Swiss breathe much-needed life into World Cup
Who would have thought it would fall to Switzerland to rescue the World Cup from drowning in a sea of tedium?
Until the nation that voted against giving itself an extra day’s public holiday stunned European champions Spain 1-0 in Durban on Wednesday, the first week of the World Cup had been desperately disappointing.
It seems like sacrilege to say it, particularly as some of us have the privilege of watching much of it live, but the sad truth is that it has been boring.
Tentative, cagey, tactical, solid, cautious, safe – but most of all, boring.
This is the culmination of years of hard work. For many players and managers it will be the only time they ever appear in the World Cup finals.
Of course no team owes it to the public to deliver entertaining football and every fan would take a boring win over an entertaining defeat.
But until the highly entertaining Spain v Switzerland game, how many moments of pure out-of-the-seat excitement have there been?
South Africa’s opening goal and last gasp shot against the post, New Zealand’s stoppage-time equaliser against Slovakia, Maicon’s brilliant finish for Brazil and maybe North Korea’s shock consolation goal against them were the sum total from the 15 previous matches.
Too many teams have played with a total fear of failure, desperate to avoid a first-game defeat and trusting to luck that they will find a way through somewhere down the line.
The only truly entertaining matches so far were the first, when Mexico went all out for goals against South Africa before the host nation snapped out of it and contributed plenty to a 1-1 draw, and the last, when Switzerland absorbed all Spain could offer then caught them cold.
Germany looked very businesslike in sweeping aside Australia 4-0 while North Korea’s battling defence against Brazil in their 2-1 defeat also at least raised some interest.
Many teams, of course, will be highly delighted with their first-round draws. Paraguay, against Italy, Uruguay against France and the United States against England all did exactly what they set out to do and have a point in the bag and easier-looking games to come – fair enough.
Switzerland were following the same route but managed to go one better and pull off the surprise win that might kickstart the tournament.
Others, however, might well come to rue their reluctance to commit players to attack.
With Brazil in their group, Portugal and Ivory Coast’s meeting seemed a virtual knockout decider for second place yet neither side were prepared to take a risk.
The same applied in the Serbia v Ghana game – decided eventually by a freak penalty – while Algeria and Slovenia both packed their defences with Slovenia eventually gifted the win.
Technically it has been poor too. While the much-lamented “beach” ball chosen for the tournament looks to have ruled out many long-range goals, the general standard of control and passing, on some excellent surfaces, has been bad.
France, Italy, England, Denmark, Serbia, Portugal and Nigeria, all containing world class players and usually capable of accurate and incisive passing, were all among the guilty parties as the first 16 matches produced an average of just over 1.5 goals per game.
World Cups often take a while to catch fire and previous tournaments are littered by champions who started slowly and built momentum.
There are sure to be fireworks aplenty ahead but when they come to write the history of this one they can start at chapter two.
PHOTO: Switzerland’s fans hold a national flag and banners as they celebrate after their win against Spain at the end of a 2010 World Cup Group H match at Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban June 16, 2010. REUTERS/Paul Hanna