Thursday, July 13, 2006

Finals Fantasy end of tournament round-up thing - part 2

What did you make of it, then?

Pace. Power. Precision. Technique. Oh, sorry, just came over all Alan Hansen there...

Well, it was marvellous, wasn't it? In fact, so marvellous that every use of the past tense is making me wince - the World Cup wallchart is staying Blutaked to the fridge for a while yet, at least until I can accept the fact that it really is over.

The consensus amongst pundits and journalists seems to be that (to adapt the tired old cliche) it was a tournament of two halves: the group stages were thrilling, but after that it became as dull as a Southgate co-commentary. There's some truth in that, but knockout games like Argentina v Mexico, Portugal v Holland and the Germany v Italy semi-final were among the very best, while England and France's first two group games were absolutely dire.

Best defensive player

It was a cakewalk for Fabio Cannavaro to claim that title. The Italian skipper was magnificent from first whistle to last, and no-one more deserved to lift the trophy than him. If he does end up following his former manager at Juve Fabio Cappello to the Bernabeu, as is rumoured, then Real Madrid might once again be a force to be reckoned with.

Mention should also be made of Cannavaro's team-mate Gianluca Zambrotta, as adventurous and influential going forwards as he was solid at the back, but the side whose defence collectively most impressed me was Mexico. Matt singled out their captain Rafael Marquez, and certainly his ability to drift effortlessly into midfield and drive his team forward was impressive - but he was only able to do so because Ricardo Osorio is such an accomplished sweeper. He was superb, never flustered or hurried and even himself able to play as a right winger towards the frantic conclusion of the match against Argentina.

Best attacking player

The pundit's / journalist's consensus is right on this one: there were very few attacking players who grasped the opportunity and really shone.

The hyperbole about Zidane before his sending-off in the final was as ludicrous as the debate about whether young Master Rooney deliberately set out to squash Ricardo Carvalho's tomatoes - he might have taken Brazil apart almost single-handedly in the quarter-final, but he was ineffective if not plain rubbish in the first two group games and was suspended for the third. People have short memories. There's no way he should have been named the tournament's best player above Cannavaro, and indeed there were many others more deserving.

So, at the risk of offending Sun readers everywhere, I'll say Cristiano Ronaldo. He might be a whining, preening, diving little winker, but he was by far the most dangerous player on the pitch in the games against England and France.

Biggest letdown

What, other than England's inevitable quarter-final exit on penalties?

It would have to be Argentina. How on earth, with that squad and after that exquisite demolition of Serbia & Montenegro, they didn't walk it is beyond me.

Item you'd track down for the National Football Museum

The collection of splinters gathered from benches in Frankfurt, Nuremberg, Cologne, Stuttgart and Gelsenkirchen by Theo Walcott’s bottom. Or the pause between a Garth Crooks statement-of-supposed-fact and a supposedly-hard-hitting-question. Rather more difficult to lay your hands on, I imagine, would be Frank Lampard's ability to hit a cow's arse with a banjo.

Best pundit

Oh the agony of choice...

Martin O'Neill, hands down. Possibly my favourite moment of the whole tournament was when, after footage of Leonardo showing off his ball skills, Ray Stubbs asked O'Neill if he wanted to join the "Leo love-in". The Irishman responded with a long tongue-in-cheek whinge about him being a very talented and good-looking chap and being "a bit sick of it all", before adding: "He's not the sort of boy you'd want to go to a disco with".

Best commentator

Slim pickings again.

The BBC's lesser lights probably have it - Simon Brotherton and Steve Wilson. Mainly for being informative without being annoyingly obtrusive or grasping with a spectacular lack of dignity for the "clever thing to say".

Worst pundit

Where to start?

Well, the BBC very definitely won this one. Even Ian Wright - a children's TV presenter in another life - failed to grate anywhere near as much as I'd imagined he would, and, having written Leonardo off in the first week, I have to concede he was half-decent. (That said, Mark Lawrenson's off-mic guffaws were increasingly irritating.)

ITV, on the other hand, seemed to have picked wrong 'un after wrong 'un. Jay-Jay Okocha was pretty much comatose, Ally McCoist insisted on prefacing everything he said with "What I like about him is..." and Gareth Southgate could have bored the trousers off Eugene from last year's 'Big Brother' (Don't remember him? It doesn't matter).

David Pleat was obviously in a league of his own when it came to pronunciation and the profligate use of adjectives.

But the award has to go to Sir Terence of Venables, shortly to be on the England staff once again (if rumours are to be believed) in a bid to relive the glory days of 1966 1996. His ability to talk nonsense, even when accompanied by demonstrative hand gestures, was impressive. He seemed to have been taking his cue from the one and only Sir Bobby Robson, managing to lose track of what he was saying not only within a sentence but within a clause.

Worst commentator

Jon Champion proved himself the master of overstatement (and thereby fully justified Des Lynam's criticism of him), while Jonathan Pearce disappointed by repeatedly grasping for the crutch of endless statistics and even Motty appeared to have lost the plot, continually getting players' names wrong and, in the France v Portugal semi-final, covering up comments about Ronaldo's diving and Carvalho's being "involved in the Rooney incident" (yes, as the bloke who got his stotts stood on) with a pathetically apologetic "if you think this is just sour grapes from an Englishman...".

Clive Tyldesley did well to be the worst of the lot, then, didn't he? A round of (sarcastic) applause.

Main lesson learned about the game over the last month

Steven Gerrard, Francesco Totti and Roberto Carlos advertising Pringles? Pele advertising Puma? Michael Owen advertising Asda and Dominos Pizza? That everyone can be bought, everyone's for sale (to bastardise the Manic Street Preachers' lyrics).

Or, to be less cynical, that a watertight defence is what every great team is founded upon. Take note Glenn Roeder.

And that football can be predictable at times ie that, after thrashing S&M 6-0 and beating Ivory Coast 2-1 in a brilliant game, Argentina and Holland respectively would serve up a dull game while the last ten minutes of Tunisia v Saudi Arabia would be among the most thrilling of the entire tournament.

It's been fun, this, hasn't it?

Indeed it has (apart from the Pleat matches I had to report on). I'd do it again in an instant. It's going to be painful going back to the relative mundanity of Black & White & Read All Over and the meagre fare of Newcastle's Intertoto campaign, which kicks off on Saturday. Thanks to Simon for setting up the blog and subsequently organising things, and to my fellow contributors for their always enjoyable reports.

I guess if I was going to really go out in style I ought to headbutt you in the chest, but you'd have to call my mother a terrorist whore first.


Blogger skif said...

You say about my museum collection, fella.

How were you planning to retrieve those splinters exactly.


1:10 pm, July 13, 2006


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