It’s over. No more early morning games, no more enticing over/under bets, no more national anthems, no more complaining about vuvuzela’s or the Jabulani, no more questionable calls, no more goal celebrations, no more Martin Tyler, no more Paul the Octopus, no more Diego Forlan free kicks, no more Germany counter-attacks, no more Dutch karate kicks, no more Spanish 1-0 victories and no more World Cup.
As soon as Mexico and South Africa kicked off the tournament, I braced myself knowing the World Cup will eventually end, but it still sucks when it did. I feel like an eight-year-old who just had a fantastic summer vacation but now has to go back to school. The difference is the eight year old has to wait nine months before summer starts up again, while soccer fans have four years.
But before we start looking forward (And there is a lot to look forward too: The Premiership starts in less than 40 days. Is Landon Donovan going to leave MLS for good? Will Bob Bradley stay the U.S. coach? Who is Fernando Torres going to play for next season? Can José Mourinho become the first coach to win three Champions Leagues with three different teams?) its time to review what we all digested the last five weeks.
Player of the tournament — Iker Casillas — I understand Diego Forlan was exceptional and led an otherwise mediocre team to the semifinals. But Uruguay finished fourth and if Luis Suarez doesn’t channel his inner goalie, Forlan isn’t even considered the tournament’s top player. So, by default, I say Casillas is the player of tournament. He wasn’t exactly peppered in goal, but he did have five shutouts in seven matches and if he doesn’t stop Oscar Cardoza’s penalty in the quarterfinals or if he doesn’t deflect Arjen Robben’s breakaway, Spain probably doesn’t win the World Cup. But I could easily be talked into Andres Iniesta, Xavi or David Villa being the top player in South Africa.
Coach of the tournament — Joachim Low — Talent wise, Germany was not a top five and maybe not even a top seven team at the World Cup. That didn’t stop Germany from doing what it always does — going deep in international tournaments. Low got his inexperienced players to play with extraordinary confidence and his 4-2-3-1 counter-attacking tactics yielded the most exciting team in the tournament. Germany 4-0 victory over Argentina in the semifinals was best performance this summer.
Young player of the tournament — Thomas Muller — So many good things have been said about Muller I think his performance has become slightly overrated. I didn’t think he was that much better than his teammate, Mesut Ozil. But Muller did score five goals (though one came in the stupid third-place game) and won the Golden Boot (winning a tie-breaker over three other players). I’m going to go out on a limb and say this isn’t the last time we hear from Muller at a World Cup.
Best performance from a player I didn’t know existed 40 days ago — Diego Lugano — He was the other Diego on Uruguay, but Lugano was as good as any central defender the last couple weeks. Uruguay invited a lot of pressure in the tournament and Lugano made it look easy as the final line of defense. He plays for Fenerbache (yeah, I had to look that up) but a move to a bigger club seems likely.
Worst performance from a good player — Wayne Rooney — You know how Forlan carried his team to the semifinals? That’s what I, and many others, expected Rooney to do. Instead, if you only watched the World Cup you would think Rooney was a slight worse player than Jozy Altidore. He really didn’t do anything in four matches. Amazing, considering he was definitely one of the top three players in Europe last season. Nike commercial jinx?
Best goal — Giovanni van Bronckhorst against Uruguay — There are some other candidates (Maicon’s near post strike against North Korea, Tevez’s smash against Mexico, Suarez’s bender against South Korea, Donovan’s roof shot against Slovenia) but without question the best goal came from the Dutch left back. What’s amazing about the goal is just how far away von Bronkhurst was. I estimate 40 yards. Goals just aren’t fired past World Cup goalies from that distance, but van Bronckhorst couldn’t have placed the shot in a better spot. A nice way to cap a career.
Best game — Uruguay vs. Ghana, quarterfinals — It’s worth remembering this was one of the best games of the tournament even before the craziness of the final seconds. I already wrote extensively about the final moments, but looking back it all doesn’t seem real. Ghana was one handball, penalty kick and penalty kick shootout away from advancing. One of the worst sucker-punch losses in sports history.
Most exciting game — United States vs. Slovenia — Years from now, Landon Donovan’s goal against Algeria might be looked upon as the moment when soccer became a mainstream sport in the U.S. But, for me, the U.S. game I’ll remember most from the 2010 World Cup was the 2-2 tie against Slovenia.
The best victories (or in this case ties) are when you have completely given up hope. You don’t think there any chance your team can comeback. That’s how I felt at halftime against Slovenia. The U.S. was down 2-0 and looked completely dead. The passing was terrible, the energy wasn’t there, the tactics were all wrong and Robbie Findley was on the field. During halftime I went outside to suck down a cigarette and as I watched the sun come up, I thought to myself, “What a fucking disaster.”
Then came the second half and I don’t think I’ve ever jumped off a couch faster than when Donovan powered his shot over Samir Handanovic and into the roof of the net. Hope was restored.
The next 30 minutes were excruciating. The U.S. needed to score to survive and it wasn’t as though Slovenia was laying down. There weren’t many chances, but when Donovan’s long ball met Altidore’s head, that went to Bradley’s feet and into the net, I was as excited as I’ve been about anything in long time (which is kind of pathetic, I know). I wasn’t crying (like the guy in the video below) but I think I broke the record for most Kirk Gibson fist pumps in a 15 second span.
A couple minutes later — controversy. The U.S. scored the game-winner when Edu volleyed home Donovan’s free kick, but the goal was disallowed because of a phantom call. Who knows how the U.S. World Cup run would have been different if the goal stood (the U.S. would have been able to rest players against Algeria). The no goal was the main storyline after the match, but it was hard for me to be too outraged. I was just happy the U.S. was still alive.
Worst game — Uruguay vs. France — There might have been slightly worse matches, but Uruguay and France took place on the first day of the tournament and it was such a bummer watching a boring 0-0 tie. Uruguay decided to play ultra-defensively, completely overestimating the threat of France’s attack. Uruguay gave us some good matches in South Africa, but its first certainly wasn’t one of them.
Best goal celebration — South Africa — It came after the first goal on the tourament when Siphiew Tshabalala (what a name) went upper 90 against Mexico. It wasn’t over exuberant, but gets a lot of points for originality and was, in short, just cool.
Most entertaining off the field plot — France implodes — Nothing like a national team confirming the worst negative stereotypes of their country. In fairness, any team coached by Raymond Domenech might have quit. It’s amazing he lasted as long as he did. That said, for a team as talented as France to completely pack it in for the most important tournament on Earth was disgraceful. Though HIGHLY entertaining.
Best fans — The Netherlands — I don’t think I would have been too much of homer to say the U.S. fans, which gave U.S. soccer a home-field advantage at a neutral stadium for the first time ever. But I got to give to the Dutch. They badly out-numbered the opposing fans at every match. It was impossible not to feel sorry for them after the final. Plus, everyone wearing neon orange shirts looks great in HD.
Most puzzling moment — Jong Tae-se crying — Before North Korea’s first match against Brazil, Tae-se started crying uncontrollably during the national anthem. If it was any other player in the tournament I would have found it somewhat endearing, but not Tae-se. Tae-se was born and raised in Japan (he has North Korean parents). Unless you have gone through the hell of actually growing up in North Korea, you have no business being on the North Korea soccer team. North Korea is the most totalitarian country on the planet and coming from Japan to represent them, just so you can play international soccer, is wrong. But crying during the national anthem? It doesn’t make any sense. Was he thinking, “Wow, I’m so honored to have a chance to represent a country that starves its people to death, while at the same time spending billions on a nuclear weapons program. I’m going to have to start crying.” I mean, come on. I would like to think the tears started flowing because he realized he was an embarrassment wearing that shirt, but I doubt it.
Most feel good moment — Andrés Iniesta World Cup winner — The best part of Iniesta’s goal in the 117th minute to win the World Cup was that we weren’t going to have to go through the tragedy of crowing another world champion by penalty kicks. It was also a great goal. He chipped the ball to himself and lashed it in the net. But then to take off his shirt to honor his fallen friend was a great touch. It was a great way to end an awesome five weeks.