A good answer to anyone who thought the third place final a fairly meaningless part of the World Cup. To watch and hear the Germans following the game in a seafront Med bar in France, you’d have thought Muller & Co had won the trophy. But fair play to them, it was a cracking game with drama from one of the tournament’s brightest lights, Diego Forlan, right to the end. Bill Taylor thinks it may turn out to have been THE final …
Let us hope Jeremy Robson changed his mind about not watching the so-called “bronze medal” match between Germany and Uruguay.
Otherwise, he missed a terrific game – good end-to-end, cut-and-thrust football with five well-taken goals and both Diego Forlan and Thomas Müller notching their fifth of the tournament.
Forlan, who had been a doubtful starter because of an injury, wasn’t quite as in evidence as he as been but was always a threat. He remains my player of the tournament – though depending on what David Villa and Wesley Sneijder do in the final, Müller is looking good for the Golden Boot. Not bad for a 20-year-old who could have three more World Cups to come.
There was the added bonus of seeing Luis Suarez – roundly booed whenever he got near the ball – miss a relative sitter from a pass beautifully laid on by Forlan.
And of seeing Suarez’s final attempt to cheat, in the closing seconds of extra time, thwarted. He took what appeared to be (to my admittedly jaundiced eyes) a dive in front of the German penalty area, garnering a yellow card for Arne Friedrich and a heartbreaker for Forlan whose shot hit the crossbar.
Mercifully, the cameras stayed off Joachim Löw. The odd time we did see the German coach, his arms were resolutely crossed and his hands – he may even have been wearing boxing gloves – were clearly going nowhere near his nose.
The commentator did speak of the cold he’s had and of his “clogged nasal passages”. But we were spared a repeat of the spectacle, which has gone viral on YouTube, of Löw supplementing his diet (well, you get tired of sandwiches) with the gouged-out contents of said nasal passages. If you still haven’t seen it and want to vicariously share the feast, brace yourself and go to this link
I was glad to see Germany win. But if the result had gone the other way, it wouldn’t have been unjust. Especially given that there was nothing much at stake – some journalists are urging that this game be done away with as pointless – both sides played their hearts out.
Uruguay were the more fluid but the Germans were back to their old game – opening up spaces, fast, one-touch passes and staccato, darting runs. Both sides were a pleasure to watch.
Which brings me to my main point – yes, I do have one.
Why the hell didn’t Germany play like this in the semi-finals? Uruguay looked better than Spain did in the semis but the Germans just kept coming at them. So what went wrong last Wednesday?
We’ve heard a lot about them being a young side. . . not a lot of experience. . . semi-final nerves. . . blah, blah.
I’ll give that a certain amount of credence but not a lot. These guys are professionals, among the most highly-paid players in the world. The money they get borders – and often crosses that border – on obscene.
They’re not paid to be nervous. And after the way they’d been playing, they had no need to be. Surely, as professionals, they should realize that.
It seemed clear to me that they’d been told to play the way they did. To abandon their usual speed and aggression and instead to shut the game down. The Spanish did the same thing – rather more effectively – and the net result was not the best entertainment you could wish for.
This bespeaks the need for a change of philosophy in the upper reaches of the game. As they progress in a tournament such as this, teams need to keep playing to win rather than not to lose.
Once the pressure starts to build, all the flash and fire goes out of the top sides. It’s left to the upstarts, such as Ghana and Paraguay, to play like there’s no tomorrow – their philosophy clearly being, “If there IS no tomorrow, we’ve really enjoyed today.”
And enjoyment, let us not forget, is what puts bums on seats and cash in Fifa’s coffers. The slogan on the Fifa flag may be “my game is fair play” but we all know that their real game is unfair pay. Sitting back and letting games degenerate into pretty-to-watch but fruitless displays of ball-control and possession, could ultimately backfire on them and their revenue.
Not gonna happen? People will always flock to the World Cup? Maybe. But there have been precious few sold-out games in South Africa. You wanted a ticket for any particular match and chances were you could walk up to the window and buy one.
It’s also good business to save the best until last. That, in theory, would be today’s final. But it’ll have to be one helluva game to eclipse yesterday’s consolation match.
I’m willing to bet it won’t be. Spain and the Netherlands will spar demurely and probe each other’s potential weaknesses with all the verve of two elderly chess grandmasters methodically playing out the clock while they watch for an exploitable chink in their opponent’s armour.
Neither side – or at least, neither coach – will think, “Hey, we’re in the final! Let’s just get out there and play and if we don’t win, we’re still No. 2.”
I hope I’m wrong. I hope there’s a quick breakaway by someone, I don’t care who, and an early goal to force the other side to make a fight of it.
But I don’t expect a high-scoring game. One late goal will do it. But even that will be better than the worst-case scenario of a penalty shootout. If that’s how this World Cup ends, I swear I’ll be sitting in another room by then. I’ll ask my wife to slap a couple of brushfuls of paint on the wall so I can watch it dry.