Armchair Pundit

Ten magic moments… so far

Alex Chick

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With the World Cup still resting up ahead of Friday's quarter-finals, here is a rundown of the 10 biggest moments of the tournament so far.

It's a totally subjective list, based on drama, excitement or significance. Just a shame that, looking through them now, so few are examples of great football. Not sure if that's me or the World Cup at fault.

10- Robin van Persie blames the vuvuzelas
The Dutch striker had already been booked against Denmark, and could have been in trouble when he played on after the referee whistled him offside. Van Persie pleaded successfully to referee Stephane Lannoy that he could not hear the whistle above the vuvuzelas' din, and he stayed on the pitch. In truth we could have had any number of players complaining about the blasted things in here - vuvuzelas have not so much provided a single moment as a constant, droning soundtrack to the tournament. Great in a one-off tournament, but let's keep them out of the Premier League, eh?

9- Asamoah Gyan wins it for Ghana
A poor tournament for Africa (on the pitch, at least) saw only the Black Stars of Ghana reach the last 16. The continent adopted them as their favourites, and celebrated wildly when Asamoah Gyan's dipping shot gave Ghana a 2-1 extra-time win over the United States. Elsewhere, the much-hyped Ivory Coast flopped, with talisman Didier Drogba nursing a broken arm. Nigeria went home early and have been withdrawn from internationals for two years by the country's president. And all right-thinking football fans will hope the Algerian government does the same after their singularly unambitious displays.

8- Thomas Mueller finishes England off
The most hotly anticipated game of the tournament ended up a one-sided embarrassment as Germany exposed England's complete lack of technique and tactics in a 4-1 mauling. As England threw players forward, they were dissected on the counter-attack as Mueller struck twice in the second half. The fourth goal saw Mesut Ozil sprint past a labouring Gareth Barry and square for Mueller to drive the final nail into England's coffin. Germany were faster, cleverer and technically better than their positively stone-age opponents. So much so the English press didn't even complain about the Frank Lampard 'goal'.

7- Ronaldo spits 'at' the camera
In one sense, this was a storm in a teacup. Having just lost to Spain, the Portugal captain, while walking off the pitch, turned to a camera and spat at the same time. He wasn't spitting AT the camera, but it wasn't dignified either. But Ronaldo's frustration was typical of that felt by most of the big-name players at the World Cup. Wayne Rooney, Frank Ribery and Drogba had a miserable time. Fernando Torres is still in the tournament but looks a shadow of his usual self and Kaka was harshly sent off in the first round. Of the global superstars, only Lionel Messi seems to he having any fun at all.

6- Fabio Cannavaro is dumped on his backside
Defending champions Italy had low expectations, but nobody expected them to go out in the group stage. But the rot set in for the Azzurri early in their game against New Zealand. In the seventh minute, the once-mighty Fabio Cannavaro failed to deal with a routine free-kick and fell to the ground as Shane Smeltz put the All-Whites ahead (the goal was offside, but Cannavaro did not know that, and the moment resonated). More atrocious defending saw Italy beaten 3-2 in their final game by Slovakia. They finished bottom of Group F behind New Zealand, who went home unbeaten after drawing all three games.

5- Carlos Tevez busts the Mexican net
The final Argentine goal in their 3-1 win over Mexico carried such brutal force, and such an air of finality, that it perfectly illustrates the superiority of South American football at this World Cup. The perfect combination of ambition and technique, Tevez smashed a 25-yarder into the top-right corner and ran off on a demented celebration. The South Americans seem to care more, and they are better players. No wonder they have lost only one of 18 games to teams from other continents in this tournament. We could have an all-South American last four with Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil still in it.

4- Sepp Blatter says sorry
Two amazing refereeing blunders in one day made a nonsense of FIFA's aversion to video technology. First there was the Lampard shot that was not given despite crossing the line by two feet, then the Carlos Tevez goal that stood even though he was well beyond all 11 Mexico players - and the incident was replayed inside the stadium. After a day of silence, FIFA fronted up. Blatter issued an apology to England and Mexico and said IFAB, the world rules-making body, would revisit the issue of video technology, although only for goalline incidents. All it takes is a bit of global ridicule to make a FIFA president change his mind.

3- Siphiwe Tshabalala scores
Doubts lingered over South Africa's ability to host the World Cup, and of the hosts' chances of avoiding embarrassment on the pitch. The opening game between South Africa and Mexico put all doubts to bed. The moment when Tshabalala climaxed a Bafana Bafana counter-attack by lashing the ball into the top corner was one of pure joy for the Rainbow Nation, for Africa and for anyone who loves football. They might have gone out in the first round, but the hosts did themselves proud. More importantly, the party continues for another 10 days as the tournament reaches the business end.

2- Robert Green blunders
Frank Lampard's goal that never was might have held more historical resonance, but it didn't quite fit the usual mould of English misfortune, as they deserved to lose to Germany by at least the three-goal margin they managed. Green's error was more like it - a self-inflicted wound that was simultaneously unbelievable and inevitable. After weeks of speculation over who would start in goal against the USA, Green got the nod and fumbled Clint Dempsey's speculative shot into his own net. It set the tone for a shambolic tournament, and the 1-1 draw indirectly set up a second-round encounter with Germany, not Ghana.

1- France refuse to train
It seems a shame to end on a negative, but this tournament saw perhaps the most remarkable self-destruction of any World Cup. A quick recap: Coach Raymond Domenech and Nicolas Anelka row during French loss to Mexico; Row becomes public; Anelka sent home for insulting coach and refusing to apologise; captain Patrice Evra says traitor in camp is to blame, not player; squad release statement unanimously opposing Anelka's expulsion; team refuses to train as Evra scuffles in public with fitness trainer; France beaten by South Africa, return home in shame amid recriminations and promises of a government investigation. Incroyable.

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