2010 FIFA World Cup: Was This the Best World Cup Quarterfinals Ever?
The dust is still settling on the two days of dramatic action produced by the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup.
Was this the best set of World Cup quarterfinals since the tournament reverted to a knockout competition in 1986?
We examine five things that made the 2010 World Cup’s quarterfinal stage so exciting and compare it to the previous six editions of the tournament.
No. 5: Drama (2010)
Each of the four quarterfinal matches at the 2010 World Cup was filled with drama.
Even if in the case of Germany’s thumping 4-0 victory over Argentina, it was simply the spectacular fall of such a highly-rated giant.
Holland produced a brilliant second-half display to come from behind to beat Brazil. The South American side had a man sent off as it desperately tried to cope with Dutch winger Arjen Robben.
Ghana and Uruguay’s pulsating match ended in the most dramatic fashion with Asamoah Gyan’s penalty miss in the final minute of extra time.
Spain and Paraguay both missed opportunities to score from the spot, before David Villa’s late winner won a tense quarterfinal for the European side.
Games decided by penalty shootouts tend to provide most of the drama in World Cup quarterfinal history.
In 1986 three of the four games were decided that way, as were two tight matches featuring Germany vs. Argentina and Portugal vs. England in 2006.
The 2002 and 1994 tournaments both featured three games decided by a single goal and one by a penalty shootout.
But it is the 1998 World Cup in France that most resembles the 2010 last eight.
That tournament’s quarterfinals featured one game decided by a penalty shootout and two single goal victories.
The fourth game was a surprise victory by a large scoreline, but this time it was Germany who was on the receiving end, as it lost 3-0 to Croatia.
No. 4: Controversy (2010)
The biggest controversy of the 2010 World Cup quarterfinals was not about an incident the referee didn’t see, but about one he did.
Portuguese official Olegário Benquerenca was in the right place to see Luis Suarez’s handball on the line that denied Ghana an extra-time winner.
He rightfully awarded the African side a penalty and sent off the Uruguayan, but a sense of injustice grew after Asamoah Gyan missed the penalty and Ghana lost the ensuing shootout.
Paraguay’s Oscar Cardozo might feel aggrieved that the referee didn’t notice that Spain’s Iker Casillas had illegally left his goal line before saving the striker’s penalty.
Especially as a few minutes later, the referee ruled out Xavi Alonso’s successful spot kick for encroachment in the area, with the Spaniard missing his second attempt.
Brazil can certainly have no complaints about Felipe Melo’s red card for his stamp on Arjen Robben.
But the Brazilian players had been frustrated for most of the match by the Dutchman’s tendency to fall over at the slightest touch from an opponent.
The 1986 quarterfinals in Mexico featured the most controversial incident in World Cup history, when Diego Maradona scored his Hand of God goal.
The classic 1986 matchup between Brazil and France also saw a contentious decision when the referee failed to award a foul by Brazil goalkeeper Carlos Gallo on France’s Bruno Bellone, which denied the Frenchman a goal-scoring opportunity. France ended up winning on penalties, however.
The 2002 World Cup quarterfinals became notorious for the refereeing decisions that favored host nation South Korea in its penalty shootout victory over Spain, who had two legitimate goals ruled out.
The same tournament also saw USA denied a penalty when Germany’s Torsten Frings handled the ball in the penalty area in the European side’s 1-0 win.
No. 3: Goals
The 2010 World Cup quarterfinals saw 10 goals scored over four matches, an average of 2.5 per game.
This total is well ahead of 2002 (five goals), 1986 and 2006 (six goals) and 1990 (seven goals).
The 1998 World Cup quarterfinals featured one more goal than 2010, but both tournaments are a long way behind the 1994 high of 15.
No. 2: Quality Soccer (2010)
The 2010 World Cup quarterfinals didn't produce the classic soccer encounters that many purists would have hoped for.
Spain failed to get its usual pretty passing game going against a resolute Paraguay team.
Brazil showed flashes of quality as it took a first-half lead against Holland, but looked pedestrian for most of the game.
Holland’s dramatic win was inspired more by tactical strength and rugged tackling than any recollection of Total Football.
Germany was the only team to really turn on the style as its youthful team's attacking, intelligent soccer overwhelmed an Argentinean side that failed to produce any flair.
Quality Soccer (1986-2006)
The 1986 tournament in Mexico featured perhaps the greatest World Cup match of all-time between Brazil and France.
That quarterfinal round also saw Diego Maradona score the greatest World Cup goal as Argentina beat England.
The 1990, 2002, and 2006 quarterfinals are generally remembered more for their incidents than quality soccer.
1994 featured real quality including Brazil’s brilliant 3-2 victory over Holland, but best soccer was probably played in the 1998 quarterfinals.
The France World Cup saw two classic encounters between attacking teams, as Brazil beat Denmark 3-2 and Holland overcame Argentina in a game that was won by Dennis Bergkamp’s stunning late winner.
No. 1: Watching the Potential World Champions (2010)
In the 2010 World Cup quarterfinals, one team stood out as world champions in the making.
While Spain struggled to find its rhythm against Paraguay and Uruguay needed a healthy dose of luck to get past Ghana, Germany proved itself as the team to beat as the competition reaches its semifinal stage.
Joachim Low’s team provided the standout performance of the last eight to match its 4-1 demolition of England in the second round.
The 4-0 win over a much-fancied Argentina highlighted the German team’s youth, vitality, and teamwork as well as the tactical shrewdness of its manager.
Only the second half performance of Holland that overcame a one-goal deficit to eliminate Brazil, came close to matching the brilliance of Germany.
We will know in a week’s time whether the world champions showed themselves in this quarterfinal stage.
Though there are still two games remaining for one of the other teams to prove their greatness.
Watching the Potential World Champions (1986-2006)
In 1986, we may not have seen Argentina at its best, but we did see its captain Diego Maradona’s match-winning ability that would see it win the World Cup.
The 1990 World Cup winners West Germany had a tight, but solid 1-0 victory over Czechoslovakia.
In 1994, Brazil showed its style and deficiencies with a superb 3-2 victory over Holland.
The only surprise was that its final victory against Italy would turn out to be such a sterile match.
The 1998 host nation France didn’t look anything special as it played out a 0-0 draw with Italy, eventually securing a quarterfinal spot on penalties.
The winner of that tournament looked more likely to be either Brazil or Holland, both who had excellent wins in dramatic quarterfinal matches, but it was France who lifted the trophy in the end.
The under-whelming 2002 quarterfinals saw eventual winners Brazil provide the only real quality in its 2-1 win against England.
2006 champions Italy showed it potential by cruising to a 3-0 victory over Ukraine, though it did have the easiest of quarterfinal pairings.
How Does 2010 World Cup Quarterfinals Rank?
Each of the four 2010 quarterfinal matches will be remembered long after South Africa says goodbye to the World Cup.
This year’s quarterfinal stage can certainly be considered better than the same stage of the 2006, 2002, and 1990 tournaments.
2010 can be compared favorably with the quarterfinals of 1998 and 1986, though those two would probably rate higher as they each featured at least one truly classic encounter.
But none can compare with the 1994 World Cup quarterfinals, which featured four excellent matchups full of drama, excitement and surprises.
Italy beat Spain with a Roberto Baggio late winner, while Sweden and Romania played out an end-to-end encounter that Sweden eventually won on penalties.
Bulgaria shocked Germany with a well-earned 2-1 victory and Brazil beat Holland 3-2 in one of the World Cup’s greatest games.
2010 was good, but 1994 remains the high point of the modern World Cup quarterfinal stage.