Spain’s golden generation delivered once again…Luis Suarez started to make new friends and some big cheeses failed to make the grade at South Africa 2010
Despite the infuriating sound of vuvuzelas ringing in the ears, the unpredictable Jabulani ball causing havoc, Shakira singing the Waka Waka, and a cloud of corruption over the host selection process, there were still plenty of reasons to enjoy the World Cup in South Africa.
Spain’s legacy secured
Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol, Ramos, Alonso, Ramos, Piqué, Busquets, Casillas, Villa, and Torres – a truly golden generation of Spanish talent but one that needed to prove it in South Africa after winning the European Championships two years earlier.
Defeat to Switzerland in the opening game was an almighty shock but Vicente del Bosque’s side didn’t look back and after securing the top spot in Group H regardless, La Roja battled their way past Portugal, Paraguay and Germany all by single-goal margins to reach the final.
The Netherlands stood in Spain’s path, looking to put years of agonizing failure behind them, and what ensued in Johannesburg was a war. Fourteen yellow cards, a record for a World Cup final but only the one red to John Heitinga in extra time, thanks in no small part to referee Howard Webb not sending off Nigel de Jong for his kung-fu kick into the chest of Xabi Alonso.
Eventually, with the game heading to penalties, Cesc Fabregas found Andrés Iniesta and the Barcelona midfielder rifled past Maarten Stekelenburg to make history.
South American surprises
Would Spain have reached the final had Oscar Cardozo scored from the penalty spot with the game goalless in Paraguay’s narrow quarter-final defeat? Nothing more than a pointless hypothetical but a sign of just how good Tata Martino’s side was in 2010.
Paraguay had never reached the quarter-finals before but their structured, disciplined football made them tough to beat and the Guaraní weren’t far from springing the upset.
Uruguay went one better to reach the semis and in South Africa, the world was witness to the utter brilliance of Diego Forlan and given their first reason to dislike Luis Suárez. The Ajax forward brilliantly saved on the line to deny Ghana a goal in their quarter-final and when Asamoah Gyan missed the penalty, the red-carded Suárez could be seen celebrating in the tunnel.
The Celeste progressed on penalties before being defeated by the Netherlands but were the best performing South American side after the Dutch dismissed Brazil in the quarters and Diego Maradona’s hapless Argentina were humbled by Germany.
World Cup flops
Joachim Löw’s Germany had already swept past England and while the Three Lions going out in the last 16 was hardly a shock there were some performances in South Africa even worse than that of the linesman that failed to spot Frank Lampard’s shot was yards over the line.
Holders Italy failed to win a single game despite being drawn in what had looked a relatively easy group and finalists from four years earlier, and France also imploded. Only in South Africa due to Thierry Henry’s handball against Ireland in the playoff, defeat to the hosts was a humiliation for the French.
Memories for the minnows
South Africa may have gone out at the group stage but that victory over France will live long in the memory and the Bafana Bafana weren’t alone.
Slovakia, making their first World appearance since independence from Czechoslovakia, defeated Italy to reach the knockout stages and in the same group, New Zealand were ultimately eliminated along with the Azzurri but did so valiantly without losing a game.
Honduras back at the tournament for the first time since 1982 managed a point and while North Korea, not at the World Cup since 1966, left with even less, a 2-1 defeat to Brazil provided a highlight.