Posted by: mdegeorge | June 15, 2010

A not-so-beautiful game so far in South Africa

The first round of group matches in the World Cup has almost come to an end, and as I look at the top stories of the tournament, far too few of them relate to on-field excitement.

Goaltending blunders have taken center stage, particularly in Group C, with England’s Robert Green gifting the Americans a draw and a blunder by Algeria’s Faouzi Chaouchi responsible for their loss to Slovenia. They natural companion to the errors between the sticks has been a seemingly endless stream of detractors of the Jabulani ball.

[picapp align=”center” wrap=”false” link=”term=robert+green&iid=9098191″ src=”http://view3.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9098191/sports-news-june-2010/sports-news-june-2010.jpg?size=500&imageId=9098191″ width=”500″ height=”348″ /]

The other South Africa-related problem has been the infernal buzzing of everyone’s favorite noisemakers, the vuvuzelas, through every match. They’ve been striking fear in the heart of European journalists worried that some of the droning horns will arrive on the continent like Bubonic plague-infested rats at the tournament’s end. The racket has even driven the BBC to offer premium World Cup coverage which filters out the bee hive of crowd noise.Then there’s the injury bug that seems to be surrounding the group stage. American goalkeeper Tim Howard is banged up but apparently ready to play their next game against Slovenia. Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon, the consensus pick for world’s greatest keeper, may be out for the rest of the tournament. Didier Drogba rather unconvincingly returned from injury, but Dutch winger Arjen Robben is still on the shelf.

The conspicuous absence in the list of top stories is the quality of play on the pitch. Eight of the 14 matches so far have gone scoreless through the first 45 minutes. Only four matches have included a team scoring two or more goals, and none of those relative outbursts have come in the same match.

Scores of 1-0 and 1-1 have been the norm, and most games have been more likely to feature a red card than a goal. Perhaps the cherry on top may have been today’s dour draw between Ivory Coast and Portugal, two purportedly offensive-minded teams with major star power.

As much as I love the pageantry and reverence teams have for the tournament, it just hasn’t been the most enjoyable on the eyes. The second half in today’s Brazil-North Korea provided an excellent napping opportunity, as did Japan-Cameroon. The New Zealand-Slovakia was hardly rousing enough to get me out of bed this morning, as Chile and Honduras likely will be tomorrow.

I’m hoping teams are just anxious in their first World Cup Finals matches and that the quality of play will improve once the opening jitters are past them. Maybe the desperation that comes with the threat of elimination will spark creativity not yet seen.

Let’s hope it happens sooner rather than later.

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