Africa’s first World Cup was a strange tournament. In many ways it was a huge success, at least off the pitch. On the pitch, there was something lacking.
At least most of the scaremongering about security proved accurate. Inevitably, there were some problems, with the Spanish squad the latest team to find their hotel rooms burgled. However, the vast police presence around stadiums – an extra 40,000 hired from ranks of South Africa’s unemployed – helped enormously. As did the “World Cup courts”, set up to provide instant, punitive justice.
Transport was a challenge, but the determination of the South African people to provide hospitality has been immense. This was not a European World Cup, and so we could not expect a European-style public transport system. But we coped.
Accommodation never proved to be a problem, partly because the visitors never materialised in quite the numbers expected. Hotel prices in Johannesburg went through the roof, with many establishments quadrupling their usual rates. But every major tournament faces such a problem.
The football on the pitch was more of a disappointment. Not because the superstars – the likes of Rooney, Messi, Kaka – failed to deliver, but because we did not have that many memorable matches. Frank Lampard’s “ghost” goal and Luis Suarez handball against Ghana provided rare moments of drama and talking points among an awful lot of pedestrian football.
But there was a great deal to savour, too. In the group stages, the attacking ambition of Bielsa’s Chile and Maradona’s Argentina. In the knockout stages, the youthful drive of Germany and the collective of Ghana.
It was fitting that the only goal of the Final was scored by Andres Iniesta, the man raised at FC Barcelona, the club whose who provided so many players in the Spanish starting eleven. Furthermore, it was fitting that victory was achieved over Holland, the country whose football values have done so much to shape the footballing ethos in Barcelona, and now across Spain.
Although, Iniesta will hog many of the headlines, this was not a Final dominated by individuals. Previous Finals have been won – or in the case of Zidane in 2006, lost – by individuals. But both Spain and Holland made it to the Final through their collective strengths.
Hopefully once the dust has settled and red mist cleared, the 2010 World Cup will be remembered as the tournament where superstars failed to live up to their billing, allowing youngsters such as Thomas Muller to become genuine revelations.
Of more concern was that this was the tournament where counter-attacking was king. We can only applaud Spain for winning their first world crown playing a short-passing possession game.
But the major worry for 2014 is that teams, knowing they do not have the individuals to play like Spain, will play on the counter – Germany are the obvious blueprint – or worse still, try to stop attack-minded teams like Spain from playing. Switzerland, conquerors of Spain in their opening group, are the obvious example here.
The solitary goal by Iniesta took the total tally of goals for the 2010 finals to 145, two shy of the 147 from four years ago in Germany. It was therefore the lowest goals total since the finals were expanded to 32 teams, and from 52 to 64 matches.
The goals-per-game average for 2010 was 2.26, the lowest rate since 1990.
From a personal point of view, it was the most exhausting tournament I have covered. Not because of the multi-media workload – the blogging, the twittering, the live match reports are now essential parts of the job.
But the intense schedule, the huge distances between cities and the security buses needed to travel between stadiums made the whole experience exhausting.