Michael Ramsay argues that despite Germany’s destruction of Brazil, the World Cup has been devoid of enthusiasm, rhythm and ultimately, a soul.
Blessed with a rich footballing history, with past World Cup winners revered as sacred icons throughout the nation, the world has forever been unanimous about where the sport’s soul resides – Brazil.
No country have claimed the coveted Jules Rimet trophy as many times as the silky South Americans, whose inventive flair and dazzling skill have illuminated the world’s most prestigious tournament since its’ inception in 1930. They have been heralded as the masters of ‘total football’, the ‘crème de la crème’.
To them, the ball is not a means to an end – it is an extension of themselves, and must be caressed, almost seduced into the net. When the announcement was made in October 2007 that the five-time world champions would be hosting the world’s greatest tournament, anticipation was rife. Surely we were set for the greatest World Cup in living memory?
The answer is a sad no. The hosts flattered to deceive, picking up more detractors than plaudits on their way to the semi-finals, reminiscent of the Netherland’s rambunctious antics in South Africa. Gone are the silky skills and clinical finishing of yore that illuminated Big Phil Scolari’s triumphant reign in 2002. Sad is it to see a nation so beloved within the footballing world castigated and scorned throughout the globe, derelicting the traits that captured the world’s imagination for so long.
In every World Cup, one would expect the luxury of witnessing at least one or two supreme teams. In this World Cup, the Germans, after their destruction of the Brazilians, can lay claim to this title. However, none of the semi-finalists possess an iota of the sheer class, imagination and poise of the triumphant Spanish squad four years ago. Each side has appeared vapid, slow and out of ideas in several matches, with Holland, Argentina and Germany scrambling through extra time in a bid to knock out far inferior opponents. Perhaps it is the torturous levels of humidity and temperature, plaguing the athletes into a series of error-strewn performances.
Whoever lifts the trophy will be an uninspiring victor. While the Dutch sent shockwaves around the globe with that ruthless dismantling of their 2010 Spanish conquerors three weeks ago, they have since looked sluggish and slow, with Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder proving to be their only potent threats in front of goal.
The Germans who smashed eight goals past the English and the Argentines in South Africa looked a far more accomplished side than the one who find themselves in their fourth consecutive World Cup semi-final. That was of course, until the Belo Horizonte Massacre.
While Argentina have faltered in recent World Cups, their prayers rest in attack, as the rest of their team leaves so much to be desired. Petering through games against the likes of Iran, Bosnia and Switzerland does not bode well for potential champions of the world, no matter who currently dons their number ten jersey.
This brings us to the individuals. Before each tournament, we earmark the star players, and wait in anticipation for the breakthrough stars. Sure, Lionel Messi has come to the fore in Brazil, but for large portions, he has been relatively quiet. Has he dominated the tournament in the same manner of Zinedine Zidane in 1998 and 2006, Fabio Cannavaro in 2006, Ronaldo in 2002, Bobby Moore in 1966, or by the Argentine legend in 1986 by whom every achievement he is measured against?
Cristiano Ronaldo, nursing an injury for the last six weeks, flattered to deceive, fluffing a host of chances, as the Portuguese failed to qualify for the last 16. Similarly, the ‘superstar’ likes of Wayne Rooney, Andres Iniesta and Eden Hazard will not want to dwell on their individual performances for too long.
As far as breakthrough stars go, where are the likes of Mesut Ozil, Luis Suarez and Keisuke Honda of 2010? The Lukas Podolski, Maxi Rodriguez and Franck Ribery that sparkled in Germany four years earlier? This time, the closest thing to an unearthed youngster would be the 22-year-old James Rodriguez, who is suddenly being linked with the likes of Real Madrid following a six-goal spree for Columbia. But having signed for Monaco for £35 million last summer, could he really be classified as an unknown quantity?
However, as underwhelming as the World Cup has been, the tournament has been riddled with cases of déjà vu. Luis Suarez followed up his 2010 handball misdemeanour with an even more bizarre sequel – this time sinking his teeth into the shoulder of Giorgio Chiellini. And as predictably as ever, England failed before they even got going, mustering a total of two goals, and slumping to the bottom of their group.
The World Cup has failed to live up to the hype. There has been a lack of enthusiasm, an absence of rhythm, an abject poison coursing through the supposedly ‘top’ sides as the tournament has worn on.
It was supposed to be a celebration, a majestic platform for the elite to strut their undeniable talents. Instead, we have been privy to cynicism, rough-housing, and blatant fouling, shrugged off by a ‘win-at-all-costs’ attitude. If this World Cup is anything to go by, the soul has been sucked out of football, and what exists in its’ place is a murky, uninviting shadow.
Michael Ramsay, Pundit Arena.