Monday, November 29, 1999

ANALYSIS - Time for World Cup to burst into life

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The first World Cup in Africa has provided lots of colour and plenty of noise but so far the football has been as monotonous as the vuvuzelas.Fans have worn dazzling costumes, the stadiums look stunning and everyone wants the event to be a glowing success. On the pitch, though, the world's best have yet to produce the goods.Thankfully, with almost a month to go in the most-watched sporting event on the planet, there is still plenty of time for the players to shine and they are expected to do just that.South Africa's Brazilian manager Carlos Alberto Parreira, at his sixth World Cup, believes matches will definitely improve."It is too early to make any judgements," he said."I've never seen a World Cup start with the best football in the first round. The teams grow as the competition develops, it is always like that."There is a lot of tension for all, both the big and the small teams. The World Cup only really begins after the first round, then you have the real World Cup."FORGETTABLE STALEMATESAfter an excellent opening 1-1 draw between the hosts and Mexico in Soccer City on Friday, featuring an outstanding goal from South Africa's Siphiwe Tshabalala, most of the opening 16 games have been largely forgettable stalemates.Whether it is the new Jabulani ball, the high altitude or strange, somewhat surreal atmosphere in the stadiums created by the vuvuzelas, only 25 goals have been scored in the opening 16 games.The average of 1.56 goals per game compares poorly with the record lowest average in a World Cup of 2.21 in Italy in 1990.This World Cup -- the first in Africa, the first in winter since 1978 and the first including games at high altitude since 1986 -- could not have had a more contrasting start to 2006.The World Cup began in Germany four years ago with a glut of great goals, competitive matches and fans without match tickets swarming to fan parks to soak up the World Cup atmosphere.World governing body FIFA and the security authorities were delighted with the way the tournament began then.Now they are dealing with striking stewards, complaints about the vuvuzelas, concerns over ticketing and transportation -- and that's before they ponder the football being played.TOO EARLYOther coaches and players agree with Parreira that matches will improve now every team have played their opening game.Argentina coach Diego Maradona, whose touchline performancee in the 1-0 win over Nigeria was better than the football played by most teams, is not too worried by the slow start."The fact that there were so few goals is not a concern, they'll come. In the first matches teams are more careful than they should be. Teams study each other," he said.United States striker Landon Donovan said he was not surprised the opening games had been so tight."You certainly don't want to lose the first game from a point standpoint but also just from a mentality and moral standpoint. I think most teams have played it tight, and my guess is it will open up a little more as it goes on."MESSI OUTSTANDINGDespite the general lack of excitement in the opening games, there have been some highlights.Argentina's performance, with an outstanding contribution from World Player of the Year Lionel Messi, was one of the better ones, hinting they could do well in the weeks ahead.Germany's 4-0 win over Australia underlined the perennial threat they pose as they search for a fourth world title, while a little bit of magic from Brazil -- including a stunning goal from Maicon -- produced a 2-1 victory over a far from overawed North Korea side in their opener on Tuesday.Among the other teams tipped to do well, England made an indifferent start by drawing 1-1 with the U.S. in Rustenburg after a goalkeeping howler by Robert Green.World champions Italy also began the defence of their trophy with a 1-1 draw against Paraguay while European champions Spain slumped to a shock 1-0 defeat by unfancied Switzerland.The opening games were not particularly good for the six African sides bidding for the trophy on their continent either.Ghana were the only Africans to win, their 1-0 success over Serbia in Pretoria on Sunday more memorable for the true African spirit of the occasion than the football played.(Editing by Ken Ferris)
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