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The World Cup Review: Success off the Field, Controversy on it

Nick AmiesJuly 10, 2006

In Germany, the World Cup is being seen as a great success. On the pitch, from the opening kick to the final "header," the tournament ebbed and flowed from the sublime to the ridiculous. DW-WORLD.DE looks back.

The World Cup ended in celebration and controversy -- much as it startedImage: AP

The 2006 World Cup, for host nation Germany especially, has been lauded as a great success. In terms of organization and participation, the experts have it spot-on. Few would disagree that the Germans put on a great tournament, generated a great atmosphere and delivered on almost all their promises.

But what about on the pitch? Did the tournament deliver the showcase of world-class soccer the World Cup always aims to present?

In terms of games, the 2006 World Cup was somewhat hit and miss. The group stages started well with Germany hitting Costa Rica for four at high pace, getting caught out themselves twice in the process.

Then of course there was the master-class provided by Argentina when they put six past Serbia and Montenegro, although a more one-sided contest would be hard to find. The Argentinians also tangoed with Mexico in the most entertaining game in the second round which was decided by Maxi Rodriguez's thunderbolt in extra time.

WM 2006 Niederlande Serbien Montenegro Spielszene
Round Robben: Holland's winger skins another victimImage: AP

But for every Holland 2 - Ivory Coast 1, there was an England 1 - Paraguay 0. Group B was an insomniac's dream but everybody else's nightmare.

Serial underachievers England ground out the points with dull performances against the likes of Trinidad & Tobago and Sweden in games which made the Mexico versus Angola scoreless draw look like a cup final.

Eventual finalists France pushed England in the first round boring stakes with an achingly bad goalless stalemate with Switzerland and a terrible 1-1 draw with South Korea.

A great start, a lull, then some brilliance and another lull

Things perked up again in the latter stages, thanks mainly to the Germans again. Jürgen Klinsmann's team played the best ten minutes of the World Cup when they had Sweden on the ropes with two goals before the Scandinavians had even realized where they were. The quarter-final against Argentina was gripping and nerve-wracking with a fairy-tale ending and the semi-final loss to Italy was full of skill, desire and drama to the bitter end.

However, interspersed between these highlights were games like the Switzerland - Ukraine final-16 match where the Swiss played for penalties from the first whistle and then blew it with a set of spot-kicks which would even make England wince. Sven-Goran Eriksson's team served up another tepid dish against Ecuador before putting everyone out of their misery by losing to Portugal in the quarter-final.

While some teams played with adventure, others stifled their opponents with tactics akin to smothering a sick animal with a cushion. Some teams were at the mercy of coaches who were so afraid of losing that 120 minutes of mind-numbing soccer and a penalty win was preferable to actually attempting victory in regulation time. As a result, it was hardly a tournament cooking on full gas.

No real superstar but some good individual performances

WM Bilder des Tages 10.06.2006 England Paraguay
England's group games were so dull even the ball went homeImage: AP

Some players, however, couldn't fail to set certain games alight. The Czech Republic's Tomas Rosicky single-handedly dealt the US an early blow with two cracking strikes; Arjen Robben's pace tore Serbia and Montenegro asunder in Holland's 1-0 Group C win, Fernando Torres finally showed what the hype was all about to lead Spain to the last 16 and Lukas Podolski's brace booked Germany a quarter-final spot before most spectators were comfortably seated.

But outstanding players? Podolski may have been the best young player but he was anonymous against Italy, wasteful against Poland and petulant against Argentina. Zinedine Zidane was named the best player but even he only showed class in two games; against Spain and Brazil. While in previous World Cups, a tournament has become synonymous with a star -- Pele in 1958, Cruyff in 1974, Maradona in 1986 -- Germany 2006 had no real shining light.

Despite that, some of the players who did make an impact did so by scoring some wonderful goals. While some commentators complained of the dearth of goals at the World Cup, it would take a hard heart not to melt at the wonder strikes by Philipp Lahm, Torsten Frings, Esteban Cambiasso and Maxi Rodriguez to name but a few. But as the stakes got higher in the latter stages, the goals dried up and fewer players were willing to try 20-meter strikes for fear of losing possession.

Enough acting displays to earn a sack of Oscars

WM 2006 - Portugal - Iran
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo: Shot by a sniper, possiblyImage: AP

Goals aside, the 2006 World Cup will probably be better known as the tournament when there were more theatrics on view than at a performance of the collected works of Shakespeare. Play-acting, diving, simulation -- call it what you will -- this World Cup was full of players either actually committing heinous crimes or those insinuating that they were victims of such.

Horror shows such as the Italy - USA Group E match which ended nine versus ten, or the "Battle of Nuremberg" where nine man Portugal literally battled it out with the equally depleted Netherlands, were the most extreme cases while cameos of gamesmanship in a number of matches left a bitter taste.

New stricter rules and over-zealous refereeing also contributed to the World Cup's sense of farce. High profile mistakes, loss of control and bizarre interpretations of the law made for ridiculous viewing at times and some officials were responsible for ruining certain games.

And what about surprises? Upsets are the life-blood of any World Cup, giving the spectators a kick and bringing the neutrals together behind the underdog. While Ghana gave a glimpse with a terrific 2-0 win over the Czech Republic to open up Group E, they caved against Brazil and everything seemed to return to type. And while Ecuador made it out of Group A when they were expected to prop it up with Costa Rica, there were very few real surprises this time.

Iconic images aplenty with the saddest of all left to last

WM06 Frankreich - Italien Zineidine Zidane geht am Pokal vorbei nachdem er für ein grobes Foul die Rote Karte bekommen hatte
A more powerful image than his opposite number lifting itImage: AP

What will be the enduring image from this World Cup? The trophy itself being held aloft by the winning captain rarely represents the feeling of the whole tournament. Maybe Jürgen Klinsmann celebrating his team's every goal with his jack-in-the-box enthusiasm will be the most remembered. Maybe Cristiano Ronaldo's sly wink to the Portuguese bench after his intervention in Wayne Rooney's sending off will sum up the dark arts on display.

It is most likely, however, to be the sight of a disgraced Zinedine Zidane trudging off on his walk of shame past the World Cup trophy; head bowed, shoulders slouched as he made his way down the steps to the locker room after being sent off in the final, bringing to an ignominious close a glittering career.

The 2006 World Cup may have lacked many things on the field of play but what it didn't lack was a sense of drama.