Same old, same old: Europe wins World Cup
Same old, same old. The World Cup champions will be European.
Either Dutch, Spanish or German, to be precise.
Hang on a second, the old continent hogging the summit of world
football, haven’t we seen that before?
Well, yes. Four years ago, in fact. Remember Italy winning and
the head-butt that rocked the world by French captain Zinedine
The truth is, we shouldn’t be surprised. Four weeks and 61
matches into the first World Cup in Africa – there’s just one
semifinal, Sunday’s final and the third-place game still to play –
have reaffirmed a cold, hard fact: The sport’s center of gravity is
still, and perhaps more than ever, in Europe.
Africa proved at this World Cup that it is more than capable of
hosting the biggest single event in sport, but that it also is
nowhere close to winning it. Ghana was the only country to make a
real impression and even it got no further than the quarterfinals.
Africa has fine players, competing across Europe in some of the
biggest clubs. It also has passion, as evidenced by the way the
continent swung behind the Ghanaians after the other five African
sides failed to get out of the group stage. But Africa doesn’t have
the decades of experience, the coaching expertise, and the wealth
that make Europe’s giants so strong.
For a while at this World Cup of relatively few goals but also
genuine upsets, South America strung us along with the illusion
that it would be the dominant force. But that, too, wasn’t to be.
Four of the eight quarterfinalists were South American. None will
be in the final. Thank you, Brazil for letting someone else win for
a change. The five-time champions were nowhere near their dancing,
awesome best in South Africa. The Brazilians are organizing the
next World Cup and must regroup, perhaps unearth a new Pele, if
they want to win it and add a sixth gold star to their bright
Thanks, too, to Argentina for a bundle of goals and for lighting
up the World Cup with the passion and quirkiness of Diego Maradona,
Argentina’s greatest player, who discovered that coaching wasn’t so
easy. His philosophy of swashbuckling attacking football was the
necessary antidote to the dull defensive fare served by teams so
unambitious that we’ve already forgotten them.
And gracias Uruguay, for giving the World Cup its pantomime
villain, Luis Suarez. At the very end of an absorbing quarterfinal,
he illegally used his hands to block what would have been a
match-winning goal for Ghana. But that cheat also proved to be a
Pyhrric victory for Uruguay. As punishment, football governing body
FIFA made him sit out Tuesday’s semifinal against the Netherlands
at Cape Town’s ghostly white and brand new Green Point Stadium.
Deprived of Suarez’s goal-scoring talents, Uruguay never looked
likely to win. There was a measure of poetic justice for Ghana and
Africa in the scoreline – Netherlands 3, Uruguay 2.
The Dutch captain, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, lit up the match
with a moment of beauty. His goal after 18 minutes of constricted
and flat football – neither side wanted to make a mistake –
whooshed into the top corner of Uruguay’s net. He thwacked the ball
from 36 meters (yards) out, top speed: 109 kilometers (67 miles)
So often at this World Cup similar shots have zoomed
frustratingly over the crossbar. Players have blamed their lack of
control on the Jabulani ball, said by some to be too fast and too
light, and the high altitude of some of the stadiums, where shots
cut quicker through the thin air. Maybe Cape Town’s muggy, denser
sea air was a factor in van Bronckhorst finding the back of the net
so sweetly against Uruguay. Of all the goals at this World Cup,
only the very first of the tournament was better. Siphiwe
Tshabalala’s shot on the run for South Africa was both athletic and
the perfect start.
The Netherlands will play either Spain or the most impressive
side of the tournament, Germany, in Sunday’s final at the cooking
pot-shaped Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg.
Germany’s young side has played with such verve and teamwork
that it is the favorite. But Spain is the European champion and,
unlike three-time champion Germany, has never won a World Cup. Its
talented team of players, many from Spanish champion Barcelona, has
not been as impressive as was expected, but could make amends now
when it counts.
The Dutch have reached the final playing not the prettiest
football, but perhaps the most pragmatic. Defend well. Score goals.
They have won all six of their matches in South Africa. Like the
Spanish, they have yet to win a World Cup.
And while no European side has ever won the cup outside of
Europe, that will change Sunday.
So in the end, it won’t be same old, same old, after all.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The
Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org