It’s only five days into the 2010 World Cup and the critics are already taking digs at the tournament. And most of those criticizing the World Cup are soccer lovers, not haters.
I’ve had the good fortune to watch each game live on TV and while I agree that the games have not been very exciting, my response is this: Come on, get a grip. With so much on the line for each country, the team’s have been playing quite conservatively as they try to feel each opponent out.
I can’t remember when the last World Cup had a sensational first round. In 2006, it was perhaps even more boring because most teams employed a 4-5-1 formation that forced the game to gridlock in midfield. Formation wise, this tournament isn’t as negative as that one, but the goals have hardly flourished. And that’s a good thing.
The vast majority of matches have been very close with two teams battling through the 90 minutes hoping for a win. New Zealand grabbing a late equalizer against Slovakia. North Korea pulling a goal back to make the last 10 minutes of the game against Brazil an uneasy experience for fans of the yellow and green. The list goes on and on. You can look at every match except for Germany versus Australia and South Korea against Greece, and mark them all as very close encounters.
With the games being so close, the balls haven’t found the back of the net. But I expect that the second games in each of the first round groups will open things up as teams are forced to be more desperate in search of a win. Mexico knows it has to push forward to beat France. Italy needs to score a few goals against New Zealand on Sunday to go into the third game comfortably. Ivory Coast needs to attack Brazil. And so forth.
As for England and the United States, it’s a different story. I feel sorry for Algeria because I believe England will unleash the pent-up pressure that’s on their shoulders by scoring several goals to get the monkeys off their back. With the United States, however, it’s going to be a very close game against Slovenia. The USA doesn’t do well against Eastern European teams in the World Cup and they’ll have a tough time breaking down the very organized Slovenian side especially considering the fact that the US is weak up front. Yes, I believe the US will make it through to the next round, but Friday is going to be no walk in the park. We’ll see what the real United States side is like on Friday.
That leads me to another argument why the first round games have been uneventful thus far. The pressure. The game between USA and England was so full of hype both on and off the field that the footballers played so nervously and couldn’t perform to their abilities under the intense scrutiny of the world that was watching. The same goes for many of the other nations who have looked lackluster in the opening round. Almost all of the players look like they’re suffering under the pressure and are afraid to try something special in case they make a mistake.
So my answer to the critics regarding how underwhelming the World Cup games have been thus far is this: It’s early. Give the teams and players a chance to settle down first and the goals will come, as will the talent and excitement that we so crave. The World Cup is a marathon, not a sprint. Teams are pacing themselves for qualification from the opening round. Don’t expect miracles. Not quite yet, at least.