Now that the 19th World Cup has been completed with Spain’s triumph in Johannesburg, we look back on the tournament’s winners and losers.
Holland’s defeat in the World Cup final meant that only one of the 32 teams that competed in South Africa went home without being defeated: New Zealand.
The All-Whites started the tournament as one of the lowest-ranking teams and most commentators expected the Oceania qualifiers to be World Cup whipping boys.
But New Zealand emerged from Group F with three hard-earned draws to finish in third place ahead of the group’s illustrious top seed Italy.
Kiwi fans, already proud of the team’s achievement, can now boast of being the 2010 World Cup's only undefeated team.
Prior to the 2010 World Cup, the game’s organizing body, FIFA, once more rejected the use of technology to aid soccer’s match officials.
But, the huge error in England’s second round match with Germany when the referee and his assistant failed to notice that Frank Lampard’s shot had crossed the line, forced FIFA president Sepp Blatter to reconsider its position.
He said that the group’s next meeting will see technology back on the agenda.
While this is likely to be an empty retread of previous rejections, proponents of technology hope that the high profile nature of the Lampard incident will ensure a serious discussion.
At this point goal-line technology is the only serious candidate, as the use of video replay has far too many issues to resolve.
Goal-line technology deals with one crucial element of the game: whether the ball has crossed the goal-line or not.
Though its necessity is actually a rarity in soccer matches, concession by FIFA here might appease advocates of video replays for another four years.
Even so, UEFA’s experiment of having an additional official behind each goal is a far more likely solution.
Despite the high profile errors that marred two of the 2010 World Cup’s second round matches—Frank Lampard’s shot that crossed the line and Carlos Tevez’s offside goal—most referees emerged from South Africa with a lot of credit.
In general, the knockout stages were characterized by referees that allowed games to flow, didn’t get fooled by the players' diving and play-acting, and got the majority of the big decisions right.
Those critics of Howard Webb’s handling of the final between Holland and Spain would be better served turning their attention to the players, especially the Dutch, whose overly aggressive tactics forced the referee to produce a record number of yellow cards.
While a number of the world’s best players failed to deliver in South Africa, it was refreshing to note that many of the best officials did.
The winner of the Golden Ball for the best player of the tournament, Diego Forlán capped a superb season that saw him win the Europa League with his club side Atletico Madrid, by helping his country to finish fourth in the World Cup.
The Uruguayan striker was the inspiration behind his team’s remarkable run to the semifinal and scored five goals along the way.
As he lined up a free-kick in the dying seconds of the Third Place Playoff match against Germany, most of the watching world would have been willing him to score and take the outright lead in the Golden Boot contest.
Unfortunately, a beautiful strike clipped the crossbar but it was one last magical moment of drama and skill from the World Cup’s most likable player.
All the talk before the World Cup began was about how experience would triumph.
Both finalists in 2006 had the oldest rosters at the tournament and analysts looked to the know-how of teams like Brazil and England, whose players had seen it all.
But South Africa turned out to be the venue for the triumph of youth.
Germany’s young charges, featuring a number of graduates from the 2009 Under-21 World Cup winning team, set the tournament alight with two crushing four-goal defeats of England and Argentina.
Its 21-year-old midfield star, Thomas Muller, took the Golden Boot prize as top scorer as well as the Young Player of the Tournament award.
Meanwhile, Ghana became the toast of Africa with a team that consisted of stars from its 2009 Under-20 World Cup victory.
Even the World Cup winners Spain had one of the youngest rosters of the 32 competing teams.
Expect many of the stars of 2010 to shine once more when the next World Cup takes place in 2014.
Like nearly every build-up to a World Cup, the months before Africa’s first ever finals were filled with stories of an unready country, struggling with security issues and ticket sales.
But as the referee blew his whistle to end the final match in Johannesburg, South Africa could reflect with pride on a job well done.
With few reports of security worries beyond minor thefts, the country achieved its number one priority of ensuring the safety of the players and supporters.
Traveling fans have heaped praise on the South African people for their warmth and hospitality.
The nine stadiums dotted around the country have, with the exception of one or two below-par pitches, provided magnificent venues for the world’s elite players to strut their stuff and in most cases were filled with noise and atmosphere.
Especially the noise from those infamous vuvuzelas.
The European Champions have added the world title to its list of honors and proved that Spain is the world’s number one international soccer team.
Spain’s World Cup campaign didn’t start off well, as the team lost its opening match to Switzerland.
But, it quickly recovered and in beating Holland in the final game at Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg, Spain became the first team to win the World Cup having lost its opener.
Spain’s progress saw it struggle to break down teams who faced it with a defensive mindset and relied on a succession of 1-0 victories—that means it is the lowest-scoring world champions ever.
But, it is impossible to deny that Spain is a worthy winner of the 2010 World Cup and as the team that always looked to play positively, Spain can be also be considered the tournament’s moral victors.
Even more predictable than France’s implosion, England’s traditional disappointment, and Germany’s usual place in the semifinal, was the utter uselessness of most of television’s analysts and pundits.
With a couple of honorable exceptions, such as ESPN’s Roberto Martinez, most of the ex-soccer stars hired to explain the intricacies of the game to the watching audience failed to provide any insight, instead relying on tired old clichés and starry-eyed individualist analysis.
But the 2010 World Cup finally gave us a more reliable alternative to the banal old pros when an octopus named Paul successfully predicted the correct result of each of Germany’s matches, as well as the winner of the final.
Reports suggest that ESPN has hired Paul to lead its coverage of Brazil 2014. Presumably in place of Steve McManaman.
Three past World Cup winners left South Africa early and nobody but the most partisan of supporters mourned their absence.
France’s roster of bickering, passion-less players returned home to face an official inquiry into a disastrous campaign that saw it finish at the bottom of Group A, having picked up just one point and scored one goal.
World Cup holders Italy only began playing like champions in the final 10 minutes of its decisive Group F match with Slovakia, but by then was chasing a two-goal deficit that would see it leave South Africa as the bottom team in its group.
When the World Cup draw was announced back in December, an English newspaper ran the headline EASY, an acronym of the Group C teams England, Algeria, Slovenia, Yanks.
It proved to be anything but and a scrappy 1-0 win over a poor Slovenia side only paved the way for England’s second round humiliation at the hands of Germany.
The 2010 World Cup seemed to be going so well for South America.
Four of its five qualifiers had topped their groups and the last eight featured more teams from the Western hemisphere continent than Europe for the first time in modern history.
Not only that, but the South American teams were playing more dynamic, tactically-astute soccer than their European counterparts, who, with the exception of Germany, looked labored.
Four quarterfinal matches later and Europe had reasserted its dominance with only Uruguay, who played African opponents, reaching the semifinals.
For the first time ever a European team won the World Cup outside its own continent.
South America will need to overturn this dominance when Brazil hosts the next finals in 2014.
OK, so it was understandable that the South African fans that had backed Ghana in its quarterfinal defeat would be upset at the manner of the Black Stars loss.
But the booing of Luis Suarez—the perpetrator of the handball that prevented a last-gasp Ghanaian winner—during the Third Place Playoff between Uruguay and Germany was somewhat unjustified.
For a start, the referee had spotted the player’s offense and awarded Ghana a penalty, whilst showing Suarez the red card.
The fact that Asamoah Gyan missed the target from 12 yards is hardly the Uruguayan’s fault.
Secondly, the player only did what every single one of his fellow professionals would have done.
If the situation had been reversed you can guarantee that Ghana’s players would have tried to block a certain goal by any means necessary.
If crowds are going to get indignant about cheating, then why did no one boo Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer who would have known for certain that Frank Lampard’s shot had crossed the line in the team’s second round match.
But the keeper played on as if it hadn’t and his clever reaction would have had an influence in the referee’s belief that the ball hadn’t crossed the line.
Surely that makes the goalkeeper as much of a cheat as Suarez.
The Soccer City Stadium defeat to Spain was Holland’s third loss in a World Cup final.
Though the team did well to reach the final, especially in overcoming Brazil in the quarterfinal, the manner of its performance in the tournament’s showpiece game will have earned it few friends.
Holland had progressed through the tournament with a mixture of skill, luck, and foul play, though chose to emphasize the latter in its showdown with Spain.
Dutch teams of the past are usually one of the neutral fan’s favorites, but his side will hardly be remembered for much beyond chest-high challenges and constant diving.
The makers of the Jabulani may have to answer some awkward questions if FIFA keeps its promise of an inquiry into the numerous complaints about the tournament’s official ball.
A World Cup build-up inevitably features players moaning about the flight of the newly designed match ball but this time their worries seemed justified.
The number of over-hit crosses and lack of long-distance efforts on target were at odds with the general standards of the game.
Though the altitude at which some of the games were played will have played a part, it does seem that the ball was not one that the majority of the players will look forward to seeing again.
Adidas may have had a bad World Cup, but Nike’s was perhaps worse.
Its star-studded, mega-budget commercial looked sure to be a big hit until all the players featured in it turned out to be the tournament’s biggest flops.
In general it was a bad World Cup to be a star player, with even Spain’s Fernando Torres proving the low-light of his country’s successful campaign.
Cristiano Ronaldo struggled in a disappointing Portugal team, England’s Wayne Rooney was almost anonymous, while Leo Messi tried his best for Argentina but failed to score a goal and could not prevent his team’s humiliating exit at the hands of Germany.
It was the latter team who provided the template for success at the World Cup, basing its success on teamwork rather than individual reliance.
And while Spain’s David Villa could claim to be one of the few pre-tournament stars to live up to his billing, his country’s success was still based on the work of the team as a whole.