In England the inquiry into our disappointing World Cup campaign has only just begun, although hopefully the announcement that Fabio Capello will remain as manager will add some stability to proceedings. I was critical of Capello in my last blog, but if his presence can dampen the current mood of national self-flagellation it can only be for the good.
On a brighter note, teenagers in Cornwall have criticised the county council for removing goalposts from public pitches during the World Cup. Cornwall Council has its reasons, but as Saltash teenager Tom Davy said ‘The kids want to play football’. I don’t want to get involved in this dispute, and the players can always use ‘jumpers for goalposts’, but it is encouraging that these youngsters feel so strongly about going outside to play football and emulate their heroes.
Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez controversially punched the ball off the line in the last minute of the World Cup quarter final between Uruguay and Ghana, preventing a certain goal being scored. Suarez added fuel to the fire by declaring, ‘I made the save of tournament’ and referring to Diego Maradona’s infamous goal against England in 1986, ‘The hand of God now belongs to me’. The Ghanaian sports minister has suggested football’s governing body FIFA change the rules to award a ‘penalty goal’ when a professional foul is committed which directly prevents a goal.
The Ghanaian argument is that if a ‘penalty goal’ had been awarded, Ghana would have won the match they lost last Friday. This proposal seems totally contrary to the spirit of football, however. Firstly, politicians and national governments should keep out of football, and allow the football authorities to run the game. Secondly, professional fouls are part of the game. Suarez punched the ball off the line, was sent off by the referee, banned from the next game and Ghana were awarded a penalty. The fact that Ghana missed the penalty which would have won the match is all part of the beautiful game.
Debates about handball and sportsmanship have played a large part in the current World Cup campaign, from Thierry Henry in the qualifying play-off against Ireland to Luis Suarez in the quarter-final, and I am organising a discussion on this subject at the Battle of Ideas festival in October. The more these controversial events occur, the more I feel that sportsmanship or the lack of it, is integral to the sport and should be treated as such. The resulting drama only adds to the proceedings, and as they say ‘hard cases make bad law’. Even if in the case of Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal against Germany it is very hard to stomach.
WORLD CUP FINAL
The last week has seen the remaining European teams assert their dominance on the world stage. The self-destruction of the Brazilian team after they conceded two goals to the Dutch had to be seen to be believed. The final between Spain and the Netherlands will result in a new name on the Jules Rimet trophy for the first time since France in 1998.
Admiring the quality of play in the semi-final between Spain and Germany, I realise that barring an act of god, it will be many years and require a complete change of footballing culture before England can hope to produce 11 players who look this comfortable in possession of a football.