It's nil-nil, but...

Monday, July 10, 2006

Time to say goodbye

This blog has been up and running for about two months now. It was primarily set up for the World Cup and now that the tournament is over, it is also time for me to wrap it up.

I thoroughly enjoyed writing the blog, just as much as I enjoyed watching the tournament. I must thank malaysiakini for giving me this opportunity to put into words what I have been saying about football all these while.

I must also thank all my guest bloggers for sharing their thoughts with me. Thanks too to all those who commented on the writings – either in the blog itself or through emails.

And finally, thanks to all for visiting this blog.

Now that this blog is officially closed – perhaps until the next big football tournament – please visit my other blog, Ruth Square, to continue reading my ravings and rantings.

Cheers and Goodbye.

K Kabilan

The roll of honour, according to me

Now that the World Cup is over, we can start looking back to see who did what better than the others. Below is a list of my favourites:

Best player: Fabio Cannavaro (Italy)

Although Zinadine Zidane was voted as the tournament’s best player, for me it is Cannavaro without a doubt. He was superb at defending and marshalling the Italian backline. Never once did you see him simply kick the ball out of the danger area. He always found space to wriggle out of danger and then pass the ball to another teammate. Though his immediate future with Juventus is in doubt due to the match fixing scandal besieging his club, he didn’t allow that to interfere in his game. Superb player with excellent attitude and deserved to lift the trophy for Italy.

Best goalkeeping moment: Richard Kingston (Ghana)

There were a handful of good keepers on parade at the World Cup. Italy’ Buffon was outstanding in several matches, Holland’s Edwin van Der Saar was superb against Portugal and Germany’s Jens Lehmann finally proved himself as his nation’s number one keeper. However for me, Ghana’s Richard Kingston was truly outstanding in the match against Brazil, especially in the final 20 minutes when he thwarted so many chances created by the Samba boys. If it wasn’t for him, Brazil would have had thrashed Ghana that night.

Goal of the tournament: Esteban Cambiasso (Argentina)

The tournament started on a bright note with the excellent goal by Phillipp Lahm for the Germans in the opening match against Costa Rica. This was followed by another thunderbolt by Torsten Frings in the same match. After that we saw some amazing long range goals. Joe Cole’s goal against Sweden was a beauty, so was Steven Gerrard’s strike against Trinidad & Tobago. The two Italian goals in their semis against Germany were superb and for Portugal, Maniche and Deco scored four amazing long range goals. Zidane’ solo effort against Spain was outstanding, so was Torres’ goal for Spain in the match against Ukraine. And then we had smart free kicks by the South Koreans and two from Beckham for England. Arjen Robben scored a wonderful individual goal against Serbia. Germany finished it off with two amazing long range strikes through Schweinsteiger against Portugal in the third place match.

But two goals remain a class above the rest. The first is the goal scored by Maxi Rodriguez from Argentina against Mexico in the second round. And the goal of the tournament has to be the one scored by Argentine Cambiasso against Serbia. That goal was a superb team effort, ending into the net after 24 passes and a cool finish.

Best inspirational player in the World Cup: Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast)

This will remain a World Cup in which no single player shined. We had some players having one good game and then going missing in the next. In the second stage onwards, perhaps Zidane made the difference for the French. And as I mentioned above Cannavaro was superb for the Italians. Cristiano Ronaldo had a good tournament for Portugal but disgraced himself by falling down too easily. Riquelme was the Argentine conductor and they did well whenever he player well. For Brazil, surprisingly the most effective player was the unassuming Ze Roberto. Apart from these well-known names, no one else managed to get a hold of the World Cup and claim to be the best player around. Biggest disappointment has to be Ronaldinho and Kaka from Brazil and Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard from England.

For me, two players caught my eyes in the first round. One was Stephen Appiah, the Ghanaian captain. He was everywhere in the field, He led by example and I think had a good World Cup.

The other was Didier Drogba for Ivory Coast. This player single-handedly sparked an amazing comeback in their matches against Holland and Argentina. He played as though he was possessed. He led the field and was hell bent in proving his team can play football. And he did that very well. Ivory Coast was unlucky to be in such a difficult group and they didn’t lose easily too. They came close in upsetting both Holland and Argentina as well, thanks to the amazing performance by Drogba.

Underachievers: Spain

Need I say more? They started well, played some good football but still managed to get kicked out. Argentina came a close second. They too started the tournament on fire, playing like champions, only to be kicked out on penalties.

Over-hyped team: England

Less said better about England They came into the finals as joint favourites but never showed us what they are capable of. Played some insipid football and went out on penalties to Portugal. The other one has to be the defending champions Brazil. They never looked like they can reproduce their magic here. Star players looked over-confidence and never really showed their talent. The only good thing to come out for them is Ronaldo’s record breaking goals.

Best match: Germany v Italy

With more teams playing with one striker, goals eventually dried up in the World Cup. We did however had an entertaining first round where teams played more of an open game. After that, it was a matter of teams playing not to lose and defensive mindset came into the picture. Still we had some entertaining clashes throughout the tournament.

So my choice of the best match of the tournament is the semifinal clash between Germany and Italy. Both sides were hell-bent in attacking and looking for that one goal that will take them into the finals. In the end however Italy managed that with two wonder goals in the dying minutes. This should have been the final instead. There were also other interesting matches earlier in the group stage. Holland and Argentina played a goalless match, but what a match that turned out to be. And let’s not forget the superb demolition job done by Argentina in their 6-0 thrashing of Croatia.

Worst match: Ukraine v Switzerland

This was a second round match and it nearly put me to sleep. No one wanted to attack, both keepers not tested and at the end Ukraine won 3-0 on penalties. Ukraine was involved in another boring match - against Tunisia in the group stages and managed to win 1-0 through a penalty. Earlier on Saudi Arabia and Tunisia almost played a similar boring match in the group stages, but still that match ended 2-2.

Worst refereeing moment: 16 yellows and 4 reds

That was the tally of cards dished out by referee Valentin Ivanov in the Holland versus Portugal second round stage. Close behind has to be Graham Poll who gave three yellows cards to a Croatian player before finally producing a red.

Sore losers of the tournament: Argentina

They were beaten on penalties by the Germans and they decided to go out fighting (literally) with the German after the match.

Surprise package of the tournament: Australia

Newcomers Ivory Coast and Ghana did well but I thought it was Australia which actually proved to be the unlucky one this year. They came from behind to defeat Japan, matched Brazil before losing out at the end and battled hard against Croatia for a draw which put them in the second stage. There, they held Italy until stoppage time when a dubious penalty sent them packing.

Italy 1 - 1 France (PEN 5:3) - a video highlight

If you had missed the drama of the World Cup finals last night, here is the video highlights for you - with all the goals, misses, red card, penalties and jubilation.

A moment of Zidane madness

In the final against Italy earlier today, Zidane will be remembered for using his right foot once, and his head twice. On the first occasion, he scored a clever penalty to give France the lead over Italy.

Then when the match was drawn level, he almost put France ahead with a beautiful header which was saved superbly by the Italian keeper Buffon.

And then finally, perhaps the one moment Zidane will be remembered for, now that he is retiring after this, he used his head to butt into Marco Materazzi’s chest. It was an ugly and brutal assault on the Italian player and Zidane deserved to be red-carded.

Sadly, that was to be Zidane’s last move for the night, his last act in international football for the French, now tainted by this one moment of madness.

Television replays showed that Zidane was provoked by Materazzi who had said something as Zidane ran past him. Still, there is no excuse for such an experienced player to lose his temper.

We all have seen Zidane in this mood – remember 1998 World Cup match against Saudi Arabia? As well for both Juventus and Real Madrid?

But you would have thought that for a player who is back to his best and playing for the last time for his country, and within striking distance of that all-important trophy, he would show some form of self control.

For me, I think his best moment in this World Cup must be his excellent performance against Brazil in the quarter finals. That came after he had an excellent game and scored a memorable goal against Spain in the second round. Tonight, he started brightly and was almost there to achieve the dream.

Then he lost it all by not using his head in the proper manner. How sad.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Italy – the new world champions

Who would have thought that the Italians will win the World Cup? They did tonight, and I think they thoroughly deserve it for they were the most consistent team in the tournament from the first match.

Unlike the Italian teams of the past, this team showed more flair than just relying on their defending strength. And tonight against France, when they needed it most, they showed us again, how to defend properly.

No doubt the attacking flair was missing today. In fact Italy’s skilful playmaker Totti was totally out of the game. And what we saw was the tenacious defending passed on from past masters to the current crop.

Fabio Cannavaro was everywhere. So was Gennaro Gattuso. And when they failed, their keeper Gianluigi Buffon was there. And he made one outstanding save to stop a Zidane header from going in.

There was nothing the Italian defence could do against the French goal. In fact, I thought it was not a penalty at all. Still Zidane was ultra composed to chip the ball in, giving Buffon no chance at all. It took the Italians 12 minutes to draw level and the remaining 101 minutes saw the ball being played in the midfield area, giving us a clear clue that this match was heading to penalties.

Once Zidane got sent off on the second period of extra period – for a stupid moment of madness – Italians did look to have an upper hand for a moment. Mind you, that was a period when France were without Zidane (red card), Thierry Henry (substituted), Ribery (substituted) and Vieira (injured).

Still nothing came about. So at the end of the World Cup this year, the script will read that Italy won it – for the fourth time - on penalties. Never masters of the penalty kick, the Italians tonight scored all five.

Now these triumphant players will have to return home to the daunting task of facing the match fixing scandal involving some of the big clubs in their country.