Football would be so boring without the cheats, the entertainers and the moments of madness that can put thousands of fans on the rampage by the mere mention of it! In years past we witnessed Geoff Hurst’s second goal crossing or not crossing the goal line in the 1966 final, Maradona and the little cheat’s ‘hand of god’ goal against Peter Shilton, a moment of madness in the shape of a head butt from French Captain Zinedine Zidane in the 2006 final and in keeping with the French theme, this year, all the news was about Thierry Henry, captain of France and former FIFA Ambassador of Fair Play, who taking the motto of winning at all costs far too literally, illegally handled the ball to enable him to make the pass that led to the goal which put France through to the finals!
Nobody, especially the current president of UEFA, a former captain of France himself, Michel Platini could ever have imagined France not achieving automatic qualification in their group but such was the case and so four teams were entered in a play off for the two remaining spots. Nothing too sinister there then except that at the eleventh hour, FIFA decided to alter their own rules and seed the teams, cutting out the possibility that the two strongest teams should meet, and thus increasing France’s chances of qualifying! Although the Irish asked for the game to be replayed, their request was denied and France took their place in the 2010 competition.
Platini once said “What Zidane does with a ball, Maradona could do with an orange.” It’s somewhat ironic that Zidande, Maradona and Henry will forever be remembered for a single moment of madness or cheating that shall forever overshadow their otherwise glittering careers.
Controversy surrounded several other games of the final qualification matches in 2009 too. Costa Rica complained about Uruguay’s winning goal in their play off game and crowd trouble marred the two games between Egypt and Algeria, with the Algerian team bus stoned before the first game in Cairo plus, there were allegations of match fixing with then led to FIFA calling an extraordinary general meeting of their Executive Committee to try and come up with some radical solutions.
With today’s game being played at a faster pace than every before, there have been calls for additional officials, goal line technology and TV replays. Although goal-line assistants, were trialled in the Europa League, nothing new has come forth for South Africa 2010 and instead FIFA President Sepp Blatter said “I appeal to all the players and coaches to observe fair play. In 2010 we want to prove that football is more than just kicking a ball but has social and cultural value; so we ask the players ‘please observe fair play’ so they will be an example to the rest of the world.” Some hope of that happening then, if they can get away with it!
And their radical new rule for 2010, there is just the one and only rule change for the 2010 finals and this regards penalty kicks. The new rules state that once a player starts his run towards the ball he cannot stop and feign and then start his run again. To do so will now result in a yellow card and if a goal is scored, the kick shall have to be retaken. Whether or not the officials shall abide by the rules and stop goalkeepers encroaching towards the penalty taker before the ball is kicked, rather than moving side to side on their goal line remains to be seen.
Few pundits seem convinced that South Africa 2010 will be a classic world cup. Played in their winter months, with sky high prices for flights and hotels and poor transportation links between stadiums and cities for the finals, the response has been poor regarding a mass fan exodus to South Africa to watch the games. Not much enthusiasm has been shown around the Costa Blanca in the build up to the Tournament either. The most exciting news recently was about a Chinese group being nabbed by Guardia Civil for manufacturing fake supporters goods! Tom O’Brian from Torrevieja’s Lounge Bar shall be showing all of the games on his big screen but with just England qualifying from the home nations and a maximum of eight games that they can feature in, he did not see the World Cup being a massive money maker for local bars.
Maybe it’s the crisis but with just a handful of days to go before kick off, there seems to be little in the way of excitement and anticipation for this year’s event. With Spain and Brazil heading the odds as favourites, and England with an outside chance, maybe local fans shall have something to cheer about and pub owners and TV sellers shall enjoy a bumper month of World Cup football.