Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010

World Cup Winners and Losers

Highs: Leading up to the 2010 World Cup, there were many questions about South Africa's readiness to host the global event. In retrospect, those questions now seem silly. The football festival went off without a hitch, and the spirit of South African fans left its imprint on the world; love them or hate them, you couldn't stop talking about those vuvuzelas. On the field, the best players in the world produced many outstanding moments. Landon Donovan's goal against Algeria in stoppage time sent America into the second round, and the States into a soccer frenzy; Uruguay's Diego Forlán won the Golden Ball award as the best player in the tournament for his amazing goal scoring, and Spain's Andrés Iniesta became a national hero when his goal, in extra time, gave his country a 1-0 lead over the Netherlands. Spain held on to this advantage, giving La Roja — "The Red" — its first World Cup title.

Lows: That final game was far from a classic. To many fans, the physical, perhaps dirty, play of the Dutch and midfielder Mark van Bommel betrayed the beautiful game. France shamed the nation with its World Cup performance. Les Bleus ("The Blues") failed to win a game, and at one point the players refused to even practice. England didn't fair much better: comic goalkeeping led to a draw with the Americans in the opener, and it snuck past Slovenia into the knockout round, where Germany (which turned in a surprisingly competitive World Cup run with a young, untested roster) dominated its matchup against the English, 4-1. England's Wayne Rooney, one of the most hyped players in the World Cup, was apparently hobbled too. He underperformed, as did perennial powers Brazil, Argentina and Italy. And poor Asamoah Gyan, of Ghana; during the final moments of Ghana's quarterfinal game against Uruguay, Gyan was awarded a penalty kick when a handball negated what would have been the winning goal to send an African nation to the World Cup semifinals for the first time. Instead, Gyan missed the penalty shot, badly, and Uruguay went on to win the game.

Sean Gregory