South Africa - The Good, The Bad And The Dutch
By Jim Bonner
Updated Monday, 12th July 2010
Neville Dalton's thoughts on the World Cup.
Neville Dalton is a journalist and a
So the little interlude is over. Now we can get back to the main event - the new domestic football season.
And for most of us it means a shift of focus from recent years, back to a league with which most of us over-12s are more familiar with - the second tier, currently euphemistically labelled The Championship.
After the antics of the World Cup - not least the final - I wonder whether most of us are sad or relieved that we are no longer part of the self-styled greatest league in the world.
To be honest, I'd much rather we were still in the Premier League, although I've made the case for a refreshing change of scenery before in these columns.
But in the real world, I am, as I suspect many of you are, more concerned that we survive as a football team and emerge from this financial hell with our precious club intact and with a decent future.
Where we play our football is rather a secondary concern.
But just before I look ahead to that prospect, in my next column, I want to take a quick peek back at the close-season tourney that filled the gap.
The winners - Congratulations to
I would have preferred the third-place play-off as a final, because it featured probably the two best, most fluent attack-minded teams of the tournament.
They have perfected the counter-attacking game much as Manchester United did in the Premier League for much of the Noughties, and indeed not that dissimilarly from the way Pompey played it when the likes of Paul Merson and Svetoslav Todorov were pulling the strings in our promotion year.
He was my player of the tournament and would certainly be number one on my wish list if pitiful Pompey suddenly won every country's lottery jackpot, with Wesley Sneijder not far behind.
Other "winners" for me were
Whether the country as a whole will enjoy lasting benefits remains to be seen.
The losers - The
I had seen little of the Dutch during the tournament, so I was far more surprised by their approach to the final match than I could ever have envisaged of a side following in the footsteps of the great footballing
Then there's Howard Webb. I didn't think he had a particularly bad match, although one or two of his decisions failed to stand up to the closest scrutiny, not least his decision to award a goal-kick rather than corner when a Dutch free-kick cannoned off the Spanish wall.
No, he was a loser because he inherited a match he just could not win. It was the World Cup final - the pinnacle of his career. His emotions before the game must have been a mixture of incredible nervousness and determination not to spoil the global showpiece.
But after the Dutch start, he was caught in no man's land, damned if he did and damned if he didn't.
It seemed to me that each of his early yellow cards was correct, and should have had the effect of calming things down.
That it did not was down to the
Many argue that Nigel de Jong should have been sent off for his high challenge on Xavi Alonso, but watching the incident at normal speed and seeing De Jong's apparent focus only on the ball, I wondered whether Webb was just giving him the benefit of the doubt with regard to intention.
His mistake, in my opinion, was in not calling together the two captains at this stage and warning them that he would not tolerate any more over-aggressive play.
It may have calmed down both teams, and if it did not, at least subsequent perpetrators could have had no complaints at seeing red.
Had that happened, though, I honestly fear there would have been a danger of so many players being sent off that the final would have had to be abandoned.
And what would they have made of Webb then?
Other failures - France, obviously, not least for the players believing they were bigger than the team, not to mention their contempt for their own fans; Italy, for an embarrassingly early exit for a traditionally high-achieving nation; and, inevitably, England.
I've gone over their problems in previous articles, so suffice to say that I genuinely welcome the FA's decision to retain a coach who has a good record, and fervently hope he starts with a blank canvas for the European Championships, despite an apparent dearth of talent coming through.
I believe we have no chance of winning the tournament, but should give young players, such as Adam Johnson, Theo Walcott and Joe Hart the opportunity to establish themselves as the core of our next generation - maybe giving Capello the chance to experiment with some other variations of the formation to which he is so dedicated.
Also on the hit-list - that bloody Jabulani ball. I don't know what it is about it, but it clearly doesn't travel as experienced professional footballers expect it to.
Goalkeepers were deceived by its flight; outfield players found it hard to judge how to strike it, even from free-kicks - and how many forwards failed to get a proper connection from crosses?
No, Fifa, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
How about the Pompey boys?
I wrote before the tournament that I did not expect much of an impact from any players with Pompey connections.
Largely, that was probably correct. Nadir Belhadj and Hassan Yebda performed much as they did for Pompey, Belhadj in particular causing the opposition problems with his attacking thrust.
But their overall impact was not significant in the context of the whole tournament.
Kanu played hardly at all, although by all accounts provided a decent cameo against
David James might have escaped the level of censure that most of his
He was OK, but not the Jamo that has lit up
John Utaka was a bench-warmer, and although Aaron Mokoena did a decent job for
Jermain Defoe scored an opportunist goal but did little else in his limited pitch time; Peter Crouch was shunned by Capello in favour of that solid, reliable, quick-footed footballer Emile Heskey, and Glen Johnson's normal confident approach evaporated dramatically after a reasonably impressive opening match against the
The one big winner for me - and hopefully, for Pompey, too, in terms of his transfer fee - was Kevin-Prince Boateng, who I thought played consistently well in a decent Ghana team, belying his lack of experience at international level with some assured performances in an attacking midfield role that caught the eye.
I thought he outshone Sulley Muntari, and while our precarious financial position means Boateng will never fetch anywhere near the same sort of transfer fee that we got for Muntari, I hope he will prove to be Pompey's main source of income as we try to stave off the prospect of liquidation.