Thank heavens for South American flair and artistry of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, three nations who have provided millions of global viewers with the ingredients of the World Cup’s intrinsic appeal.
What a welcome relief from the general mediocrity of a tournament interspersed with momentary flashes of entertainment until the qualifying group stages reached a climax with Slovakia’s 3-2 elimination of current champions Italy.
What a relief, too, from hue and cry over England’s depressing start, the haranguing of Fabio Capello who, until a few weeks ago could do no wrong, and then became a villain; the pontificating of certain English TV pundits and presenters whose national passion make them appear more like punters with microphones than impartial observers.
What relief from the appalling conduct and bad manners of the French squad and arrogant, unsmiling manager Raymond Domenech whose reign should have ended a couple of years ago. How he survived for so long is a mystery.
Now the real pressure will kick in when Steven Gerard and company meet the old enemy Germany at Bloemfontein, City of the Roses to-morrow. There have been some memorable battles in the past with the Germans.
If England performs to club standard they can triumph, reach the next phase and prove to The Kaiser Franz Beckenbauer they are not a “kick and rush” team, a comment which hurt deeply especially coming from such a respected aristocrat of the game.
This is the youngest German side for seven decades whose style of play should suit England but caution must be amalgamated with adventure; they have settled into a 4-2-3-1 system with a brilliant midfield inspired by Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller, Lukas Podolski and up front goal-scoring Miroslav Klose. They possess, pace, stamina, a never-say-die spirit and Teutonic efficiency.
There have been few outstanding individualists so far in this series apart from Lionel Messi (Argentina, pictured).
Add to that USA’s Landon Donovan, a magnificent crosser of the ball, whose injury time winner carried his team as group winners into the last 16 and a clash with Ghana, the last survivor of the African nations who failed to live up to expectations.
Holland, never world champions but going close during the Cruyff era, may yet surprise us while Spain, the favourites, have disappointed and now the sudden death stage is operating, must get their act together otherwise it will be yet another case of the nearly team.
The three South American nations attaining a standard reminiscent of past Jules Rimet classics are Argentina, Brazil and, to a lesser extent, Diego Forlan’s Uruguay all in a league above the others.
Not surprisingly, Lionel Messi is walking away with the Player of the Tournament, and, notwithstanding his eccentricity and madcap antics, Maradona has instilled a team spirit, vibrancy and a hunger driving Argentina towards winning football’s ultimate prize.
Brazil’s passing in the 3-1 defeat of the Ivory Coast was breathtaking with Kaka, Luis Fabiano, Lucio and Maicon all fitting into the pattern of a squad whose set-piece variations are stunning. To the surprise of many the volatile Dunga has proved a managerial success and, perhaps another World Cup medallist like Mario Zagallo to win the trophy as the boss.