Stu's World Cup Diary and Gallery 2010
Well, that's that, then. The lowest-scoring World Cup of the modern era is won by the lowest-scoring team to ever lift the trophy. Spain's tactic of boring the opposition into submission by spending 80% of their time rolling the ball back and forth along the halfway line paid off and they became champions of the world by scoring a miserable EIGHT goals in seven games.
(By comparison, Brazil's victorious 2002 side managed to find the net 18 times in the same number of matches.)
A grim final featuring a record 13 bookings and – amazingly – only one sending-off for a brutal, ugly Netherlands side put a judge's black cap on the tournament, but it wasn't all bad. Here's my diary.
JUNE 11, JOHANNESBURG SOCCER CITY
SOUTH AFRICA 1-1 MEXICO
Are we bored of the vuvuzela yet? I think I am. One of the great things about football is the rising crescendo of sound as a team attacks, followed by the explosion of noise when they score, and when there's a constant drone of volume all the way through the game you don't get that – one type of sound is simply exchanged for a different one of similar magnitude, and it robs the occasion of some of its drama.
South Africa's peach of an opening goal – finished superbly by the fantastically-named Tshabalala – deserved to be distinguished more from its surroundings than that. It was the high point of an exciting game packed with fast attacking and loose defending.
The draw was the fair result, both teams dominating the match for two-thirds of a half (Mexico the first 30 minutes, South Africa the first 30 after the interval) with the rest anyone's as the play surged from end to end with plenty of chances and a couple of great saves from South Africa's much-maligned goalkeeper Khune. Even with France and Uruguay still to play, I wouldn't write off either of these teams for the second round.
JUNE 11, CAPE TOWN
FRANCE 0-0 URUGUAY
The BBC told us at half time that there hadn't been a goal scored in a match between France and Uruguay for 25 years, and the two sides looked here as if they could have played for 25 years straight without that changing. The single save of note in the game came from what the commentators interpreted as a misdirected cross, and where South Africa and Mexico had earlier immediately tried to race upfield as soon as they got the ball, the French and Uruguayans opted for a European-style policy of aimless midfield probing that got nobody anywhere, at least not until there were eight or more defenders back to get in the way.
Not until 10 minutes from the end did the two sides revert to something resembling traditional type, with the Uruguayans reduced to 10 men for an awful tackle and the French finally remembering how to get down the wings, beat the man and get the cross in. But by then it was far too late, with only the unedifying spectacle of Thierry Henry trying to claim a penalty for handball to stick in the memory. Rubbish.
JUNE 12, PORT ELIZABETH
SOUTH KOREA 2-0 GREECE
Greece's victory in the 2004 European Championship is one of the most inexplicable blips in football history, and they shed no light on the mystery with a dismal performance in which South Korea resembled one of those giant cartoon boxers holding a diminutive opponent at bay with a hand on their head, leaving them swinging ineffectually and unable to land a blow. Greeks will have to look elsewhere for something to distract them from their economic woes, because this team is coming home soon.
JUNE 12, JOHANNESBURG ELLIS PARK
ARGENTINA 1-0 NIGERIA
Nigerian goalkeeper Enyeama single-handedly (often literally) kept the scoreline in this action-packed match to a single goal when by rights it should have been at least 4-2 by half-time.
Nigeria's counterattacks frequently exposed a suspect Argentina defence only to finish abominably, but far better efforts from Argentinian strikers also went unrewarded as the Nigerian keeper pulled off a string of top-drawer saves to keep his side in the game. Argentina looked imperious, with Messi in particular seeming to be permanently in possession of the ball, but sterner opposition could wreak havoc in their back four, particularly down the wings.
JUNE 12, RUSTENBURG
ENGLAND 1-1 USA
The tournament still has 28 days to run, but it's a safe bet that we've already seen its biggest howler – ITV's hilarious interruption of their HD coverage of the match with an advert brilliantly timed to obscure England's goal. Only marginally less awful was Robert Green's freakish clanger that saw him scoop a speculative 25-yard trundler from Clint Dempsey into his own net to secure the USA a merited point from a game of a lot of huffing and puffing and running but few moments of great skill.
The Americans spent the last 20 minutes booting the ball optimistically straight up the middle of the pitch, but a great save from Green and the ref's bizarre reluctance to send Jamie Carragher off for a forearm smash to the throat when he was the last man ensured that they didn't pinch all three points.
JUNE 13, POLOKWANE
ALGERIA 0-1 SLOVENIA
An apparent attempt by both teams to outdo France-Uruguay for the accolade of Worst Game Of The Tournament so far was eclipsed by Algeria keeper Chaouchi's personal mission to commit a worse goalkeeping cock-up than England's Robert Green. He didn't quite manage it – the ball was coming at him slightly faster and at a slightly more challenging angle – but it was still an astonishing feat of butterfingers, and with custodians of this quality viewers must be rubbing their hands at the thought of how many times we might see the net bulge in the remaining matches. Assuming Algeria and Slovenia can actually muster another shot at goal between them, that is.
The real action should start to get under way next week as the bottom half of the draw, featuring the Spanish, Brazilians and everyone's would-be whipping boys from North Korea, take to the field.
JUNE 13, PRETORIA
SERBIA 0-1 GHANA
A comically blatant and pointless swing of the arm from Serbia's Zdravko Kuzmanovic quite literally handed Ghana all three points as Gyan converted the penalty that followed Kuzmanovic's rush of blood to the head. The African side should probably have had the game wrapped up before then, but couldn't turn their domination into any more goals.
JUNE 13, DURBAN
GERMANY 4-0 AUSTRALIA
The Germans haven't won the World Cup for 20 years, and on this showing they look like they're tired of waiting. The unhyped young side were taking the Australians apart convincingly even before Tim Cahill was rather harshly shown a straight red by a card-happy referee who also booked two Germans for diving, but with 10 men the Aussies were clinging on desperately for the final whistle to deliver them from their torment. Suddenly England's path to the quarter-finals looks a lot more hazardous.
JUNE 14, JOHANNESBURG SOCCER CITY
NETHERLANDS 2-0 DENMARK
A less than stellar performance from the fancied Dutch, but they never looked in much danger from the toothless Danes, who needed a deflection to even score in their own net. Apart from that the game was only enlivened by a few nasty tackles, but Holland will need to develop a killer instinct in front of goal as well as where 50/50 balls in midfield are concerned.
JUNE 14, BLOEMFONTEIN
JAPAN 1-0 CAMEROON
The first game to literally actually bore me to sleep, so apologies to Japan and Cameroon if they managed to put together anything approaching some football after about the 55th minute, because I missed it after their first 54 minutes sent me into a deep nap. Complete rubbish, the most interesting aspect of which was Cameroon's weird away kit, with a sort of half-shoulder wrap in a very slightly different shade of yellow to the rest of the shirt.
JUNE 14, CAPE TOWN
ITALY 1-1 PARAGUAY
A strange first half saw Italy dominate possession but Paraguay look much more threatening with their meagre share of the ball, and a tremendous free kick gave them a lead they always looked like taking. Camoranesi's second-half appearance as a substitute gave the Italians the menace they'd lacked in the first 45, and it was shortly after his introduction that Paraguayan keeper Flapesto "Flappy" Flapquez [sub: please check name] raced off his line in order to wave at an Italian corner as it sailed past, leaving the net exposed for a tap-in equaliser from De Rossi.
Their belief sapped by the soft goal, Paraguay retreated and dug in for the point, and while the Italians pinged the ball around with confidence and urgency thereafter, they never actually looked like scoring a winner. Their traditional slow start to international tournaments, then, continues to be one of football's enduring predictabilities.
JUNE 15, RUSTENBURG
NEW ZEALAND 1-1 SLOVAKIA
No goal rush in Rustenburg, despite New Zealand being basically an amateur side with a goalkeeper as nervous as a kitten at Crufts. Slovakia somehow contrived to look like underdogs, but a marginally offside goal from a terrific header settled their nerves and they looked comfortable until an almost-identical headed goal in the last minute of stoppage time brought the All Whites an equaliser that they deserved for playing far above their station.
JUNE 15, PORT ELIZABETH
PORTUGAL 0-0 IVORY COAST
A bad-tempered first half saw the muscular Ivorians kick and bully the relatively slight ball-players of Portugal into tetchy submission, with the assistance of a referee who offered the European side no protection at all in the weakest officiating performance of the tournament so far.
The only moment of footballing excitement was a long-range thunderbolt from Ronaldo that swerved onto the post at the last moment with the goalkeeper beaten, but the winger became more subdued after picking up a ridiculous booking when he was scythed down and then abused for his pains, and then shown a yellow card for nothing more than protesting his (on this occasion genuine) innocence.
Losing the dead weight of Danny and Deco in the second 45 gave the Portugese a bit more purpose, but to no effect. The Ivorians had clearly come for a 0-0 draw and despite opening up a fraction in the last 15 minutes they got it, without either keeper having to make a save.
This was a game, though, whose most remarkable feature was the Africans' figure-hugging shirts – in the cold South African winter there were more nipples on show in the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium than the average issue of Nuts, but to much less energising effect.
JUNE 15, JOHANNESBURG ELLIS PARK
BRAZIL 2-1 NORTH KOREA
The most disappointing aspect of the tournament so far was perhaps the fact that only two minutes of stoppage time were granted in this captivating match. A woeful Brazil performance in the first half saw them be a little bit lucky to go in on level terms, and N Korea were made to regret not committing more men to their frequent counterattacks when Maicon finally broke the deadlock with a brilliant was-it-a-shot-or-was-it-a-cross? at the near post. (Personally I can't decide – he seemed to look up and across the box rather than at the goal, but that could have just been to fool the keeper, and he didn't half give it a belt for a cross.)
When Brazil added a terrific second Korea's race seemed to be run and it looked like only a matter of how many the suddenly-confident South Americans could knock in before the final whistle, but a fantastic Korean goal made for an exciting last five minutes when it looked as though either team could score again. In the end Brazil held on, but North Korea emerged with much honour, and Brazil might live to regret a goal difference of only +1, given that Ivory Coast will almost certainly pack their defence looking for another no-score draw.
JUNE 16, NELSPRUIT
HONDURAS 0-1 CHILE
Chile qualified strongly for World Cup 2010, finishing second in the South American group behind Brazil, so we shouldn't be surprised that they can play a bit. They outclassed Honduras comprehensively in this game, and with a bit of luck and cooler finishing could easily have run in three or four more goals. As it was they were kept down to one, but they look a pretty strong bet to make the knockout stages alongside Spain.
JUNE 16, DURBAN
SPAIN 0-1 SWITZERLAND
Fabregas and Torres is a hefty slice of talent to be missing from your starting XI, and without them Spain were a shadow of the team who are many people's favourites for the tournament. Even with the dour Swiss ceding 70% of possession and about 90% of territory, the Spanish only managed to trouble the Swiss keeper once, when he raced out to smother Piquet's shot, and most of what opportunities they created came from Route One punts over the top.
It wasn't Piquet's night – he took a sharp boot to the head as Switzerland bulldozed their way to a goal early in the first half with their first serious attack. The introduction of Torres and Navas shortly afterwards transformed both Spain and the match, but a hatful of golden chances were spurned and it was the Swiss who should have scored another, hitting the post when a pass across the box would have left the Spanish goal undefended.
Xabi Alonso smashed a long-range effort off the underside of the bar, but even an inexplicable five minutes of stoppage time wasn't enough to wear the Swiss down and the last match of the first cycle provided World Cup 2010's first shock result. With the tricky Chileans still to play and Switzerland with three points in the bank, Spain's only consolation is that they play Honduras next while the Chileans and Swiss will have to cut each other's throats.
JUNE 16, PRETORIA
URUGUAY 3-0 SOUTH AFRICA
The hosts' bubble bursts in a one-sided match in which a Diego Forlan-inspired Uruguay eased to a scoreline that was flattering in terms of the actual goals (the first deflected, the second the result of a penalty from the merest contact and for which the keeper's red card was extremely harsh), but an accurate representation of the match overall. South Africa tried until the final whistle, but carried no goal threat at all, and from the moment Forlan's long-range rocket smacked the underside of the bar on its way into the net there was only going to be one result.
JUNE 17, JOHANNESBURG SOCCER CITY
ARGENTINA 4-1 SOUTH KOREA
A comedy of errors, this, as all three first-half goals went down to terrible cock-ups. First of all South Korean centre forward Chu-young scored in the wrong net, standing dumbly in the six-yard box and letting a Messi cross smack off his shin past the helpless keeper. Then the same keeper somehow dived over the top of a weak Higuain header, and just as Argentina looked like switching to cruise control, a diabolical bit of defending from Demichelis let Chung-Young in for an easy goal out of absolutely nothing with the last kick of the half.
The Koreans took heart, and squandered a golden chance to equalise before their luck ran out with another bad mistake, this time from the officials – Higuain scoring from a clearly offside position after great work by Messi. A few minutes later the striker was offered the first hat-trick of the tournament on a plate and made no mistake.
JUNE 17, BLOEMFONTEIN
NIGERIA 1-2 GREECE
It must be Keystone Football day. In a dire game, a 35-yard Nigerian free kick is going nowhere much until the centre-half ducks underneath it and the goalkeeper dives out of the way, leaving the ball to just float straight into the net. Then with Nigeria looking in total control against a team that's never even scored a goal in the World Cup and didn't look like doing so if they played all day, Kaita stupidly retaliates against nothing at all by gently shoving the toe of his boot across the outer edge of Katsouranis's thigh, who promptly goes down like he's been kneecapped by the IRA.
The ref shows a rather excessive red card, Greece suddenly liven up at the prospect of playing an hour against ten men, and then a wildly deflected shot from Salpingidis flies past both the goalkeeper and a well-offside Greek striker standing right in front of him, and it's 1-1.
The slapstick continues 15 minutes into the second half when a suicidal pass across his own box by a Nigerian defender gives Gekas a free shot from six yards, but Enyeama pulls off a brilliant point-blank stop, the ball is immediately pinged up the pitch, Yakubu is clean through but Tsorvas in the Greek goal pulls off an amazing one-handed save, the ball breaks to Obasi seven yards out and he incredibly misses the open goal by 15 feet.
A few minutes later, a vicious late swerve from the much-maligned Jabulani ball wrongfoots the excellent Enyeama and he can only parry a long-range shot to Torodiris, who pokes it in to give a frankly awful Greek side their first-ever victory in a World Cup match.
JUNE 17, POLOKWANE
FRANCE 0-2 MEXICO
France reached the final of the last World Cup and only lost on penalties, but the shattering psychological effects of losing home and away to the minnows of Scotland in their next tournament have been plain to see for the three years since. A dismal showing in Euro 2008 (bottom of their group with 1 point and 1 goal) is now almost certain to be followed by elimination as the top seeds in Group A with barely even a whimper.
The scenes towards the end of the match were extraordinary, with the entire France bench huddled behind one of the goals, as far as possible from the manager, seemingly desperate NOT to be brought on for the last few minutes of a game in which their team absolutely had to score. The players on the field looked even less interested, and Mexico were so full of enthusiasm and energy by comparison that goals were only a matter of time.
Linesmen have made some excellent calls in this tournament, and this was perhaps the best, with Hernandez looking yards offside but in fact correctly given as being a couple of inches on, and the already limp-hearted French just gave up entirely after he rounded the keeper to score.
France have now failed to score against a team with 10 men and one with a 5'7" goalkeeper. Who'd put money on them overcoming the hosts in five days time? At this point, personally I wouldn't even bet on 11 players turning up.
JUNE 18, PORT ELIZABETH
GERMANY 0-1 SERBIA
Not the most exciting first half, until the referee decides he wants his mum to see him on telly and gives Miroslav Klose two yellow cards, for one absolute nothing of an accidental brush and one innocuous foul on the halfway line, and Germany go down to 10 men with almost an hour to play. They're still shellshocked when Serbia take the lead thanks to some poor marking and weak goalkeeping from Neuer, who more or less dodges out of the way to let Jovanovic score.
The Germans don't pull themselves together until the closing moments of the half, when Khedira almost separates the crossbar from the posts with a howitzer of a drive from 15 yards, and a German striker is penalised for trying to net the rebound with a totally legitimate overhead kick.
With a man advantage, Serbia adopt the bold strategy of trying to cling on to a one-goal lead, and Germany dominate the second-half until Vidic gives away an idiotic penalty. However, a feeble effort from Podolski is saved (apparently the first penalty Germany have missed in a World Cup, including penalty shootouts, for 28 years) and the heart goes out of the Germans at that moment.
The Serbians hit the woodwork twice with breakaway attacks, then the Germans are denied a strong claim for a second penalty in the dying seconds as Gomez almost gets his leg amputated at the shin by a wild kick from Stankovic, but in keeping with Germany's luck all day the referee, five yards away, gives the free kick to Serbia for Gomez recklessly leaving his leg where someone could kick it. A game ruined by the referee, with extremely confusing ramifications for England.
JUNE 18, JOHANNESBURG ELLIS PARK
USA 2-2 SLOVENIA
An action-packed first half gets off to a great start with a fantastic long-range strike from Birsa that proves there's nothing wrong with the Jabulani ball if you hit it right. The USA try to fight back with a very square formation that's regularly broken up by the more fluid Slovenians, but still manage to carve out some decent half-chances before Slovenia hit them with a sucker-punch breakaway just before half-time, helped by another very good decision from the linesman.
What the game really needed after the break was a quick American goal, and it got exactly that when Donovan worked himself through at a tight angle, and with not much in the box to aim at simply blasted it at the Slovenian keeper, who rather than – say – trying to stop it with his arms, flinched out of the way like a little girl and let the ball smash into the roof of the net. As the half went on, the US pressed Slovenia further and further back into their own half, and got a deserved equaliser when Altidore's only positive contribution to the match gave Bradley a chance which he seized on with verve.
The Americans had looked dangerous for the whole game with long inswinging free kicks into the middle of the box, and five minutes from the end one finally bore fruit when Edu came through the mass of bodies and crashed one into the back of the net. At least three fouls were being committed as the cross came in, all of them by Slovenians on Americans, but the feeble Malian referee blew for an inexplicable free kick to Slovenia and the game ended in a thrilling draw.
JUNE 18, CAPE TOWN
ENGLAND 0-0 ALGERIA
In which England and Algeria get confused, think they're Mexico and Uruguay, and play out a cynical draw in which nobody makes any concerted, co-ordinated attempt to win the game before realising all too late that they in fact haven't both just qualified at all. I counted one save in 90 minutes, between both teams, that the keeper didn't just have to stand still for. Worst game of the tournament so far? Quite possibly.
JUNE 19, DURBAN
NETHERLANDS 1-0 JAPAN
For the second time in a week, a damp Dutch performance against ineffectual opponents delivers a win after which their goalkeeper could have returned his gloves to the shop for a refund as unused. Japan, with three points already in the bank, had clearly come for the draw, and didn't start to play until Wesley Sneijder's explosive shot from the edge of the box had rearranged the Japanese goalie's wrist bones on its way into the net.
But having left it so late they couldn't adjust, and so Holland win a second game while expending less effort than if they'd gone for a walk round some museums. If anyone provokes them into waking up and knocking the ball around in anger, we could really see some football.
JUNE 19, RUSTENBURG
AUSTRALIA 1-1 GHANA
A rollicking good game from the 11th minute onward, when Ghana keeper Kingson made his entry for Worst Goalkeeping Error Of The Tournament, shovelling an easy catch straight into the path of Holman. Ghana bounced straight back and 10 minutes later some brilliant work from Ayew on the by-line led to Kewell stopping a goalbound shot with his arm, earning him a red card and Ghana an equaliser from the penalty.
If you joined the game at half-time you wouldn't have known Ghana had an extra man, as both teams flew up and down the park and created several golden opportunities each, of which Australia probably had the best two, but neither side could convert and the game ended in a fair draw, with entertainment aplenty.
JUNE 19, PRETORIA
CAMEROON 1-2 DENMARK
No idea, sorry. Was watching the rugby. Go Scotland!
JUNE 20, BLOEMFONTEIN
SLOVAKIA 0-2 PARAGUAY
It was a lovely day so I went out for lunch and only caught the last 10 minutes of this one, just in time to see a well-improvised second goal for Paraguay and what was apparently Slovakia's only shot on target, three minutes into stoppage time.
JUNE 20, NELSPRUIT
ITALY 1-1 NEW ZEALAND
Controversy a-go-go in the opening 30 minutes. First New Zealand score an eighth-minute goal that's a mile offside, but justice is done because before the offside player touched the ball Cannavaro clearly handled it in the middle of the box, which would have been a penalty to New Zealand anyway. 20 minutes later Tommy Smith brushes a bit of fluff off the front of De Rossi's jersey, De Rossi hits the ground like he's fallen down a mineshaft and Iaquinta coolly slots the spot-kick the way the goalkeeper isn't already diving.
For the rest of the game Italy throw pretty much everything they've got at the Kiwis, and with only the occasional counterattack for relief, the Kiwis sit there and take it. Paston in goal and Nelsen in defence play the game of their lives, and when New Zealand bring on a part-timer on special leave from his job in a bank in the dying minutes, you just know it's not going to happen for the lacklustre Italians.
All to play for in Group F on the last day, and we're still looking at the plausible possibility of France, England, Brazil, Spain and Italy all failing to qualify for the knockout stages.
JUNE 20, JOHANNESBURG SOCCER CITY
BRAZIL 3-1 IVORY COAST
An uninspired first half, with Brazil sloppy and Ivory Coast ineffectual, enlivened only by Luis Fabiano breaking Goal Club's striker duck. Put through on goal at a narrow angle and with the keeper hugging the near post, the Brazilian reasoned that the only way to score was to hit the ball with the force of an asteroid colliding with Earth, and it almost uprooted the goalposts as it hit the roof of the net.
The centre-forward doubled his tally shortly after the break with a virtuoso solo effort employing his right foot, left hand, left foot and right arm – bizarrely leading to cameras showing a smiling referee running alongside the striker immediately afterwards, tapping his upper arm – and Elano added a third a few minutes later. Even at 3-0 down, Sven Goran Eriksson couldn't be persuaded to send his players on all-out attack, but the introduction of the inexplicably-omitted Gervinho finally gave them some threat, and his 70-yard run eventually ended in a consolation goal for Drogba as well as a couple of other good chances.
But the Premiership-star-studded Ivory Coast have been one of the disappointments of the tournament so far, and are unlikely to play any further part. The jury's still out on Brazil, who ended the game with 10 men after an absurdly stupid off-the-ball elbow in the chest of Keita by Kaka, and the striker will miss what could be a crucial game (in terms of who wins the group) against Portugal.
JUNE 21, CAPE TOWN
PORTUGAL 7-0 NORTH KOREA
A sad day in the World Cup, not least because it's the last one on which armchair fans can enjoy watching three games in one day. One goal was a poor return for 45 minutes of committed attacking football from both sides in this match (initially the North Koreans, though Portugal gradually started to dominate in the last 20), but Meireles' fantastic finish from a tremendous Tiago through ball was all there was to show for the teams' efforts, with Carvalho's header off the upright being the next closest thing.
The Portugese carried on where they left off after the break, though, and two early second-half goals in three minutes knocked the spirit out of the North Korea and seemed to burst the bubble of self-belief that had sustained the tournament's lowest-ranked team. A fourth for Portugal followed quickly and from that point the Koreans were broken. The fifth threatened to arrive three or four times before it eventually did, and from there it was just a question of how many the rampant Portugese strikers would get before time ran out.
With North Korea now officially eliminated from the tournament, under Goal Club rules all goals scored in their games count for 1.5 in the Team category, which lifts their score to 15 and puts your host and James Sweatland joint top of the table. With Ivory Coast relying on goal difference to have any chance of qualification, they'll be looking to pile on the misery for the Koreans in their last game, a fate this brave and positive side doesn't deserve.
JUNE 21, PORT ELIZABETH
CHILE 1-0 SWITZERLAND
A quietly extraordinary little game in Port Elizabeth, packed with incident (including a terrible red card) but mostly characterised by squandered chances. The Swiss guard their nets like they guard their secret bank accounts, and had just broken the record for longest period without conceding a goal in the World Cup finals (something like 500 minutes) when Gonzalez finally broke down the 10 men with one that looked marginally offside.
Derdiyok spurned a golden opportunity to smuggle away a point with a minute to go after Chile has passed up numerous chances to put the game to bed, but both of these sides could yet make the second round.
JUNE 22, JOHANNESBURG ELLIS PARK
SPAIN 2-0 HONDURAS
A game eerily reminiscent of the lunchtime match in several ways – a team from the Iberian peninsula in red shirts who'd suffered disappointment in their first game taking on a white-clad minnow team troubled by domestic traumas determined to attack their high-ranking opponents – but a much less exciting outcome. For all the orgasms going on in the commentary box and TV studio, Spain resembled nothing so much as Sting, stroking it back and forth endlessly and taking forever to get to any sort of end product.
Much like Sting, they scored eventually, but goal fans would have been throwing sofa cushions at the cat as David Villa fired a penalty beyond a near-empty net, the keeper having long since deserted his post before Villa's boot sent the ball skidding inches past the post.
JUNE 22, BLOEMFONTEIN/RUSTENBURG
SOUTH AFRICA 2-1 FRANCE
URUGUAY 1-0 MEXICO
For the first time ever, the World Cup hosts depart from the tournament in the group stage, but Bafana Bafana do so with their heads held high, eliminated on goal difference after beating Group A's top seeds. In the end, with Uruguay and Mexico surprisingly not playing out the draw, South Africa fell three goals short of the turnaround they needed, but they had more than enough chances to have pulled off the miracle.
France played most of the game with 10 men after Gourcuff recklessly and dangerously led with the elbow for a high challenge in the first half, but while the home team took a 2-0 lead into the break, the critical moment was probably when Mphela missed a glorious opportunity to make it three shortly after the restart, losing his head and smacking the ball onto the post when a simple little dink would have guided it into the back of the net and given the hosts a heady momentum.
With nothing to play for themselves, France reinforced their position as the planet's least popular football team and killed the atmosphere stone dead with a pointless goal midway through the half, and in case there was a shred of doubt remaining anywhere, Domenech despicably refused to shake Parreira's hand after the game. May their wine sour and their cheese rot.
JUNE 22, DURBAN/POLOKWANE
ARGENTINA 2-0 GREECE
NIGERIA 2-2 SOUTH KOREA
Can anyone think of a good reason not to just abolish Greece? The entire country, I mean. Their economy is threatening to drag all of Western democracy into the gutter, and their football team is basically a crime against humanity. Personally, I can live without hummus.
Something happened tonight that I don't think I've ever seen before – a team playing at the World Cup not all wearing the same kit. Some of Argentina's players had shirts with distinct black stripes on the front, crossing over to a sort of back-brace pattern on the reverse side (also prominently visible in France's shirts, and less so in others), whereas others clearly had plain shirts without the black detailing.
I mention this because it's so much more interesting than anything that happened on the field in this, the worst game of World Cup 2010, if not the worst game of football of all time. Argentina, safely qualified for the last 16, rested several of their first-team players and played the 90 minutes at training-ground-kickabout walking pace, but Greece – needing a win to go through – were so abominable and so incomprehensibly lacking in ambition that the South Americans still managed to secure over 70% of possession.
It took until four seconds before the end of normal time before the Greeks mustered a shot on target, and that's a generous description of a long-range hoof aimed straight at the startled Argentinian goalkeeper, who'd been playing Solitaire in a deckchair until that point.
For professional reasons, I felt duty-bound to watch the game in Polokwane than the four-goal thriller between Nigeria and South Korea that eventually saw the Asian team join Argentina in the second round (after the Nigerian striker Yakubu Aiyegbeni surely took Chris Iwelumo of Scotland's crown for the Worst Miss In The History Of International Football), and for that I hate you all.
JUNE 23, PORT ELIZABETH/PRETORIA
SLOVENIA 0-1 ENGLAND
USA 1-0 ALGERIA
England continue to follow their standard tournament template with a mediocre performance against poor opposition that nevertheless gets them into the second round and will doubtless see the media portray them as mighty contenders for the trophy again. But the late, late, USA goal in Pretoria (which saw the Algerians eliminated without scoring a goal, the only team apart from Honduras yet to find the net) might yet see the English have to face Germany in the second round rather than the likes of Serbia or Ghana, and on this showing they'll struggle.
Despite England looking good for 10-15 minutes either side of halftime, this was a grim game of football, with most of the chances for both sides coming from punts up the middle. Defoe's goal cunningly outfoxed the Slovenian keeper by being fired straight at him, but the otherwise-impressive Handanovic flapped it into the net, and from then on Slovenia never looked much like equalising. Like Greece against Argentina, they showed very little ambition even after going behind, and appeared to suffer a nosebleed every time they did catch sight of the 18-yard line.
Having had two legitimate goals disallowed in two games and creating a bucketload of chances in Pretoria before finally getting one in in the 92nd minute, the Americans thoroughly deserved to squeeze past both Algeria and England at the last and top the group. It remains to be seen if they'll be rewarded by the outcome of tonight's Group D games.
JUNE 23, JOHANNESBURG SOCCER CITY/NELSPRUIT
GERMANY 1-0 GHANA
AUSTRALIA 2-1 SERBIA
Got distracted from these by the amazing tennis, if I'm honest. Ghana made the Germans work hard, but a special goal from Ozil eventually settled the matter in a game of several good chances for either side. Meanwhile in Nelspruit Australia went out with honour, completing their recovery from their opening-game spanking but unable to overcome the goal-difference problem it left them with. Man, that tennis, though.
JUNE 24, JOHANNESBURG ELLIS PARK/POLOKWANE
ITALY 2-3 SLOVAKIA
NEW ZEALAND 0-0 PARAGUAY
Before we start, let's have a word of tribute to New Zealand. Ranked 78th in the world and appearing at the World Cup for the first time since 1982 – when they somehow managed to concede five goals to Scotland – they've gone out, as expected, in the group stage. But what nobody expected was that they'd go out unbeaten, and having finished above the world champions.
Such a thing happened because Italy lost what was probably the game of the tournament so far, a fantastically thrilling toe-to-toe encounter with an incisive counterattacking Slovakian side, making its first appearance as a nation in the World Cup, that fully deserved to take a first-half lead then extend it to 2-0 with 17 minutes left.
The ITV commentating team promptly wrote the Italians off, only to see them pull a goal back, and have another disallowed for a hair's-breadth offside decision made by the same English linesman who'd earlier made an impossible call to deny them another goal when Skrtel kneed Quagliarella's shot off the line, or maybe from behind it. (Both decisions looked to be correct by the narrowest of margins, maintaining the incredible standard of linesmanning that's characterised the tournament.)
When Slovakian sub Kopunek scored with his first touch of the tournament to make it 3-1 in the 90th minute, it seemed hopeless for the Italians, but back they stormed with an absolutely exquisite 25-yard goal from Quagliarella, showing that the way to get the Jabulani ball into the net is to aim it, rather than just try to blatter the paintwork off it.
Italy piled forward as the Slovakians fell over by the dozen to try to run down the clock, but as it ticked into the 97th minute the ref finally blew and the world champions were bottom of their group and out.
JUNE 24, RUSTENBURG/CAPE TOWN
JAPAN 3-1 DENMARK
NETHERLANDS 2-1 CAMEROON
Older viewers might remember that back in the late 80s and early 90s, Denmark had a formidable football team. A fast, attacking side graced by the talented Laudrup brothers, they were a sort of Scandinavian Holland. Those days are long gone now, and for most of living memory Denmark have been more of a sort of blond Switzerland, taking up space at tournaments just to make up the numbers and fill out the schedules without ever looking like raising anyone's eyebrows.
Japan basically toyed with them, assisted by a very wobbly performance from Sorensen in the Danish goal, but the match was a foregone conclusion as soon as the Japanese took the lead, and by the end it was just a question of whether they could add a couple more.
It's been a poor tournament for the European sides so far, but the Dutch are flying the flag for the old guard of world football, brushing the disappointing Cameroon aside to finish the game with a perfect 9-point record, joining Argentina as the only two teams to manage that feat so far. (With Brazil and Chile the only other two who might also notch three from three.) Cameroon go home with no points, proving that Africa isn't having much better a time that Europe in its first home tournament.
JUNE 25, NELSPRUIT/DURBAN
IVORY COAST 3-0 NORTH KOREA
BRAZIL 0-0 PORTUGAL
Anticipating a low-scoring snorefest between the Brazilians and Portugese, I tuned into the game at Nelspruit instead in the hope of action and thrills. Ivory Coast needed a nine-goal turnaround in goal difference to have a chance of qualification, and with a bit more calm and precision they could have had most of them by half-time. Two goals, two off the post and a hatful of other chances arrived as a demoralised North Korean side sat back in their own third, but with 70% of possession the Ivorians still couldn't quite bring themselves to really go for it.
The most memorable moment of the half was when Didier Drogba's persistence won him the ball down by the Korean goal-line, and with two defenders around him he held the ball up for a good 30 seconds, waiting for support and then deceiving them both with a simple kick-and-dodge putting him clean through in the area, yet even after all that time he didn't have a single Ivory Coast team-mate to pass it to.
Perhaps encouraged by the African side's lethargy and profligacy, the North Korean side that came out for the second 45 much more closely resembled the one that had played against Brazil and for the first quarter against Portugal. Pressing, attacking and in a 4-4-2 formation, they actually looked more like scoring until Kalou got on the end of a long ball to make it 3-0 with 10 minutes left.
Idiotic play from Dindane got a fourth chalked off, and the game petered out with the Ivorians sullenly hanging onto the label of most disappointing team of the tournament*. For a side comprising many tens of millions of pounds of club talent, they really were hopeless, and didn't even appear to care very much about it.
Meanwhile in Durban, one of the most predictable results of the competition played out, as Brazil and Portugal – both assured of qualification by a draw – duly drew in a match which by all accounts was an excellent cure for insomnia and saw both teams booed off the pitch.
*Because surely nobody was expecting France to do anything but fail, right?
JUNE 25, PRETORIA/BLOEMFONTEIN
CHILE 1-2 SPAIN
SWITZERLAND 0-0 HONDURAS
An absolutely freakish first half in Pretoria, as Chile dominate the game but go in 2-0 down and reduced to 10 men. The first goal comes out of nothing, Torres chasing down a hopeless ball and the Chilean keeper charging out to tackle him and win it, only to send it to David Villa who lofts it from about 40 yards out on the wing into the unguarded net.
Chile come within a defender's toe of equalising, the Spanish are denied what looks a nailed-on penalty, and then the referee sends off Estrada of Chile for the tiniest of completely accidental trips on Torres off the ball in the lead-up to a second Spanish goal as against the run of play as the first.
Oddness continues with a drastically deflected goal for Chile two minutes into the second half, sparking a few lively moments until the evening closes with the bizarrest sight of all – Spain spending the entire last 15 minutes of the game passing the ball back and forth across the 10-yard strip on the Spanish side of the halfway line, while Chile made no attempt to go and win it from them.
A goal for Switzerland against Honduras would have put the Chileans out, but they evidently decided to gamble that it wouldn't come, and that the 2-1 defeat would put both them and Spain through. Sadly it proved to be true. Chile had deserved a spot in the last 16, but not after that display of absolutely craven cowardice.
JUNE 26, PORT ELIZABETH/RUSTENBURG
URUGUAY 2-1 SOUTH KOREA
USA 1-2 GHANA (aet)
It's too hot.
JUNE 27, BLOEMFONTEIN/JOHANNESBURG SOCCER CITY
GERMANY 4-1 ENGLAND
ARGENTINA 3-1 MEXICO
Cheers, lads. Just three days after we celebrated the high quality of officiating from the linesmen of World Cup 2010, two of them provide some of the worst examples of the art you could ever hope to see. First, with a perfect, unobstructed view, the Uruguayan assistant somehow failed to notice Frank Lampard's delicately-judged shot off the crossbar landing at least two feet over Manuel Neuer's goal-line, denying England an equaliser that would have pretty much defined the word "undeserved" but could have easily changed the entire complexion of the game.
The distance by which the ball crossed the line looked about the same as the staggeringly obvious margin by which Carlos Tevez was (doubly) offside as he headed a Lionel Messi shot into Mexico's net a few hours later, but again the officials failed to notice it. At least, until some hapless/enraged Soccer City employee disobeyed FIFA's rules about not showing contentious replays on the stadium's giant screens, leading to the astonishing sight of a referee and linesman seeing their catastrophic error and plainly having a touchline conference about whether there was any way within the rules that they could reverse the decision, before concluding that there wasn't and they'd have to allow the goal.
Stupidly, Mexico then spent the next 70 minutes without once managing to get into the Argentinian box and fall over, for the embarrassed whistler would surely have seized on the merest hint of an opportunity to give them a penalty, and despite an admirable spirit and a performance that pinned the Argentinians back in their own half for the entire second 45 the Mexicans just didn't have the cutting edge to overcome a free-scoring Argentina side who'd somehow managed not to have their morale destroyed by the hideous colour-clashing atrocity of a kit they'd been sent out it.
In the end they had a clear margin of victory over and above the disputed goal, thanks to an incredible second-half strike from Tevez that almost broke the speed of sound as it flew past Mexico's 5'7" keeper, who'd have had to be 7'5" to have a hope of getting his gloves on it.
Back in Bloemfontein, meanwhile, England captain Steve Gerrard was giving a post-match interview in which he carped that "it was never a 4-1 game", a view which was entirely correct. Had England's wrongly-disallowed goal been allowed to stand, a fair reflection of the play and chances created would have seen a final score of about 10-3 to Germany.
This reporter's earliest memory of the World Cup is watching the 1974 final, and in the 36 years since I don't believe I've seen a more abominable performance by an England side. The Germans – who for most of the game were average at best – threw into sharp relief just how dismal England's failure to win their group matches had been. (Not a single team from Group C now remains in the competition.)
My English viewing companion and I were watching in open-mouthed astonishment even before a goal was scored, as England simply didn't bother to get within 10 metres of German players until they were approaching the 18-yard line. Can ANYONE explain to me what on Earth Glen Johnson is doing anywhere near the starting eleven of a decently-ranked international football team with any business other than taking their pizza orders?
When the deadlock WAS broken after just 10 minutes, it came with a goal that would have shamed a school playground, as a German goal kick was allowed to descend unmolested into the English penalty area. From the moment it left the goalkeeper's boot it was touched just once more – by Miroslav Klose from 10 yards – before it found the back of the English net.
A second followed quickly, and the standard of England's defending was so woeful – and Germany's finishing so uncharacteristically imprecise – that they could and should have been four or five goals down before a goal out of nothing from Upson sparked a brief 15-minute flurry of life from the English players, including Lampard's "goal".
For those 10 minutes before the break and five after it, it was clear that the Germans' confidence was fragile in the extreme when their possession was pressed before the final third. But when they pulled themselves together and mounted a decent attack five minutes into the second half, England simply shrugged and gave up, reverting to the "after you, Claude" defending of the first half.
The result from that point was merely a question of how many Germany would score, and that it ended only 4-1 (thanks to two embarrassingly badly-defended pub-league breakaway goals from Muller) was a mercy that the pitiful excuse for a football team in red shirts scarcely merited. England's true shame wasn't in being so easily thrashed, it was in being so easily thrashed by such an unexceptional side.
I had money on Wayne Rooney for the Golden Boot, so thanks for showing me what happens when I try putting my faith in the English, you hopeless potato-faced muppet.
JUNE 28, DURBAN/JOHANNESBURG ELLIS PARK
NETHERLANDS 2-1 SLOVAKIA
BRAZIL 3-0 CHILE
The game in Durban needed an early Dutch goal like a hole in the head, but unfortunately that's exactly what it got in the shape of an excellent solo effort from Arjen Robben after 18 minutes. After that the outcome of the game was never in doubt, with the shot-shy Slovakians rarely troubling Stekelenburg, and Sneijder's goal six minutes from time looked like window-dressing, until the referee gave Slovakia a very soft penalty in stoppage time to make the scoreline look more interesting than it was.
But this was another dull, energy-saving-lightbulb of a performance from the Dutch – we can only hope they can find a couple of extra gears when they have to, otherwise it'll be a question of whether they go home before everyone in the world switches to Coronation Street.
There were no surprises in Johannesburg as Chile threw everything they had at Brazil to little effect. They made chances, but could only watch as Brazil showed them what you do with chances.
JUNE 29, PRETORIA/CAPE TOWN
PARAGUAY 0-0 JAPAN (aet, 5-3 on penalties)
SPAIN 1-0 PORTUGAL
These games were so boring I immediately forgot they ever happened. Actually that's a little unfair on Paraguay and Japan, who were at least trying, and created plenty of chances without ever having the finishing skills to put them away. A single ballooned penalty from Japan finally sent the Paraguayans through to their first ever quarter final.
Over in Cape Town, irritating goalhanging twat David Villa scored the only goal of a game after which frankly, both teams should have been eliminated from the tournament so that the USA or North Korea could be let back in.
JULY 2, PORT ELIZABETH/JOHANNESBURG SOCCER CITY
BRAZIL 1-2 NETHERLANDS
URUGUAY 1-1 GHANA (aet, 4-2 on penalties)
Neither Brazil nor Holland have been very likeable in this tournament so far, with Brazil in particular exhibiting a sort of surly petulance and the Dutch looking lethargic and toothless. Neither has played very exciting football, and when Brazil took a 1-0 lead thanks to a brilliant through pass by Melo after completely dominating the first half, the result looked a foregone conclusion.
That assessment, however, couldn't have predicted Brazil's spectacular implosion of self-harm in the second 45. Bastos was incredibly lucky to stay on the field for a ridiculous scythe on Arjen Robben by the touchline, but fate took a hand from the free kick as a long, aimless cross from Sneijder simply floated all the way in, skimming off Melo's head but only after Julio Cesar had already completely missed it.
15 minutes later some schoolboy defending gifted the Dutch the simplest of second goals from a corner, and another five minutes on the same Melo executed a sickening and pointless stamp on Robben after chopping him down deep inside the Netherlands half, and completed his eventful day with a well-deserved red card.
Both sides scorned good chances, not least when Huntelaar somehow managed to squander a three-on-one in the Brazil box in stoppage time, but it was an ugly game from two sides more renowned as standard-bearers of beautiful football. With only a semi-final against either Uruguay or Ghana standing between them and the final, one of Holland's least attractive footballing sides in living memory must surely fancy becoming its most successful.
A cracking first half in Johannesburg, though, as after a nervy opening 10 minutes Ghana forced their way into contention against a slightly startled Uruguay, and Muntari's incredible 40-yard goal with the last kick of the half was no more than they deserved, having shaved a couple of layers of paint off Uruguay's woodwork already. The second 45 was even better, packed with action, not least Diego Forlan's fantastic free-kick equaliser.
Both teams went for the win throughout extra time, and in scenes of incredible drama Ghana were awarded a penalty in the final seconds when Suarez handled a goal-bound shot and got a red card for his trouble. But tragically, his act of desperate cheating paid off when Gyan scooped the penalty off the crossbar with the last kick of the game.
To his credit, Gyan was first up to take a spot-kick in the shootout, and smashed a perfect one into the postage-stamp corner like he should have done a few minutes earlier. But two dreadful Diana Ross penalties from his team-mates eclipsed one Uruguayan miss, and the South American side sent Africa's last representatives in Africa's first World Cup cruelly home. Much of the world sobbed with them.
JULY 4, BLOEMFONTEIN/JOHANNESBURG ELLIS PARK
ARGENTINA 0-4 GERMANY
SPAIN 1-0 PARAGUAY
I really, really hope Germany win this World Cup. Or even Uruguay. And when was the last time Germany and Uruguay were the most likeable teams in an international football tournament? Or an international anything?
The Spanish and the Dutch have been dismal disappointments this year, with the Spanish having the lowest points total of any team left in the competition – a dismal EIGHT goals being scored by either side in their five matches so far (compared to 15 for the exciting Germans), and five out of Spain's six coming from one player.
Based on their play so far, a Spain-Netherlands final might just kill football off altogether.
JULY 6, CAPE TOWN
NETHERLANDS 3-2 URUGUAY
Another pretty limp rag of a first half from the Dutch, and a largely ineffectual one from Uruguay, enlivened by two amazing individual strikes, though Stekelenburg ought to have done better for Forlan's well-struck but central long-range equaliser after Van Bronckhurst had opened with an incredible 35-yard shot.
The most remarkable thing about the 45 minutes, though, was Van Bommel being allowed to stay on the pitch for an absolutely dreadful late, over-the-top leg-breaker of a "tackle" on Gargano. Surprisingly the South American player made nothing of it, adding to the weird air of role reversal that has surrounded the Netherlands side in this tournament. You'd normally expect Uruguay to be the dirty, cynical, diving cheats and Holland to be trying to play the attractive attacking football, but World Cup 2010 seems in many ways to be taking place in some weird Opposite Universe.
The Dutch continued to enjoy some barely-deserved good fortune in the second half, as a deflected Sneijder goal was allowed to stand despite Van Persie being offside and clearly trying to play the ball (and therefore "active" under the rules). But they posed much the bigger threat as Uruguay struggled to make an impact up front without the suspended Suarez, and a few minutes later Robben put unmuddied waters between the sides with a superb, precise header in off the post with the keeper stranded.
A stoppage-time goal from Pereira made for a brief flurry of late excitement as the orange defence wobbled, and reignited the controversy by ensuring that the offside goal was decisive after all, but it was hard to dispute the assertion that the better team won. The ugliest Dutch team in living memory could yet justify itself by being the first one to take home the World Cup, but the presence of Van Bommel in the final will lend the occasion a sour edge.
JULY 7, DURBAN
SPAIN 1-0 GERMANY
Anyone got a good book they can lend me for Sunday? I think we're in for the dullest World Cup final of all time.
JULY 10, PORT ELIZABETH
URUGUAY 2-3 GERMANY
The final many neutrals had hoped for instead took the shape of the traditionally highly entertaining 3rd/4th-place playoff. An open game saw Germany, then Uruguay, then Germany again lead, and I can't have been the only viewer desperately hoping that Diego Forlan's last minute free kick had been four inches lower and gone in rather than clattering the German crossbar, because another 30 minutes of that game would have been a most attractive prospect.
JULY 11, JOHANNESBURG SOCCER CITY
NETHERLANDS 0-1 SPAIN (aet)
Only the second World Cup final to end goalless after 90 minutes, and at least Italy-Brazil in 1994 had the excitement and drama of penalties at the end.
As predicted by this reporter as far back as July 4th (while every idiot pundit was inexplicably hyping an imminent feast of beautiful football from the tournament's two dullest sides with the possible exception of Greece), Holland and Spain served up an insomniac's dream of a final, a murderously boring game enlivened only by a couple of hopeful balls down the middle providing a handful of chances that most of our mums could have put away but that were cack-footedly muffed by the world's finest players.
("WHAT A MISS!" was the most repeated phrase on the Guardian's always-entertaining live update.)
The Dutch were bewilderingly lucky to finish with as many as 10 players on the field, but the only one who did get sent off was probably the only one who didn't deserve to, Heitinga picking up a second yellow for briefly very lightly resting his hand on Xavi's shoulder, the Spaniard hitting the deck like he'd had an oil rig dropped on him from orbit.
So Spain, having scored just 8 goals in 7 games (one of which was against Honduras, for God's sake), are the world champions, and the only thing more depressing than that fact was that on the night they so comprehensively deserved it. The Dutch were absolutely awful, seemingly having no gameplan other than to kick the Spanish up in the air whenever they eventually stopped passing the ball sideways along the halfway line, which was rarely.
By extra time, when the Spanish suddenly realised that maybe they didn't fancy penalties, the game perked up, occasionally reaching the giddy heights of "stultifyingly mediocre", but this was a miserable display of anti-football that sullied the name of even this relatively poor World Cup.
Not entirely unrelatedly, can someone please, please murder Alans Hansen and Shearer with the greatest possible urgency? Cheers.
"NEXT SUNDAY: CAR BOOT SALE"
The original versions of these pictures, and many more, can be found here.