JOHANNESBURG – The hard of heart would say that there is only one true winner at a World Cup and 31 losers. But the past month and the showcase of soccer gave everyone involved the chance to grab their moment in the spotlight.
Reputations rose and fell, controversies came and went and there was even a gritty run from a resilient U.S. team.
Spain, of course, go home with the prize that all of the teams wanted, but here is a look at those who gained and lost the most during the 2010 World Cup.
Winner: The beautiful game
Rarely has there been a more physical final with the Netherlands coming to Soccer City intent on kicking the living daylights out of Spain. But thankfully, and for fans of flowing soccer, the purer footballing side won out in the end.
Spain’s method is everything that is good about soccer: fluid movement, crisp passing and a determination to keep the ball on the ground instead of hoofing it forward aimlessly. After securing a second straight major tournament, it’s mindboggling to think that we could still be watching one of the most underrated teams of modern soccer. This Spanish side is a team for the ages, but not everyone realizes it.
Loser: The superstars
The biggest names in soccer didn’t fare too well at this year’s tournament, while more unheralded heroes came to the forefront. Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and England’s Wayne Rooney were the two biggest casualties, as they totally failed to perform up to their potential.
Brazil’s Kaka and Argentina’s Lionel Messi didn’t produce the goods either, and even though Messi was a surprise choice on the short list of the 10 best players in the event, his status as the world’s best player is now under real threat from Spain’s Xavi and the Netherlands’ Wesley Sneijder.
Winner: Landon Donovan
Donovan came into the tournament nursing four years worth of pain following his dismal showing at the 2006 World Cup. He was desperate to deliver for the U.S., and deliver he did.
His three goals were all vital: an equalizing penalty against Ghana, a ferocious strike against Slovenia that sparked a furious comeback and the most memorable strike of his career – that goal which sealed victory against Algeria, sent a nation into rapture and booked a place into the round of 16.
The Jabulani World Cup ball was supposed to be the most accurate in history, set to reward the most technically proficient players on the planet and produce glittering soccer. Problem was, either someone forgot to check how the ball would react to South African conditions or they thought that an unpredictable beach ball effect was satisfactory.
Things got a little better after the group stage, as teams became more accustomed to the ball’s flight and movement, but the Jabulani remains an embarrassment for the manufacturer and a folly that must not be repeated.
Winner: South Africa
Bafana Bafana didn’t last long, but the passion that the South African people showed for this event never waned. The smiles, the joy, the pride and the sparkle that the host nation gave to the World Cup will be tough to replicate.
Yes, there were some teething troubles, but in general, security concerns were largely unfounded and a nation that so many expected to fail actually put together a truly memorable and intriguing tournament. The World Cup won’t be back in Africa for a long time, and that’s too bad.
Loser: Koman Coulibaly
The referee from Mali was the blundering official who got most of the attention in the U.S. thanks to his bizarre decision to disallow what would have been a winning goal for the USA against Slovenia. He was struck from the FIFA list for remaining matches at the tournament and wasn’t seen again.
Coulibaly was far from the only man in the middle to make an error of judgment. Glaring referee mistakes littered the event – many in critical matches. Frank Lampard of England had a legitimate goal cross the line by a yard but it was disallowed, while Mexico’s campaign was cut short in large part to an Argentina goal that was way offside.
The little man from Barcelona didn’t score a goal in the tournament, but finally everyone understands just what a special player he is. The midfielder was the engine that made the Spain machine hum, allowing it to dominate the midfield and set up countless scoring chances.
After the semifinal victory over Germany, I wrote that Xavi is now the best player on the planet. It will take some pretty compelling evidence before I change my mind.
It generally takes a lot for a World Cup-winning captain to become hated in his homeland, but that is the fate that befell Dunga. Sixteen years after lifting the trophy as a player, he led Brazil to an embarrassing exit as head coach and was quickly relieved of his position.
Brazil’s quarterfinal loss to the Netherlands isn’t what hurt the Brazilian soccer public the most. It was the manner of the team’s demise. Dunga’s hard-nosed tactics disgusted a nation that has become accustomed to magnificent, flowing soccer. The campaign will go down as a forgettable chapter in a proud history.
Winner: Thomas Mueller
An international audience knew precious little about the 20-year-old German before this tournament, but they sure know all about him now. Mueller won the Golden Boot for his five goals and three assists, and he was the spark behind a young German team that went on a strong run to the semifinals and won third place.
Mueller’s presence was missed in the semifinal against Spain (he was suspended), but at least he has shown Diego Maradona, who dismissed him at a press conference earlier in the year, what he is all about.
Loser: African teams
This was supposed to be the year when one African side (or more) finally made the big breakthrough by reaching the late rounds of the World Cup. Much was expected of the Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Nigeria, while even host nation South Africa was seen as capable of providing some shocks.
However, things didn’t turn out that way, with only Ghana progressing through to the knockout phase, where the Black Stars and star striker Asamoah Gyan suffered the worst kind of soccer heartbreak.
In the quarterfinal against Uruguay, Gyan had a penalty kick that would have taken his team to the final four, but he crashed it against the crossbar. Moments earlier, the team had a shot cleared off the line by the hands of Uruguay’s Luis Suarez – an action that earned him a red card but kept his nation in the tournament.
Winner: Diego Forlan
Forlan won a whole lot more than just the Golden Ball award, which is given to the tournament’s best player. His reputation, once in tatters after a disappointing move to Manchester United, is now at an all-time high after a series of sensational performances.
He was the primary reason that Uruguay managed to confound the doubters and qualify for the semifinals, while more heralded South American neighbors Brazil and Argentina fell by the wayside. Forlan probably won’t be seen at another World Cup, but he left this tournament with glowing memories.
The fractured story of the French team was so murky, so strange, so pathetic and so unprofessional that there is no obvious target to blame. Raymond Domenech was a joke – he had no respect from his players and no tactical common sense.
But he also had to put up with a bunch of arrogant, petulant, overpaid stars who questioned his authority and didn’t even have the decency to turn up for training ahead of their final match. A government inquiry was set up upon their return home, but it could take a long time to get to the bottom of this debacle.
I'm so sad the WC is over and that we have to wait another 4 years! And sorry I didn't add pictures. I'll try to edit it and add some but I kinda fail at lj posts. And yes, I'm still ecstatic that Spain won!