Alex takes on the important question of why the World Cup has been crap so far. Or, if you want to stick to a proposition that's not debatable, why we've seen so few goals -- just 23 in 14 games, a clear drop-off from previous Cups.
I agree it would have been better to have had Croatia for Slovenia, the Czechs for Slovakia, the Russians for Greece, and anyone for Denmark -- whose utter lack of anything resembling goal-scoring ambition against Holland I had the misfortune to watch live Monday. But that doesn't explain disappointing performances by the Dutch themselves, Portugal, Ivory Coast, France (yes, I expected a goal or two against Uruguay) and even Brazil, who for 55 minutes couldn't get off the mark against North Korea. Not to mention the across-the-board goal drought: North Korea has been the only losing team to score so far. Things got so bad during yesterday's highly-anticipated but underwhelming Portugal/Ivory-Coast clash that my usually cool-headed German friend could control himself no longer. "Fuck you!" he shouted at an Ivorian defender who had misplaced yet another pass. "People pay money to watch this bullshit." (The German accent made it funnier.)
So anyway, what's going on? I have no great theory, but I thought I'd throw out a few other possible explanations...
- Injuries: Ivory Coast was always going to disappoint without Drogba, and he played only 25 minutes yesterday after breaking his arm in a warm-up match last week. Other attacking players missing: Essien from Ghana, Robben from Holland, Ballack from Germany -- I've probably missed a few others.
- The long season: Club seasons -- especially in England and Italy, where many of the top players play -- are longer, and more packed with games from various competitions, than ever. That means even the players who are fit to take the field in South Africa aren't on top form, leading to dour, defensive contests.
- A lack of motivation: As club football becomes more and more popular and lucrative, it becomes a greater and greater priority for players. Increasingly, we see players like Paul Scholes and Edwin Van Der Saar ruling themselves out of international football, so as to lengthen their club careers. The players who do play -- especially the big stars who've already made it -- may simply not care as much about international success as they once did, leading them to hold something back on the pitch.
- The Jabalani ball: The point of the new, lighter ball seems to have been to increase scoring, since it can bend unpredictably in flight, causing problems for goalies. But did the effort backfire? Shots have been flying yards over the crossbar, crosses have been over-hit, and long cross-field passes have frequently bounced over their intended targets.
- The vuvuzelas: Players have been complaining that the controversial horns have made on-field communication impossible. At most competitive football games, there's an almost constant stream of chatter on the pitch, as players call for the ball, direct their team-mates to make runs, and so on. Thanks to the vuvuzelas, there appears to have been less of that, at least in some games.
If we're going to look on the bright side: In 06, the group games were excellent, the knockout stage disappointing. Let's hope things are reversed this time