As the World Cup winds down, here’s a few things I learnt about the World’s Greatest Sporting Event (FIFA TM) while on my travels.
- David Villa is a genius. If you think he looks quick on TV, you should see him in the flesh. His pace, vision and reactions have to be seen to be believed. This goal against Honduras (obligingly scored right in front of us at Ellis Park) was sublime.
- FIFA branding sucks. I know FIFA’s global sponsorship deals are what keeps the whole circus going but does every single World Cup venue and experience have to be exactly the same? Apart from packets of biltong and the Ellis Park pies, local products were excluded from the stadiums by FIFA who only allowed Coca-Cola drinks, watery Budweiser beer and the blandest of hotdogs. Oh – and you could only pay by Visa.
- England really were that bad. As Alexi Lalas told a perplexed fellow ESPN panelist Steve McManaman after the 0-0 debacle against Algeria, “maybe they’re just not that good”. No, Alexi, they were much worse …
- It’s OK to like Germany. Even us Ingerlund fans had to admit, the old enemy were sensational and, on their game, the most exciting team at the tournament. I was there when they crushed Argentina 4-0 – and Argentina were lucky to get 0.
- Video replays – what are we waiting for? It hardly needs repeating but after so many obviously appalling decisions, there is surely now no excuse for FIFA not using available technology to ensure that major events are officiated fairly and accurately. We were at Soccer City when they inadvertently showed a replay of the Tevez offside goal within seconds and all hell broke loose. Sign the petition now!
- Barcelona, one of the football capitals of the world, has no public TV screens in its airport! In transit, we got to the airport early figuring that catching the next game would not be an issue – wrong! At JFK, though, we were spoilt for choice.
- Americans really love soccer. More Americans than any other nation bought World Cup tickets, ESPN’s HD coverage was superb, Ronaldo stories now make Page 6 of the New York Times, and even store keepers in a New York mall wanted to discuss the finer points of the Uruguay-Holland game with me. The team was better than England and their fans, after the extra-time defeat to Ghana, couldn’t have been more gracious. No, soccer is never going to be bigger than the NBA or the NFL but there are tens of millions of Americans who care about it, so let’s stop worrying about whether the US “gets” it.
- … but not as much as Africans. With their infuriating vuvuzelas, colourful makarapas and sheer exuberance, few places on earth have as much passion for the beautiful game and such a vibrant and unique soccer culture.
- Luis Suarez is not a cheat. He simply did what any other professional in the last minute of extra-time would have done and, under the rules, was duly punished. It’s not his fault that Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan was thinking about the headlines instead of where to stick the penalty.
- Hype hurts. Maybe its time for Rooney, Ronaldo, et al to spend less time making expensive adverts and get back to some basics. The pricking of over-hyped egos and reputations was one of the guilty pleasures of this World Cup.