FIFA World Cup Review – Europe
In the last of Stoppage Time’s continental reviews we look back at the varying fortunes of the thirteen European teams that competed in the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
With the exceptions of Brazil and Argentina, most people’s predictions before the World Cup tended to centre on teams such as England, Germany or Italy but it was to be two nations that had never previously won the competition who were to reach the final. Spain, a very popular choice of team due to their 2008 UEFA European Championship success, would face off against two-time finalists Holland in a game which, as most finals do, tended to disappoint but did at least have the justice of seeing the right team win the game.
But more on the final later. In the group stages the biggest disappointments were unquestionably Italy, France and England. In the case of Italy and France it was difficult to believe that these two nations competed in the most recent World Cup final in 2006 such was the depths to which team had sank during this tournament. They both finished bottom in groups which, on paper, seemed amongst the kindest in terms of difficulty. England, on the other hand, did manage to make it through the group stage but even the most hardcore England fan knows that they were poor in their first two games, scraped past Slovenia in the final group match before going out to a classic Germany performance in the round of sixteen. Even arguments over Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal cannot escape the fact that the Germans were the better team.
After the group stage had been completed seven of the thirteen European nations had failed to qualify for the round of sixteen. As well as Italy and France, the countries who feel that they should’ve done better in the group stage were Denmark (third behind Holland and Japan), Switzerland (finished third after defeating Spain in their first group game), Serbia (who admittedly suffered some bad luck against Australia) and Slovenia (lost out when USA beat Algeria) whilst Greece would’ve been happy just to score a goal, let alone win a game, before the competition kicked off after their one and only previous appearance in 1994 saw them goalless and pointless. In the event they did finally score their first World Cup goal in their second match against Nigeria in which they also chalked up their first victory. Alas they lost to Argentina in their final game and failed to progress any further.
The round of sixteen saw England, Portugal and Slovakia say goodbye although in the case of Slovakia they did have many good chances to beat the Netherlands before suffering a 2-1 reverse at the hands of the Oranje. The quarter-finals saw previous talk about South American dominance turn to European dominance as Spain, Netherlands and Germany all made it through with victories over Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina respectively. The semi-finals saw Spain reassert their style of play over a Germany team who were perhaps weighed down with expectation after two earlier against England and Argentina. Despite the dominance of possession and territory for the Spanish it took until the 73rd minute for Carles Puyol to head home the only goal of the game to gift the Spain a place in their first ever FIFA World Cup whilst the Netherlands got the better of Uruguay with a 3-2 win securing their third World Cup final appearance.
So the only certainty about the FIFA World Cup final would be that it would create a first time champion. Many neutrals before the game saw it as a breath of fresh air that none of the previous winners had reached the final for, in theory, this should’ve provided the motivation for two hungry teams to go out and secure their place in the history books. Sadly the game as a spectacle failed to live up to expectations but that has happened on so many occasions. Much of the post-match reaction centred upon English referee Howard Webb who dished out a World Cup final record 14 yellow cards and one red card in a game which saw many tough challenges (how Nigel de Jong didn’t go for his lunge on Xabi Alonso is a mystery) and a controversial moment at the end where, just before Andrés Iniesta’s 116th minute winning goal, a Wesley Sneijder free-kick was deflected by a Spanish player and should’ve been a corner but Webb gave the goal kick for Spain instead. With this incident leading up to the goal the Dutch were understandably furious but even allowing for this incident the Spanish had the more positive approach and were deserved winners. Spain became the third nation in history to win the UEFA European Championship and FIFA World Cup double after West Germany (EC 1972, WC 1974) and France (WC 1998, EC 2000) and ensured that Europe overtakes South America in World Cup wins with a 10-9 lead.