Saturday, 29 May 2010

T.U.F. III - A WORLD CUP HISTORY FOR DUMMIES/AMERICANS - PART TWO

(Part Two of your World Cup History for Dummies. For Part One, click here. For the blog comparing the 2010 World Cup teams to US sports teams, click here.)

1994



STILL TOO SOON TO KNOW

Host: USA
Champ: Brazil
Runner-up: Italy
Golden Ball: Romário, Brazil
Golden Boot: Oleg Salenko, Russia, and Hristo “The Dagger” Stoichkov, Bulgaria, 6 goals each.
Format: Same 24-team deal.
How’d We Do: We, quite surprisingly really, made it to the second round, where an otherwise friendly-looking Brazilian fellow cracked one of our best player's skull with his unfriendly elbow. This was our reward for hosting? Still, getting out of the group was an unexpected success.

The two rule changes imposed were:

1. The back-pass rule, which put an end to defender bail-outs and deathly boring “four-corners”-type play.
2. The points received in the standings for a win in the group stage were increased from 2 to 3. This rewarded, it was hoped, the risks of attacking soccer.

They worked, sort of. The tournament goals-per-game went up from 2.21 to 2.71 (it has since come back down to 2.3 in ’06). So it’s a shame that it all ended in the World Cup’s only scoreless Final.

The thing is, it was a massively successful event, even if the country as a whole didn't appreciate the significance (I myself only heard about it a few days before it started; was I ever so young?). It remains the best-attended World Cup in history.


But it didn't click here nonetheless. Why not? Three doses of bad luck.

1. England weren't there, after a miserable qualifying campaign.  What a boon it would have been, from a US media standpoint, to have the English around. At least we had the Irish for a little while.
2. The day of the opening match, June 17, 1994, when soccer should have been the top story in the headlines... it got bumped.
3. The scoreless Final confirmed every "soccer sucks" cliche there was.


Here's the thing. American likes a show. All eyes turned to Pasadena for Italy and Brazil, ready for fireworks. There were none. Not only was the 0-0 game settled by shootout, it was settled by a missed kick. A nation yawned. Imagine if we'd gotten the '86 Final? Or '06? No. Instead we got the worst, most anticlimactic championship game in the history of the tournament. Strike three.

The shame of it was that those who hadn't been paying attention (like me) had missed a solid tournament with some iconic moments. Maradona celebrating creepily, then being booted for ephedrine use. The most unexpected nominee for best goal ever. And some legendary, must-see work from Diana Ross.


1998


MYSTERY DANCE

Host: France
Champ: France
Runner-up: Brazil
Golden Ball: Ronaldo, Brazil.
Golden Boot: Davor Šuker, Croatia, 6 goals, and totally stealing Toni Kukoc’s thunder as World’s Most Famous Croatian Athlete That Summer.
New Format: A beautiful, perfect, 32-team group-stage based structure of eight groups of four teams, 16 of which meet in the first of the KO rounds. It passes the true test of a good tourney set-up: it makes sense visually on a wall poster. The fact that they’re talking about changing it again sickens me to my core.
How’d We Do: Horrible. Lost all three games, including to Iran.

Notable from ’98…

- Another disappointing show from Spain, of the sort that was becoming typical of this under-achieving nation.
- Croatia- which hadn’t existed just a few years before- storming to third place.
- A phenomenal game between Argentina and England in the second round, featuring 18 year-old Michael Owen's wonder goal and David Beckham's low point.
- An even better goal by Holland’s Dennis “The Iceman” Bergkamp with time running out in the quarter-final against Argentina. Watch it again. He catches a 50-yard pass delicately, without breaking stride, while being closely guarded, juking his marker in the process, in the dying minutes of the biggest game of his life.
- France’s best player, Zinedine Zidane, got a red card in France's second game of the tournament (at 3:25 of this clip), then came back to score two goals in the Final. Scores goals AND has a temper? Foreshadowing!

The big story that won’t go away though is Ronaldo. Ronaldo was at his unstoppable best in this tournament, winning the Golden Ball. The day of the Final however, was a bad day (and not just because of the collision at 2:40 of this clip). France’s 3-0 victory, while certainly deserved, was shockingly lopsided. Who beats Brazil 3-0?

It came out later that Ronaldo had suffered an epileptic fit hours before the match, and as close as 72 minutes before the game he wasn’t in the starting lineup. Conspiracy theories abound as to why he was eventually allowed to play, a particularly pernicious one being that Evil Nike ordered him to. It's still shrouded in mystery. Again though, I don't go in for conspiracy theories. I just like to hear the evidence.


2002


 NEXT TIME ROUND

Host: Japan and South Korea
Champ: Brazil (third straight Final, tied for record)
Runner-up: Germany
Golden Ball: Oliver Kahn, Germany (the only goalkeeper ever to win the award).
Golden Boot: Ronaldo, Brazil, 8 goals.

How’d We Do: We did quite well. Let's pause for a moment to discuss.

First came a shock 3-2 win over 4th-ranked Portugal. After a 1-1 draw with South Korea and Portugal's helpful disposal at South Korea's hands, the Yanks were in the 2nd round for only the third time in 72 years. Their opponent: arch-rival Mexico.

Mexico has dominated this rivalry historically. But on the day of the biggest game in these two teams' shared history, the United States rose to the occasion, winning 2-0 (with Mexico really keeping it classy after the 3:14 mark).  With that win, the US advanced to the quarterfinals, for the first time since 1930, where they faced a Germany side that was far below typical vintage. Denied by Kahn, and by a criminally unpenalized handball on a ball that was halfway over the goal line, the US lost narrowly 1-0. A sad day, but a great tournament for US Soccer.

(Author's Note: Just watched all those highlights again for the first time in years. I highly recommend it. Some of those performances are absolutely stirring, and I'd forgotten how well the boys played in the Germany game. Heavy sigh.)

As a quarter-final performance by the US might imply, this was The World Cup That Was Weird. The other entries in the final eight included regulars Brazil, Germany, England and Spain. The remain three: Senegal, South Korea and Turkey.

France, who had won the previous World Cup AND European Championship, not only failed to get out of their group, they failed to even score a goal. Brazil provided us with a weird dive and a weirdly amazing goal. And it would be fair to say that Korea's surprise run to 4th place was helped by some weird refereeing.

(Gotta say, of all the conspiracy theories presented in this blog, this one seems to have the most credence. And this coming from someone who thought at the time that people were overreacting. Now I see their point, especially with what became of the ref from the Italy match. This is very disquieting, given that it was only eight years ago, as opposed to 70.)

But the main story here was the restoration of Ronaldo. Restored from not only his troubles n the summer of '98, but from recurring injuries that had plagued him since. He would score 8 goals in the tournament- the most of anyone in 32 years- including two in a fairly mediocre final.

Fun Fact: In the third place game, Turkey's Hakan Şükür scored the fastest goal in World Cup history, only 12 seconds into Turkey's 3-2 win.


2006


MAN OUT OF TIME

Host: Germany
Champ: Italy
Runner-up: France
Golden Ball: Zinedine Zidane, France.
Golden Boot: Miroslav Klose, Germany, 5 goals.
How’d We Do: No-so-good. Remember when we jumped out to that early lead v. Portugal last time? This time was the opposite. Went down 2-0 to the Czechs after 30, lost 3-0, and the tournament was basically done. But there was considerable dignity in being the only team in the tournament to get a point off Italy.

This one was recent enough that we can just review some highlights right?

- It wasn't quite the Battle of Santiago, but that Holland-Portugal game was ugly.
- Argentina scored a fantastic team goal, and an even better individual one.
- Wayne Rooney was on the ball.

But of course, the lasting, singular image is Zidane's moment of madness. The thing about this moment, that the casual American fan might not have realized at the time, is that Zidane is one of the all-time greats. He has a very strong argument for the title of Greatest European Player of All-Time (and I say that as a huge fan of the historical holder of that title, Johan Cruyff). But Zidane's lustre had diminished since the failures of 2002. France was expected to be only so-so at Germany '06, but then the Zidane of old began to show up. Suddenly they were in the Final, and Zidane put them up 1-0 with an early penalty. A unique sort of immortality beckoned- there aren't may players who have spearheaded two World Cup titles, much less eight years apart. For him to have thrown all of that away in one moment of madness...



Oh, Zidane. The Unmitigated Gaul.

Fun Fact: At this World Cup Ronaldo took over the record for most career goals scored with his 15th.

And now you are up-to-date with minimum threshold World Cup knowledge. Enjoy contextualizing 2010.

- Brendan Hunt
twitter.com/theunlikelyfan

© Brendan Hunt, 2010

11 comments:

  1. lol. So true. Fan of your work. Are you going to do the video blogs again for 2010 World Cup? I think your 06' blog was one of the highlight of that world cup for me. That is also true for your 08' blog. So I hope you will do them again for 2010 World Cup.

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  2. Threw it away?
    But Materazzi call his sister a name!!!!!!!!!

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  3. After reviewing the highlights from '02 its really hard to say that the US shouldn't have made it to the final. yeah we would have probably been slaughtered by brazil but we should have been there. it's cause the referee on the line was english and couldn't stand seeing us go through against the very Gerry his side cant beat

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  4. Zidane, greatest European player of all time? He's not even the greatest French player of all time (Platini). Others who rank comfortably ahead of him include Stanley Matthews, Ferenc Puskas, Bobby Charlton, Franz Beckenbauer, Lothar Matthaus and Paolo Maldini. Even just among active players, I'd say Cristiano Ronaldo and Steven Gerrard have surpassed him.

    I'd say there's a much stronger argument that Zidane doesn't make the top 20 European footballers than that he's #1.

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  5. Anonymous, Stanley Matthews? Bobby Charlton? Lothar Matthaus?! What the hell are you on about? How in the hell are these players better than Zidane? You don't think he should even be in the top 20?! The bloke's won everything there is to win and was influential in most of those finals.
    What are you smoking at the moment mate? Lay off it, is my advice...

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  6. Alex... Stanley Matthews is perhaps the finest player of all time. He played at the highest level until he was 50(!). He won the first ever European Footballer of the Year Award, at the age of 41. He played international football for 23 years. Sadly his career was disfigured by WW2, and it's hard to compare him to modern players because of the difference in eras. He also had a strange career because he always played on poor teams - in Matthews' time players did not enjoy freedom of contract.

    You say Zidane "won everything there is to win" - say hello to Charlton and Matthaus! And both were far more dominant players than Zidane ever was. Charlton and Zidane played in roughly the same position but Charlton was just better, with more pace, a much better shot and a real eye for goal (Charlton scored 277 goals at club level and 49 at international level. Zidane scored 95 goals at club level and 31 for France). On the other hand, Charlton was playing in a different era (although not as far back as the dim and distant days of Matthews).

    I'm going to assume you just don't know about Matthews or Charlton, that they were before your time. But how are you not familiar with Lothar Matthaus? He only retired in 2000! He was the best player in the world for about 5 years, he won just about every trophy and individual award in existence, and racked up 150 caps over 20 years.

    I didn't say Zidane doesn't make the top 20 - I haven't given it enough thought. But if he does, he'd be in the bottom half.

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  7. The referee in the Germany game wasn't English Bryce, he was Scottish. As a Scot I offer my apologies to you yanks.

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  8. Hi Anonymous, this is the Author. I try not to reply to comments much, but you've compelled me, so congrats for that. I do appreciate comments, and I sincerely thank you for yours. But I'm afraid I must disagree.

    First of all, I didn't say Zidane was the greatest Euro ever. I merely said he had a strong argument. This position seems utterly uncontroversial to me. Besides his singular skills and impact, he also won the World Cup, European Championships and Champions League in their current, expanded forms, when each are harder to win than they have ever been. He also has a Ballon D'Or and three World Player of the year trophies. Now before you go shoving Platini and Matthaus' also-impressive stats and achievements in my face, let's stay on topic- Zidane is clearly in the highest echelon of European player (at least) and I have said nothing wrong claiming him as such.

    In fact, if he hadn't lost his mind with Materazzi and grabbed a second World Cup, this argument probably doesn't even happen. And that's my point. He was minutes away from singular immortality.

    Now I hesitate to go any further, because your rather unfortunate self-contradiction regarding where you would place Zidane in the top 20 players of all time- and the suggestion that you can't confirm that Zizou is even in the top 20 because you "haven't given it enough thought" - this all suggests that you are a crazy person. But let's continue anyway.

    You name quite a few players about whom you could also construct an interesting argument about Best Euro Ever. But Steven Gerrard!?! Cristiano Roanldo!?! Their careers aren't even done yet, and for you to suggest that either has already surpassed Zidane is tough to swallow. I think it's important to let a finished career simmer for a spell before one goes making such claims.

    And really, now... If you honestly think Stanley Matthews is in this conversation, then by all means, knock yourself out. But in my opinion someone has to have been, at the very least, influential on his team's success. And as you mention, Sir Stan has but one medal to his credit, and that being just an FA Cup. Not to mention that he played his football over 50 years ago, when he was damn near the only player around who believed in fitness. The game is different today, and I daresay it is much more difficult. Matthews' era and relatively little success (please don't get started on the war taking away his best years, I get it, but he still had ample chance to win something) make it impossible for me to consider him seriously.

    Matthews is a legend, a pillar of the game, to be sure. But for you to suggest he has a claim to best Euro ever undermines the integrity of the rest of your already tenuous argument.

    Now maybe you just didn't think I was aware of these other figures. I assure you I am. If you read the comments of the first blog, I have already had to clarify to someone that this blog is intended to help get uninitiated Americans on board with the World Cup. So while we could get into a very deep discussion about the relative merits of Beckenbauer, Cruijff, Platini, Charlton, Best, Law, Eusebio, van Basten, Sammer, Kopa, Schuster, Muller, Breitner, Maldini, Zoff, Baresi, Puskas, Kocsis, Kubala, Gullit, Laudrup, Simonsen, Yashin, Blokhin, Butragueño and on and on, that is simply not today's task.

    So thanks for your input, but I will continue to contend that Zidane has, at the very least, an argument for best ever. Further, had he not fallen for Materazzi's baiting- which remains the real point here- that argument would be even stronger.

    I daresay Sir Stan would agree.

    - Brendan Hunt

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  9. Jennifer in Dallas8 June 2010 16:14

    Had fun reading this. It brought back memories of pre-Tivo 2002 and waking up at ridiculous hours to join equally crazy US fans watch the Portugal and Mexico games in a local bar (that no longer exists. I think it's a Quik Trip).

    My husband and I went to Germany in 2006. We were disappointed in the result, but had fun nevertheless. And the National Anthem (or as my 2.5 year old little girl calls it, "The American Flag Song") before the Italy game still sends chills up my spine.

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  10. @ jennifer, I was at that game too. One of the best experiences of my life. Period.

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  11. Kudos for predicting the draw between England and USA. Hope Howard's injury isn't bad. Does Germany look like the team to beat (so far)? Or was Australia just very bad?

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