I am a huge football fan. I love the ever improving Tottenham Hotspur an unhealthy amount. I get giddy with nerves when England play and revel in the role of the underdog when Ireland punch above their weight. I play the game as much as I can and if I had more money I’d be at White Hart Lane every week. And I look forward to the World Cup with the excitement of a child at Christmas.
But now, I feel disillusioned. Something hasn’t quite hit the spot these last three weeks, and it isn’t the inevitable underachievement of our own team. They say your first world cup is always your favourite and I have to say whoever ‘they’ are, are right.
I’ve enjoyed this tournament and taken in a lot of games, but sadly a great deal of these can be described as interesting only in the way I might find Italian football interesting – worth watching until you realise you’re used to something much better.
England got stuck against the Americans, embarrassed against the footballing giants of Algeria, heralded as world-beaters after scraping past Slovenia and finally we had our pants pulled down by the Germans. Sure we had the most blatant goal since Pedro Mendes not given (after Ireland were cheated out of a place in South Africa – twice I’ve been shafted) but that would have only prolonged our demise.
Every tournament has some stinkers for games, and every tournament has an over-hyped, under-performing England team. Nothing new there.
I think what has been missing is the magic of the greatest spectacle in the world. My first world cup was France 98, and it was special. I cried rather than shouted when England went out, I was naive enough to want our conquerors to win the tournament, hell, I even cheered on Scotland!
I can still remember Owen’s mad run against Argentina, I can picture vividly Beckham going from hero against Columbia to villain against the same team Owen had sliced through. I remember being in bed and hearing the news on TV that Gascoigne wasn’t in the squad. Sol ‘Judus’ Campbell’s disallowed goal, listening to the Tunisia game on the radio at school, losing to Romania late on in the group stage. I can remember all of these moments as if it had happened last weekend.
And that’s just England related. How about the confusion of Ronaldo in the final? Every time Brazil had a free kick I held my breath following Roberto Carlos’ effort the previous year at Le Tournoi. The Romanians all dying their hair peroxide blonde for the final group game? Everyone remembers that, and on the subject of hair – how about Valderrama’s mad barnet? Croatian Davor Sukur struck me as the best player the world had ever seen, I still can’t believe Scotland got an equaliser before eventually succumbing to Brazil in the opening game and I will NEVER forget Bergkamp’s goal. Unbelievable Jeff.
If you had to ask me my three favourite memories from this world cup? Off the top of my head I’d say Tshabalala’s goal in the opening game, the double penalty madness in the Spain v Paraguay game and the end of the Ghana v Uruguay match. Not that I expect to remember them in 12 years time. Certainly there has been nothing to rival Seaman getting lobbed in 2002 or Zidane scoring an outrageous penalty and then nailing a perfect headbutt in the final of 2006.
Despite those two references the same is true of 2002 and 2006, both like this one were good in their own right, but none live up to that first tournament and the memories it created, you get a couple that stick with you, but not the shedload of ’98. Unfortunately this one falls shorter still due to the fact that apart from David Villa, not a single world class and built up player has lived up to expectations. I said that if England had Rooney in the squad we had a chance, and if Rooney had decided to come along rather than sending a pale imitation of himself we would have done. No big tournament from Lampard or Gerrard either. Torres has been poor, Messi marked out of it, Christiano Ronaldo disapointed, Drogba was carrying an injury and Kaka never really got going.
In 98 ‘The Real’ Ronaldo was remarkable, in 2002 Ronaldinho stole the show for me and 2006 was all about Zidane. Nobody has grabbed the limelight this year and nobody has played the supporting figures like in previous world cups when we were spoiled by top players at the top of their games – the likes of Rivaldo, Sukor, Batistuta, Pirlo, Cannavaro, Salas and Crespo. If you look through previous all-star teams comprised at the end of the tournament, the players you’d expect to be there are there. Not this year they won’t be.
So what is my point? That the last few weeks have been disappointing? Yes. But only because I built it up so much, I should know better by now than to believe in England, and with hindsight I have to take the tournaments for what they are. Nothing compares to your first World Cup, and I’m not sure another one will.
Yes there have been some sensational shocks and a few good games but nothing has lived up to the hope I had for this tournament. Except the French of course. Serves the cheating bastards right.