponsors must ask is whether all these games that players must play each season(in many instances as many as 70+games) are worth it and is it in the best interest of the players. It seems not. We are talking about human beings here, not machines. Sure footballers are receiving record salaries, however paying a slave a high wage doesn't mean that one is doing something right-the slave is still that….a slave.
I won't spend too much on this topic because I rarely am interested in discussing these guys. After all football is about the players and the sport itself, not about refs. This Cup however saw more than its fair share of bad calls. A few come to mind including the disallowed goals in the Italy-Croatia game, the disallowed Belgian goal against Brazil when the score was 0-0, Totti' sending off against South Korea and the ruling out of Tomassi's goal, as well as the two disallowed Spanish goals in the quarter-finals against South Korea. Yes, referees make mistakes but most mistakes in this Cup had very large consequences. When the pressure wasn't on as much in the first round, the refereeing seemed much better. Something I took notice of was the amount of times the referee or asst. referee made 50/50 calls that clearly benefited the defending when the rules state exactly the opposite-especially in offside situations and offensive fouls. It is my belief that referees should be made professional. There is so much money in the modern game that it is a wonder that referees should be paid so little and not given more benefits for the tough job they have to do. Making referees professional will not eliminate all mistakes. Rather, this will allow the referee to be extremely prepared and to be able to do the job to best of his ability.
Quality of Play-
Many critics are saying the quality of play at this World Cup was disappointing, citing the early exit of attractive footballing nations such as France, Argentina, and Portugal. I will beg to differ on this point. Although I believe the play could have been better, I think once again people are falling into the no goals-no fun web. The goals were down yes; however that doesn't have any connection to the excitement level. Granted the 3-3 draw between Senegal and Uruguay had everything but wasn't it exciting watching the 0-0 draw between France and Uruguay-not knowing what was going to happen as the second half was so back and forth. Of course France, Argentina, Portugal, and co. would have been fun to watch had they progressed. I still believe though that Senegal, Turkey, Japan, USA, South Korea, and co. were worthy replacements. I would like to have seen more goals in the knockout stages as well; however in terms of sheer excitement this World Cup received high marks from me. Who wouldn't want to have seen Batistuta, Veron, Zidane, Henry, Figo, Recoba, Mboma, Aghawoha, and all the other stars and teams go further in the tournament? We all did. However, instead we received new stars such as Hasan Sas, Landon Donovan, Pape Bouba Diop, El Hadji Diouf, Ahn, Hong Myung-Bo, and Inamoto.
Part 2 of this column will be on the site next week. Until then have a great week and vive le futbol! Questions, comments, and criticisms can be sent to email@example.com