Soccer 2010 Is Over...

12th July 2010

After far too many clumsy finishes, the more elegant soccer team won. Better still, Andres Iniesta spared us all the debacle of a scoreless championship match that might have driven the sport's defenders here in America deep underground for another four years.

 

Iniesta went far post with a right-footed rocket, just four minutes from the end of extra time. Spain walked off with its 1-0 victory over Holland Sunday, and we can now reflect on a World Cup that made considerable history even as it shed its biggest stars and best plot lines along the way.

 

There was a lot to like about this tournament in South Africa, though much of it occurred long before the frustrating final.

 

In that last match, it was hard Sunday to watch and not scold these players with a bit of coaching advice: "Just chip the ball!" A simple flick upward from the foot of either Arjen Robben or Cesc Fabregas on outright breakaways would have ended things much earlier. Instead, these men kept blasting away, never quite clearing the flailing feet of desperate goalkeepers.

 

That is now all water under the parched savannas. Spain not only won its first title, it also set two other precedents: It became the first European team to win the trophy at a non-European World Cup, and the first side to capture the championship after dropping its first match.

 

All fine and good, a well-earned celebration for a nation that has played pretty, fleet, possession soccer for as long as anybody can remember. But really the Spaniards are not the whole tale of this Cup, only the ending.

 

Before this, we had the U.S. side, battling two officiating errors to win its group over vaunted England, advancing on that 11th-hour, added-time goal by Landon Donovan.

We had the early brilliance of Brazil and Argentina, featuring the very best players in the world performing fancy ball tricks.

 

We had the run of little Uruguay, and its genius attacking midfielder (or withdrawn forward) Diego Forlan, who Sunday was awarded the Golden Ball as the tournament's best player. Now, there is a man who can chip the ball.

 

And most of all, we had the host, South Africa, which pulled off a tournament that many once thought was headed for disaster. As recently as a few months ago, organizing committee CEO Danny Jordaan was still trying to convince skeptics his World Cup would, in fact, be held with no major setbacks or delays.

 

"Wherever I go, people ask, 'Is the World Cup really going to happen?'" Jordaan said. "I thought it was important for me to answer the public with a resounding 'Yes.' It will happen, and it will happen very, very well. You will see it with crowds and with an atmosphere that will rival any competition we've seen."

 

Then he delivered. That is not to say this was the best World Cup ever. The venues were far apart and mass transit was sometimes nonexistent. The airfares and hotel prices were exorbitant, bordering on ripoffs. And there was a haunting whisper in the background, reminding tourists that these giant stadiums were not really the right answer to the economic, racial and political problems facing South Africa.

 

Yet there is much to be said for the image makeover that took place. Too many people believed for too long that the continent of Africa was incapable of staging such a grand event, demanding both infrastructure and security.

 

South Africa managed just fine, even if the players on the field did not always provide enough goals or thrills. This will be remembered as an ordinary World Cup on the field, and an extraordinary tournament outside the arenas.

 

Brazil is next in 2014, and in December, FIFA's executive committee will decide whether America gets another slice of this adventure, possibly in 2022.

 

It's a lot of trouble to go through, considering these matches sometimes produce all of one goal in 120 minutes. In South Africa Monday, or in Spain, they will tell us it's worth every headache.

 

fjbondy@netscape.net

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