Nostalgia always places tournaments in a better light but South Africa 2010 already feels a World Cup to forget.
Sunday’s final certainly was with only one team looking to win it and the other riding its luck and trying to grab something on a counter attack. With Sneijder in the middle it was all very reminiscent of the Barca-Inter Champions League semi-final: that too was incredibly dull, the only difference this time being the Spaniards managed to find a winner. Holland never looked like a flowing team at any point throughout the campaign and part of that was down to Van Persie. Our man will never be able to ‘boss’ a defence on his own and his one-footedness must make him far easier to mark than someone capable of going either way.
Efficient, not exciting Espana
Had the Dutch upped their performance another level in the final they could have justifiably argued they were the competition’s best team. Instead it was left to Spain to pick up that crown, but even they were more a model of efficiency than excitement. In fact, at times watching Spain in this tournament was downright boring: like Barca in that semi-final, the two- or three-touch passing became so predictable and ineffective it was embarrassing. Compare that to the Euro 2008 model with Silva’s flicks and tricks, Torres and Villa both terrorising defences and Cesc and Xavi playing at pace and the lower quality of this World Cup seems clear.
This year Xavi has looked slower in thought and foot and, in tandem with the equally infuriating Busquets, seemed more concerned with harassing referees than playing his usual game.
As for the rest of the competition, it appears the refereeing/video technology debate will probably be its most significant feature. It certainly won’t be remembered for attacking, free-scoring football. Why, I don’t know – the ball certainly seemed to be lighter and ‘springier’ than you would want, the atmosphere within the ground was very unusual with no crowd noise audible to encourage teams but perhaps it was just bad coincidence. It would have made a difference had the world’s best players shown anything like their top form but, mainly due to injury and possibly fatigue, it didn’t happen.
What is the impact on the Arse?
Well, 4-3-3 or 4-1-3-1 seems to be the standard formation for teams in the modern era and there was little evidence displayed in South Africa to support Wenger changing it (regardless of whatever concerns about fitting square pegs in round holes and its suitability for a Premiership season). Technically speaking, it is the speed of the play and the importance of one-touch passing that for me is the key factor – without that element of surprise you turn into the predictable Spain moving the ball from side to side and getting nowhere.
For our personnel it was a mixed bag. Theo has managed to improve his reputation by being kept at home, anyone with any French connections is probably in danger of never playing for their country again and Vela was as average as feared. Up front, Van Persie only scored a single goal and looked out-of-sorts while Bendtner came away in credit for putting in some good shifts while injured. The biggest winner is, unsurprisingly, Cesc – his cameo role in the final, combined with similarly impressive performances in 2008, have probably already confirmed his place as a Spain living legend. He said some encouraging things after the final about the Arse and it would be nice to have a World Cup-winning captain for a few more seasons but I suspect the deal is already effectively in place for him to leave next summer.
Scouting – the players are out there, Arsene
I won’t bore you with a full rundown of the players I was keeping an eye on but some are worthy of comment.
Stekelenburg is now probably out of the price range that Wenger will ever pay for a keeper but for my money looked the best No 1 in South Africa and seemed assured enough to be the Dutch first choice for a few competitions to come. The other keepers, Handanovic and Benaglio both looked OK but liable to make a clanger at some stage.
In defence, Mertersacker and Friedrich looked very strong. Considering the latter was available on a free before McLaren recruited him at Wolfsburg, I think we missed out on recruiting an experienced out-and-out defender who looked likely to give you seven or eight out of ten every week. Mertersacker also impressed but did look likely to be exposed by pace.
Annan of Ghana looked like an Arsenal player – very tidy in possession, calm and small. With Song being a fixture in the holding role we don’t really need him. More likely to be of benefit is Switzerland’s Inler. Even though he was surrounded by dross, he stood out as someone willing to put his body on the line for his team. Compare this to Melo who veered between sure-footed defensive midfield play and rushes of blood, the worst of which lost his team a place in the semi-final. Michael Bradley looked like he has potential but is probably only ever Europa League standard (he would do very well at Everton, for example) and Jeremy Toulalan looked an effective firefighter but nothing ever appeared as it should with that France team.
As for other players that would be welcome additions, my first choice would be Germany’s Khedira – a good mix of physicality, awareness and energy, he would bring a new dimension to our midfield. Afellay showed flashes of class and will probably become a star; from the glimpses I saw, Germany’s reserve left back Aogo bore a striking resemblance to Cashley Hole when we used to like him and some of the Ghanians (Jonathan Mensah, Amoah) stood out.
That I struggle to pick any others is an apt reflection for the tournament as a whole.