Durban: Let’s take a look at the 16 teams that couldn`t be there for the knockout rounds of the FIFA World Cup 2010. All the teams and players highlighted below are definitely losers, having being evicted early from proceedings in South Africa.
As Tom Petty once sang, “even the losers get lucky sometime.”
But, as Mr. Petty promised, they are indeed about to get lucky — if their definition of lucky is to get an award that may or may not be complimentary, that is.
Best goal: Fabio Quagliarella (Italy v. Slovakia)
The Italian narrowly edges out Siphiwe Tshabalala’s opening day strike against Mexico, which got the tournament off to the best possible start.
But the Napoli man’s 25-yard driven lob steals it, despite its ultimate irrelevance, for it`s undeniable quality.
To think about trying that shot, never mind to attempt it — never mind actually score it — showed quality of the highest order. Shame Italy couldn`t show more of that during their campaign.
Worst blunder: Zdravko Kuzmanovic (Serbia v. Ghana)
The Stuttgart man proved himself a pillock of the highest order when he — after only just coming on as a substitute — handled the ball inside the box under no direct pressure to hand Ghana all three points in the two countries` opening game.
Despite going on to beat Germany, the dark horses never fully recovered and their tournament effectively died because of that unfathomable error.
Best random act of violence: Sani Kaita (Nigeria v. Greece)
The midfielder catered his country’s World Cup downfall with an inexplicable moment of madness in the first half of the game against Greece.
Already 1-0 up, Kaita’s push and kick on the undeserving Vassilis Torosidis earned him his marching orders, and changed the face of the game — and his country’s tournament.
Nigeria went on to lose the game, and their subsequent failure to beat South Korea in their final game ensured they went home early.
Best managerial decision: Raymond Domenech (any of them)
Let`s be fair, any time you almost manage to oversee your side almost refusing to play a World Cup game, it`s probably a fair bet that you`ve made that more than one or two major mistakes.
Really, if you think about it, it would be unfair on a writer like me to have to single one out for particular abuse.
Best manager: Ricki Herberts (New Zealand)
Widely expected to be the tournament’s whipping boys, the All Whites — complete with a number of amateurs who have full-time jobs as bankers and the like — proved themselves to be a disciplined and effective unit who did themselves and their country proud (unlike the bankers of many countries in recent times, ironically).
Never beaten, they were just a bit of luck away from an astonishing second round appearance.
Worst manager: Raymond Domenech (France)
Edging out the equally mundane Paul le Guen (what is it with French managers?), Domenech steals the crown through the small matter of managing to inspire a full-on squad revolt.
The French agonised for months over whether Domenech should have been sacked before the tournament — they have their answer now.
Best hosts: South Africa
At least they will always win this award. Bafana Bafana might not have made it to the knockout rounds, the first time a host has made such a failure, but they acquited themselves and set up the remainder of the tournament to be an overwhelming success.
Worst defence of their title: Italy
Always pencilled in for this trophy, the Azzurri were even worse than many had feared. Patently showing their age in a number of positions, without the invention of Andrea Pirlo manager Marcello Lippi seemed unable to inspire any sort of quality from his side.
Draws with Paraguay and New Zealand were disappointing, defeat to Slovakia was tragic.
Worst miss: Yakubu (Nigeria v. South Korea)
The forward enjoys a decent reputation in English football, but he didn’t do his worldwide reputation any good with a glaring miss from all of three yards against South Korea in a game his side needed to win to progress.
In other circumstances, how the Nigerian managed to divert a well-weighted pass wide of the near post might have been mock celebrated. But in a World Cup, it was unforgivably bad.
Best Palacios brother: Wilson Palacios (Honduras)
Edging out Jerry — who looks just like a slightly older version of Wilson, which shouldn`t be surprising because that is exactly what he is — the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder grabs the crown thanks primarily to a fine display against Spain where he seemed to be everywhere in trying to frustrate the Europeans.
Honduras could do with eleven Palacioses, shame they had to make do with three.
Best acting: Kader Keita (Ivory Coast v. Brazil)
Played the Brazilians at their own game (remember Rivaldo in 2002?) in effective style, managing to get Kaka sent off for little more than putting his arm out to cushion against an accidental impact.
Just a shame that it was a particular pointless move, considering Ivory Coast would probably have quite liked Kaka to play in Brazil’s game against Portugal — which they rather needed the Selecao to win if they were to progress.
They didn’t, and the Africans are out. Good work, Keita.
Best results: New Zealand (v. Italy)
Only a man with the right combination of bravery and absolute foolishness would have genuinely predicted New Zealand to get anything from their game with the 2006 champions. But they could have even won it too, if the Italians hadn’t been handed a soft penalty.
A memorable game for the southern hemisphere side.
Best start: North Korea (v. Brazil)
Narrowly edging out Switzerland’s defeat of Spain (which might be more deserving because, y’know, they won), North Korea’s performance against Brazil was something of a joy to behold. No one quite knew what to expect ahead of the tournament, but they surprised with their work ethic and ability.
They worked diligently against the best side in the world, and were frustrating them successfully until finally beaten by a goal that may or may not have been deliberate.
The team’s subsequent demise was disappointing, but for a game at least they won the hearts and minds of a great number of people. And their goal against the Selecao was a memorable moment.
Worst start: Australia
The Socceroos were somewhat unlucky to come against a vibrant and prepared German side in the opening game, and went down 2-0 pretty quickly without doing too much wrong.
Then Tim Cahill was sent off for a soft challenge — not the first or last time a ridiculous refereeing decision was made in the group stages — and things went from bad to worst.
A 4-0 defeat left then firmly on the ropes, it’s a credit to the team that they almost (but only almost) got back up.
Best display of passion: Jong Tae-Se (North Korea v. Brazil)
The ‘Asian Wayne Rooney’ announced himself on the world stage not with his football (although that showed glimpses of real quality) but with his crying.
The young forward couldn’t contain his pride at playing in a World Cup for his country, and cried profusely the entire way through the anthem against Brazil.
For a nation that is looked on suspiciously by much of the world, it was a heart-warming moment, displaying more raw emotion than we will likely see until the tournament winner is finally crowned.
Worst luck: Slovenia
Swings and roundabouts it may be (they were very fortunate to win their opener against Algeria) but Slovenia’s tournament demise was very unfortunate.
Having held England to a 1-0 defeat, Matjaz Kek’s side were scraping through to the knockout rounds (a fantastic achievement) until Landon Donovan’s last-gasp goal knocked them out.
In one moment, the Slovenes say their glory ripped from them in the cruellest manner.
Best luck: Switzerland
How they beat Spain might puzzle scientists for years to come. But they did, even if it couldn’t help them through to the knockout stages.
Worst haircuts: Algeria
Every World Cup one country seems to embarrass itself with a ‘novel’ take on follicular fashion. This time it was Algeria, with some of the most outrageously bad hair-stylings seen this side of a Sascha Baron Cohen character.
What is worse, they couldn’t even back it up with any ability, losing two of their three games. Truly awful.
Best own goal: Poulsen/Agger (Denmark v. Netherlands)
Understandably neither man is particular keen to take the credit for what was a pretty amateur goal to concede.
Certainly left-back Simon Poulsen was the protagonist, somewhere contriving to head a simple cross back towards his own goal. From there, it clipped off the back of Agger, before nestling in Thomas Sorensen’s net. Calamitous stuff.
Worst campaign: Cameroon
Three defeats in three games from a group they might reasonably have expected to escape from, especially considering the quality of the players involved.
After their exit, manager Le Guen was quick to imply blame for the disaster was with his players, while some players were less coy in blaming their boss.
The conclusion? They’re all to blame.
Best controversy: France
Hey, at least Les Bleus can comfort themselves with the knowledge that they were involved in one of the biggest controversies in World Cup history.
Not content with failing spectacularly to live up to their potential, Nicolas Anelka was sent home after insulting Domenech (pretty comprehensively, by all accounts), which then encouraged some players to go on a training strike.
There was even talk that they would not play against South Africa, which thankfully proved unfounded — they just lost to them instead. Nice.
Worst gamble: Ivory Coast (v. Portugal)
Sven-Goran Eriksson, the man with the managerial Midas touch. Not because everything he touches turns to gold, but rather because he seems to have the ability to earn a lot of gold for touching very little.
Taking over the African side solely for this tournament, it was clear the game against Portugal was critical to their chances of progression.
So what did the Swede do? Keep his side defensive, playing for a draw and the possibility they could beat North Korea by more (and lose to Brazil by less) to scrape through on goal difference.
How did that work out?