Games are full of emotions, laughters, reasons, cries and much more. Lets look back on the moments that made us (and the players) cry, laugh and look away with embarrassment.
10 When Defeat Becomes Victory: Barring a cricket score by Ivory Coast against North Korea on Friday, it looks as if Ghana will be the only African nation, of the six that took part in the World Cup, to make it to the second round. And its passage was confirmed despite losing its final group game to Germany (Ghana still finished second). But the real moment of joy came a week earlier, when striker Asamoah Gyan’s penalty kick five minutes from time resulted in the first-ever African team to triumph on African soil in a World Cup. You can tell from their outpouring of joy that the players realized what a special moment it was. The only question now is whether the U.S. can avenge its 2006 defeat at the hands of the Ghanaians in their knockout clash on Saturday.
9 The Ball Is Round: If the controversy over those vuvuzelas wasn’t bad enough, we had to put up with players and coaches moaning about this year’s World Cup ball. Called the Jabulani (which ironically means “to rejoice”), it has upset many in the game, who have suggested it’s making life unfair for goalkeepers (such as this Rob Green gaffe for England vs. the U.S.) because of the way the ball moves in the air. But the carping seemed to cease when Brazil made the Jabulani bend to its will, scoring goals of beauty against North Korea and Ivory Coast. And the other team in that group, Portugal, managed a not unhealthy seven against the Koreans. As former player Alan Hansen said on the BBC, “The ball is the ball. It always has been.”
8 Danish Delight: For all the amusing and heartbreaking moments that come during a World Cup, sometimes you just want to focus on the goals. And one that hasn’t received the attention it deserves was scored by Denmark en route to defeating Cameroon 2-1. After falling behind early on, the Danes equalized, thanks to Nicklas Bendtner. His finish, from Dennis Rommedahl’s low cross, was merely perfunctory. But the sensational 60-yard (yes, 60-yard) ball from defender Simon Kjaer lit up the proceedings. You likely will not see a better pass in the entire tournament.
7 Giving England the Bird: There are many lows involved in supporting England. The constant expectations nearly always dashed. A star player getting red-carded. Or seeing what David Beckham is wearing now. But on the evening of England’s dismal 0-0 draw against Algeria, two moments stood out. Firstly, a bird nestled on top of the goal England was shooting toward, safe in the knowledge that it would not be disturbed by anything as shocking as an English attack. And as unbelievable as it sounds, in the second half, the bird went to the other goal, which England was now attacking!
After the match, an England fan, Pavlos Joseph, unwittingly ended up near the England dressing room (he claims he was looking for the bathroom) and allegedly gave Beckham (who is in South Africa as part of England’s technical staff) a piece of his mind over England’s dispiriting display, supposedly calling it a “disgrace.”
6 The Crying Game: He’s known as the “People’s” Wayne Rooney, but surely North Korean striker Jong Tae Se went one further than his English counterpart ever would when he couldn’t stop crying during the playing of North Korea’s national anthem. It was a rare show of emotion from a citizen of a country not known for wearing its heart on its sleeve. It was simply too much for the 26-year-old, as he and his teammates were the first North Koreans making a Cup appearance since the boys of 1966, who memorably got as far as the quarterfinals. No such luck this time around, but their tenacious performance against the mighty Brazil — the game was goalless at the break and North Korea managed to score in the eventual 2-1 defeat — might have made Jong not the only North Korean to shed tears of pride.
5 U.S.A.! U.S.A.!: The U.S., much like England, never seems to make life easy for itself. So it was surely meant to be that the two would find themselves paired together in Group C. All too often, the U.S. falls behind early and has to chase the game, which is exactly what happened in 2006 and in its opening two group games this time around, which the U.S. came back to tie. And despite not allowing Algeria to take the lead in the final group game, that decisive goal just didn’t look as if it would arrive, with one goal disallowed and numerous chances missed. But as the game entered the dreaded injury time, Landon Donovan justified his being called the greatest American player of all time by slotting in the winner — which meant the U.S. not only progressed from the group but topped it for the first time since 1930.
4 Vu-Vu Voom!: No matter your thoughts on those vuvuzelas, you must have a heart of stone if you didn’t like hearing them when the host nation, South Africa, scored its goals. Its first strike was the opening effort of the World Cup and a beauty of a goal. The wonderfully named Siphiwe Tshabalala fired in a left-foot rocket against Mexico, but Bafana Bafana couldn’t hold on, tying the match 1-1. Its one win came against the hapless French, and despite South Africa’s being the first ever hosts to not make it through the group stage, there could surely be no more profound remark than that made by supporter Walter Ramagwalivha, who said about those you-know-whats, “We’ll blow now with pain in our hearts.”
3 There Will Be Shocks: The first round always offers surprises — those with long memories might recall the U.S. defeating England in 1950 in the “Miracle on Grass” — and 2010 was no different. Switzerland, which couldn’t even manage a goal four years ago in Germany, knocked off Euro 2008 champion (and many people’s favorite) Spain 1-0. And New Zealand — which, unlike the Swiss, has no soccer pedigree whatsoever — rather comfortably held reigning World Cup champion Italy 1-1. But that was only the beginning of Italy’s woes, as it failed to qualify from the group stage after losing to Slovakia 3-2. Coupled with France’s early exit, it meant that for the first time ever, neither of the previous tournament’s finalists got into the last 16 at the subsequent World Cup. For any Italians of advancing age, it was surely as bad as Italy’s 1966 defeat at the hands of North Korea, which also resulted in its failing to get out of the group. When the team returned home that year, the Azzurri were pelted with tomatoes.
2 Diego Armando Maradona: There’s no denying that the Argentine manager is having a good World Cup. His charges have swept all before them, taking a 100% record into the second round, and probably look the likeliest (after rival Brazil) to lift the trophy for what would be a third time. But as entertaining as Argentina is on the pitch, it’s nothing compared to the value you get from its main man off it. When asked by the media about his unique kiss-and-hug management style, Diego Maradona responded by saying — fret not! — he still prefers women, specifically his girlfriend “Veronica, who is blond and 31.” He hasn’t been shy with footballing opinions either, dismissing the only other player who might be better than him, Brazilian legend Pelé, with a suggestion to “go back to the museum.” And UEFA president — and former French great — Michel Platini was described as a “know-all” (though Maradona apologized for that one.) No matter what happens from here on in, someone should commission a Maradona reality show immediately.
1 France Farce: French football wasn’t exactly in the rudest of health heading into the World Cup. A fortuitous handball in the playoffs from out-of-sorts striker Thierry Henry handed them a place in the finals at Ireland’s expense. But with pretournament form patchy at best and the squad not jiving with coach Raymond Domenech, the portents weren’t good. And so it proved.
A drab opening-day draw against eventual group winner Uruguay was followed by a comprehensive 2-0 defeat to Mexico, which also progressed from the group. Then things really livened up. Striker Nicolas Anelka allegedly insulted the coach at halftime, which led to his being sent home. The players decided to protest by refusing to train. And while they turned up for their final match, against host team South Africa, another defeat (2-1) meant the waiting bus — to take the team straight to the airport — wasn’t wasted. Back home (though they had to sit in coach. The shame!), the underperforming squad woke up the morning after to learn that President Nicolas Sarkozy was convening a high-level meeting to figure out what went wrong.