World Cup a triumph for Africa, not for game

JOHANNESBURG - Africa's first World Cup, which ended on Sunday with Spain winning the trophy, closed as a triumph for the continent but not for the game which fizzled but failed to ignite at the 31-day tournament.

Superb modern stadiums, huge enthusiasm from the crowds and the total demise of the doom-mongers' dire predictions of a tournament wrecked by inefficient organisation and violent crime put a feather in the cap of Africa in general and of South Africa in particular.

But, unfortunately for the three million who turned up at the stadiums and the billions who watched on television, the tournament never really took off where it mattered - on the pitch.

A dearth of goals, the basic fodder on which fans feed, some bitterly cold weather at the first winter World Cup in 32 years, a lack of truly memorable encounters and a shortage of star performers all contributed to a World Cup which left more than a tinge of disappointment.

The final between Spain and Netherlands somehow compounded the frustration for fans. A solitary goal four minutes from the end of extra time after a physical battle with 13 yellow cards and one red was hardly the stuff of dreams.

The goal shortage was the worst aspect. The tournament started with a miserly 28 goals in the first 17 games and never really recovered, finishing with 145 in 64, an average of 2.27 per game, the second worst ever after 2.21 in Italy in 1990.

The unpredictable flight of the Jabulani ball and its unhelpful tendency to soar high into the air when struck with any kind of power may have been one factor.

FEAR FACTOR

The fear factor was certainly another. In the early matches, teams seemed more anxious to secure their defensive lines than to breach their opponents' and draws were prevalent - six in the first 13 games.

Then there was the startling failure of the sport's big names to impose themselves at what should have been their showpiece event.

Who would ever have dreamt that Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney, Fernando Torres and Kaka would fail to score a single goal between them? Or that Didier Drogba and Cristiano Ronaldo would do no better than one each?

Tiredness at the end of a long season? The weight of huge expectations? Too little time to recuperate from injuries?

In the end it was just a mystery. Not so much a whodunnit, more of a who didn't do it.

The winter weather was supposed to help the excitement. Players' energy would not be sapped by the summer sun, so the theory ran, and they would inject more pace and performance into the game.

Well, so much for that theory.

It was not just the big players who disappointed but the big teams. Italy and France came as reigning world champions and runners-up and made their exits in the group stage without winning a game between them.

England did little better, squeezing out of probably the weakest group with just a single victory - a modest 1-0 win over Slovenia - and then getting thrashed 4-1 by the Germans.

TITLE CREDENTIALS

The South Americans flattered in the early games, especially Argentina a