There is a lot of drama on and off the pitch at this year’s World Cup, and the following nine stories are some that have managed to make the headlines so far.
How do you go from last World Cup’s runner-up to failing to win a game in this one? Ask France, who decided to focus on playing out a soap opera off the field instead of focusing on Uruguay, Mexico, and South Africa. There are several interwoven conflicts that make this situation complicated and so severe that French striker Thierry Henry will meet with France’s president this week to discuss the collapse in South Africa. The saga in a nutshell: France’s coach Raymond Domenech expels Nicolas Anelka from the team after a verbal altercation at halftime of game, players defend Anelka by refusing to train in preparation for their game against South Africa (which is like not taking batting practice before Game 7 of the World Series), cue comments from former French star Zenedine Zidane and cap the episode with a deflating loss to South Africa and you have a legitimate “téléroman”.
Is that noise coming from the TV?
Vuvuzelas—these little plastic horns have arguably made more noise off the field than any player has been able to on it. A symbol of South African football, the vuvuzelas have generated a lot of buzz (literally), and have drawn the ire of some players and fans who were unfamiliar with the droning fly-like sound. While there were attempts to ban the horns from all games, FIFA denied the campaign, and when I look back at this World Cup, I will remember the games, yes, but the memories will be laced with the sound likened to a swarm of bees.
Switzerland Shocks Spain
Spain came to South Africa as one of the favorites to win the whole thing in 2010, and with stars like Xavi, Fernando Torres, David Villa, and Andres Iniesta, a tie in its first match of the World Cup against Switzerland would have even a been a bit surprising. There’s a reason games aren’t played on paper though, and when the Swiss managed to shut out Spain and shock the soccer world with a 1-0 upset, the game automatically became one of highlights of group play. Some numbers to chew on from this game—Switzerland was 0-19 against Spain entering the game, and Spain had been 48-1 before the loss to the Swiss (the other blemish at the hands of the U.S. in 2009)
If there was ever a game that was a testament to how quickly emotions can change in soccer, the U.S.’s thrilling win over Algeria was it. Within the span of 10 seconds, the United States went from being sent home from the World Cup heartbroken, to captivating an entire nation with a goal from Landon Donovan that made you stop and say—did that really just happen? While the U.S. was expected to advance into the knockout stage of the World Cup, they were not favorites to win the entire group with powerhouse England also in Group C. They won the group though and evidently, the Americans don’t like to follow the script when it comes to soccer. The 1-0 win over Algeria was the most compelling match the U.S. has played in recent memory with one of the most exciting finishes in sports this year.
More Money, More Problems?
Not quite on par with the drama and theatrics from the French club, but there were murmurs of a rift within the ranks of England’s squad as well. England has the most expensive coach and some expensive players, and was unable to generate the kind of fireworks that everyone expected from them in group play. Reports said English defender John Terry questioned team management, which some players saw as undermining coach Fabio Capello. Whether the reports were dramatized or England was just trying let out some frustration behind closed doors, Capello’s squad advanced and will be glad to leave the events from group play behind.
South Africa Eliminated
For the first time in World Cup history, the host nation did not advance out of group play. South Africa gave all they could in its three games in the tournament, showing the country’s fans a max effort in every game. Bafana Bafana came out to their final match dancing and creating a party atmosphere to end the World Cup on a high note by knocking out France 2-1.
Once the elation of Clint Dempsey’s shot slipping through England goalkeeper Robert Green’s hands to tie the game had settled, I couldn’t help but feel for Green who would have to face a media storm. It was dubbed the “Hand of Clod” by British tabloids, and the error cost Green his job indefinitely. The bad break could have cost England a shot of making it out of group play, but fortunately for Green his team was able to rally and rid the goalkeeper of some blame.
U.S. Jipped of Winning goal
The U.S. is no stranger to questionable World Cup calls from referees. In 2002, it was a no-call on an apparent handball by Germany, and in 2006 against Ghana they were the victims of an apparent ghost foul resulting in a penalty kick for Ghana that sealed the U.S.’s elimination from the tournament. Falling behind early 2-0 to Slovenia last week, the U.S. rallied to knot the score at 2-2. Late in the game, Maurice Edu’s go-ahead goal was waived off with no explanation, and FIFA essentially slapped the referee on the wrist instead of holding him completely accountable a la Jim Joyce. Had the U.S. not advanced out of group play, this would have been the signature moment of this World Cup.
Businesses have seized the opportunities that come with the World Cup’s international exposure. Budweiser is the official beer of the World Cup, so when Dutch beer company Bavaria sent a contingent of 36 women dressed in mini orange dresses supplied by Bavaria to the Netherlands-Denmark match, FIFA stepped in and thwarted the alleged ambush marketing attempt by arresting the women after the game. If you believe all publicity is good publicity, then Bavaria successfully marketed their product by making headlines around the world with this stunt.