World Cup Comes To A Close

So, two more games to go and that’s it until 2014 in Brazil.
Many, many were doubtful that South Africa could pull it off. Too little infrastructure, too much crime they said. Overall the tournament has been a success. There have been problems. Too many empty spaces that could have been taken up by young South Africans without the money to buy the tickets which are astronomically priced in comparison to local wages for most. For those that have a job that is in a country with extremely high unemployment and underemployment.
There have been glitches with transport too, both locally and inter-city. The story about fans being turned back from Durban Airport because of VIP private jets blocking the parking areas is typical of the priorities of FIFA and, under pressure from the organisers, host nations and cities.
On the field the officiating has been patchy, although improved from previous World Cups. The teams haven’t thrown up any classic contests for the ages but there’s been more than enough for me to enjoy at any rate. I do find the diving, time-wasting and gamesmanship that can creep in all too frequently and which officials are not clamping down on very irritating. One of my pet hates is players trying to get an opponent cautioned or dismissed by waving an imaginary card.
The officials really are caught in the middle. It’s not stylish as a football fan to feel much sympathy or empathy with officials. I have to say I do have both. They’re burdened down with dictates from on high. When they start implementing these directives they’re roundly traduced by all for “wrecking the game” with too many cautions and dismissals.
Here we’ve seen the “Respect” campaign, the Premier League’s version of which is “Get On With The Game!” It temporarily improved behaviour for a while but it’s slipped back again. We don’t want automaton robo-officials who don’t communicate with players. Nor do we want players dismissed simply for industrial language. NO player other than the captain of each side should ever question a referee’s decision and the skipper should only ask what’s been given and why. End of conversation.
Anything else should be an automatic caution and if severe enough immediate dismissal. Yes a few games would descend into farce if three or four players were dismissed. If the authorities had the stones to back up the officials the constant under-current of near anarchy that can reign on the pitch at times would soon be a thing of the past.
In return the officials should be prepared to put their hands up and admit when they’ve got it wrong. That transparency and honesty, if replicated by the players would quickly transform the game. I’m certain it wouldn’t take long.
Meanwhile FIFA and the International Football Association Board (the game’s playing law-makers) should have a sensible, grown-up, independently analysed series of experiments with the use of goal-line and video technology with a published report that can be debated by the whole game – players, managers and coaches, match officials, administrators and fans – before introducing any permanent changes.
Having only watched Europa League games on television I shall be interested to see how having two additional assistant referees on the goal-lines works in person at this coming season’s Champions League games. My instinct is that it has to help having an extra pair of eyes on the wrestling match that all too often breaks in the penalty box out at corners and set-pieces these days.
There has to be serious consideration about how having additional officials in top professional leagues would affect the game lower down, but this isn’t a consideration for continental and international competitions like the UEFA Champions League, the European Championship and World Cup.
Meanwhile Brazil has to learn the lessons of South Africa. The Durban airport fiasco before the Germany v Spain semi-final has to be avoided in Brazil where many fans will travel between the host cities by air. Distances are even bigger than in South Africa. Brazil is the world’s fifth biggest country. Its air transport infrastructure is already struggling to beat normal demand. The World Cup will place upon it an even greater strain. There are also real problems with stadia development and refurbishment.
In São Paulo there are massive problems, along with some other selected host cities. This is odd as Brazil is, relatively; much better off than South Africa. Indisputably Brazil deserves a World Cup for its achievements on the field. The game there is cursed with corrupt and inefficient administrators however. The game succeeds despite them rather than because of them. A bit like Italy, although the wheels really came off for them at this World Cup.
Still this World Cup, the first on African soil, will be consigned to the football history books come Sunday night. A new name will be on the trophy. Those of us who follow the international game can then turn our attentions back to all things Arsenal, whilst looking forward to another world football party in South America in four years time.
Keep the faith!

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