FIFA World Cup 2010 Torture: Where Is the Entertainment in It All?
Thank God for the vuvuzela!
That's a phrase I never thought would come to my lips.
But in truth, such has been the lack of entertainment and dearth of skillful, enterprising football in the opening five days of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The vuvuzela has become one of only a handful of things worth talking about.
While armchair "fans" across the world have been droning on about banning the brass instrument, South African and visiting fans alike have embraced the cacophony of African noise.
And who can blame them when the football on display has been so drab?
In fact, while 29 goals had been scored by this stage during the 2006 tournament, players this year have only found the net 20 times. And many of these goals have originated from comic goalkeeping (as I speak, the North Korean goalkeeper has just strayed off his line to hand Brazil a 1-0 lead) or unlucky deflections.
Thankfully, while England, France, Italy and Portugal have stumbled through their first matches in vapid fashion, teams such as Argentina, Germany and South Korea have found sufficient reward in their attacking intent.
Some might argue that the shock of watching New Zealand grab an injury-time equaliser against Slovakia, the USA managing a fortuitous draw against England, and Paraguay almost bringing the Italians to their knees with a display of efficiency and organisation, makes for a refreshing change—even if most of the football has not been as easy on the eyes.
But why are so many teams, boasting so many talented players, struggling to create goalscoring chances and see off relative minnows of the football world?
The reasons might be numerous: A ball which is unpredictable and difficult to control. Players struggling to adapt to playing surfaces. Stadia atmosphere and altitude issues. The weight of expectation created by intense media scrutiny on every kick of every ball, affecting the players' mentalities.
Perhaps the best footballers in the world are still overawed by the power of tournament—the emotions, the history, the legacy.
Yet, all of these issues should be only minor distractions to the very best players in the world. Was Maradona overwhelmed by the World Cup? Did Cruyff and Van Basten wilt under the hot sun and the floodlights?
Perhaps therein lies the problem. Perhaps Messi, Ronaldo, and Rooney do not rise above their fellow footballers in the same way as the stars of yesteryear?
It has been suggested that no team wants to lose its first match in the tournament, and, as such, each has adopted a cautious and calculated approach to the task in hand.
But this is not what the World Cup was imagined for.
Jules Rimet created the World Cup in order to bring the best international football teams together in head-to-head combat to provide a dazzling spectacle for the fans.
In 1930, 18 games produced 90 goals in 13 days. In contrast, 64 games produced 142 goals in 2006. Over 19 tournaments, the goal-to-game ratio has decreased from 5.0 to 2.2!
Football has changed since the earliest days of the World Cup—balls are unrecognisably different, fitness levels are superior, laws have evolved. But the essence of the game remains the same.
So, how can football regain its ability to entertain?
As a start, goals should be widened, more points should be awarded for a win and the offside rule should be repealed. Hockey authorities carried out this last measure in 1998 with a view to create more space in the centre of the pitch, transfer the balance of power to the attacking unit, and make the game more appealing to spectators.
This is not to say that defenders should stop defending and that all players should crowd into the opposing penalty box at every opportunity. No. But, if the laws could better reward a more effervescent and fluid approach to winning matches and facilitate a more absorbing show, the noise a plastic trumpet makes would seem banal in the extreme.
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