Friday, June 25, 2010

World Cup Myths...Exploded!

It's funny how a lot of journalists become even lazier when they report on the World Cup Finals. Then again we all shouldn't be so surprised when they've had six months or so to bone up on the players and still we get BBC match commentators mangling names (it's "Kay-soo-kay" Honda not "Ka-zoo-key" Honda).

Speaking of bones, those of contention are World Cup soccer myths journalists seem intent on perpetrating every four years.

Myth #1
Italy "Always" Start Off Slow

Now, I believe this myth can be traced back to 1982. This is because Italy did start off very slow with three draws in its group stage and barely qualified for the 2nd round by the fingertips of Dino Zoff's hands. The fact that they Paolo Rossi-ed their way to the 1982 title and also shocked the world by knocking off the in-form and magical 1982 Brazil squad cemented this so-called "fact" that Italy starts any World Cup Finals slow. This all follows with reams and reams of cybertext and on-air babbling about how we should all watch out for Italy as they "always" start off slow at these tournaments.

Well, since 1982, Italy has started off four of the seven World Cup Finals campaigns that have followed with a win in its opening game. Their records in these "first" group games is 3W 3D 1L. In its second game of those seven campaigns they have exactly the same record.

So, in simple terms, in those 14 World Cup games they have lost exactly twice since 1982.

Three of those campaigns ('90, '98 & '06) they got 4 or 6 points from their first two matches, topped their group and ended up going to a semi-final ('90), a quarter-final ('98) and won it all ('06).

A better argument about Italy's chances is to look at their top strikers. The 2010 version of Italy really had no world-class striker. When Italy does well they have a striker who can get them that vital goal when needed (Angelo Schiavio and Raimundo Orsi '34, Silvio Piola '38, Luigi Riva '70, Paolo Rossi '82, Toto Schillaci '90, and Roberto Baggio '94). Only in 2006 did they really not have striker of true quality as Luca Toni is, frankly, not going to go down in the annals of Italian soccer as anything other than being tall.

Myth #3
Cameroon Are Africa's Best Shot
This was established in 1990 after they became the first African team to get past the group stage and managed to make it to the quarter-finals before losing to a Gary Lineker-led England.
Since then Cameroon have consistently qualified for the World Cup Finals and only missed out in 2006.
Their record at these four World Cup Finals since that glorious run in 1990 has been:
1W 4D 6L
9 GF 24 GA
Their lone win came in 2002 1-0 vs. the world soccer "powerhouse" of Saudi Arabia.

So, let's just say, Roger Milla might be more right than Samuel Eto'o in his assessment of the Cameroon national team.

Since 1990, Nigeria in '94 and '98 went through to the knockout stages and now Ghana in '06 and '10 have done the same. Let's just put it this way, soccer goes in cycles nation to nation. Just don't expect Cameroon, as cool as their uniforms look, to be the flag bearer of Africa's faint World Cup hopes.

Myth #3
Germans Play Like Robots
Well, if this is how robots play, let's get more robots into the World Cup as at least we'll see goals, come-from-behind wins, huge upsets and controversy. In other words we won't be bored to death by unimaginative and uncreative England.

Call the Germans "ruthlessly efficient" but I'll take the 1970 semi-final extra time thrilling 4-3 loss to Italy (arguably greater than the much ballyhooed 4-1 Brazil win over Italy in the Final) or even the now forgotten (except in Austria) match where the Germans got Krankl-ed 3-2 by their neighbors in 1978.

Every decade sees at least two to three classic matches involving Germany (and don't forget they were only "half a Germany" as West Germany up to 1998!) at the World Cup Finals. In 1982 there was the Soccer Anschluss vs. Austria and the Toni Schumacher Micahel Peca-like hit on Patrick Battiston in yet another wild semi-final. In 1986, for my money, the best World Cup Final ever with a come back from 0-2 down only to lose 3-2 thanks to a magical pass from Diego Maradona to free Jorge Burruchaga for the Argentinian winning goal.

Even in the very poor 1990 Finals, the Germans were the lone bright spot blitzing through their first two matches with 9 GF and 2 GA. The round-of-16 2-1 win over Holland with the spit heard all across Europe was again a match for the ages. Then there was the semi-final that brought Gazza to tears.

Although 1994 would be a failure by German standards they played three thrillers: the Jurgen Klinsmann show in the 3-2 group stage win over South Korea featuring, a 3-2 round-of-16 win over Belgium and the huge Letchkov-ian 2-1 upset of the Germans by Bulgaria in the quarter-finals.

I won't even mention 1998 other than Davor Suker really put the nail in a dull German team that year.

In 2002 goalkeeper Oliver Kahn became a cult hero in both Germany and host nation Japan but other than smoking Saudi Arabia 8-0 the fact that a goalkeeper was their star pretty much sums up the entertainment value of Germany that year.

As hosts in 2006 they impressed in the group stages despite many German fans belief this team was not good enough for prime time. It showed in the knockout stage as they struggled to score. So although making the semi-finals, lost quite as expected lost in extra time 2-1 to Italy.

Basically, the English-language media (meaning the English tabloids) hate the fact that the Germans, of all possible nations, are better at the English national sport (you mean whining about anything and everything isn't their national sport?).

All I know, you watch a German match, since 1982 when England finally returned to the World Cup Finals, and you'll see an average of 2.68 goals per match. You'll fall asleep watching England's attempt to out-Italian teams as their matches average just 1.82 goals per match. I don't know about you but I'll take German robots over the blood and guts thunder of the humans that play for England.

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