I’d imagine that fish restaurants from Hamburg to Leipzig will be sharpening their knives tonight in anticipation of a flurry of orders for the ‘kalamari special’ over the next few days. Unfortunately, schools of innocent squid will probably suffer terminal fates because of the uncanny ability of one of their distant cousins to correctly predict the result of all the matches involving Germany at this World Cup. Yet again, Paul the Octopus gravitated towards the flag of the victors in his tank at the Oberhausen Sea Life Aquarium and this time his prediction was Spain.
Of course, we can’t make too much of random sequences of cephalopodic undulation but to attach meaning to such random acts is part of the human need to make sense of the ultimately chaotic world we live in. Despite all the statistics, data and analysis at our disposal, the bizarre, unforeseeable and coincidental occur on a nigh-on daily basis; from lottery numbers producing instant millionaires to the tragic loss of a life before its time. Seeking to order chaos, in the end, is such a futile pursuit.
I had stated so early on in these blogs that the winner of World Cup 2010 would be from the South American continent. (see south-america) The basis for this prediction was rooted in a variety of reasons:
(a) the knowledge that European teams do not tend to prosper beyond the frontiers of their home continent and had never produced a winner,
(b) the assumption that South American teams would acclimatise better to the high altitudes of the host nation,
(c) the evidence being played out at that moment that saw such assurance and confidence on display from the likes of Brazil, Argentina, et al.
One by one the South Americans fell. Some were the architects of their own destruction (Brazil), others outplayed by stronger opponents (Chile, Argentina) whilst others were left to rue missed opportunities and bad luck (Uruguay, Paraguay). In the space of a matter of days, the Europeans managed to re-assert themselves on the international stage, produce three of the final four and make the lionising of the Latins by many of us seem, in the final analysis, rather ridiculous.
Tonight’s semi-final proved a step too far for the young German side. They were beaten by opponents who have greater experience at this level and can administer with such annihilating ease a ‘death of a thousand passes’. Spain had never got past a World Cup quarter final. Germany were in their tenth semi-final and had gone on to win three World Cups. The winners of the tournament were usually to be found in that exclusive club of seven nations who had previously emerged triumphant. Germany had scored the most goals at this tournament and for many were one of the most exciting teams to watch. Spain had become the masters of the 1-0 victory; playing intricately but without clinically frequent execution. With their victory, Spain have made sure that there will be a new country joining that illustrious band of winners on Sunday. Europe has won.
However, with that certainty I cannot help but feel sadly underwhelmed by it all. The Final is not the Final I had anticipated and if I’m being honest, wanted. In a World Cup that in many respects has failed to live up to the expectations many of us had hoped it would, it is perhaps fitting that we are to get a Final that will leave people thinking wistfully back to what has transpired and that melancholic ‘what if’ (see ifs-and-buts). This World Cup will not be remembered for its classic encounters. There has been no thrilling comeback. The host nation left its own party too early thus failing to carry the wave of its people on a magical journey. Those potential moments of exquisite poetry have been denied us, whether that has been via the raising of a hand or an inability of a coach to apply tactical nous to his unquestionable ability to enthrall and magnetise (see clones). The underdog, in the shape of Uruguay, Ghana or even New Zealand has failed to prevail with any true significance.
What we have been left with is a Dutch team that has reached its third final, without totally shining (see holland) and a Spanish team that plays to its strengths by using possession as its suffocating weapon. The result of this is that we are headed towards a potentially stagnant match in which both these teams negate the other, with ironically, each other’s predictability. As I have said before, both finalists are not beholden to any kind of fantastical notion of purity if the end justifies the means. The hunger for victory, in many respects, outweighs this.
However, waiting four years for this, collecting the stickers, replaying the old videos, putting up the wallchart and everything else that goes with a World Cup just doesn’t feel like it is worth the effort tonight. (see worldcupdreams). The very reason I started this blog was because of my enduring love affair with this tournament. The pragmatists may have got the result they set out for all those days ago. They may have wracked up the wins in the build-up. They may even have played the most technically sound football. But, I know I won’t remember this World Cup for either Spain or Holland. So on Sunday, I will be watching the Final with a sense of what might have been.
I would have dearly loved to have seen a Germany vs Uruguay final. Europe vs South America. Pioneers vs underdogs. Traditional winners vs forgotten trailblazers. The third-place playoff will hopefully see the shackles lifted and perhaps these two nations can give us the match we have all been waiting for. I dare them. Sunday can wait. As can my ‘kalimari special’.
Wednesday 7th July
Germany 0 – Spain 1