So far World Cup intrigues Barnes

Since arriving in South Africa over
a week ago the atmosphere around the World Cup has showcased that it is the
greatest show on earth. There were football fans from all walks of life, many
of whom have been saving for this once-in-a-lifetime trip ever since the final
whistle blew on the final match in Germany four years ago.

The other day I saw over 160,000
South African football fans descend on Mandela Square in Johannesburg to
welcome their national team. With the influx of football fans from across the
world, the atmosphere here is amazing. This is what it’s all about – people
coming together to support their country.

From the opening game, a 1-1 draw
between South Africa and Mexico to the delight of 86,000 South Africans, this
year’s tournament has been tense. However one of the sub-plots around the World
Cup is the drop in the amount of goals being scored. Typically at this stage of
the tournament, there would have been 35 plus goals scored. This is all down to
the new Adidas football.

FIFA has made the ball lighter
thinking that it would help score more goals, but it’s had the opposite effect.
Free kicks from a long range with a lighter ball are making the ball more
difficult to control and they are not hitting the mark, which has resulted in
the quality of goals scored not being as high. A lot of the players are complaining
that the new footballs are too light for the goal-keepers.

Certainly Casillas and Spain could
cry foul and blame the new ball after its 1-0 defeat to Switzerland. That is
still the biggest upset of the World Cup so far. Spain is the favourite to win
this World Cup and there was a lot expected from them in that match. They were
very good in midfield, passed the ball well and completely dominated
possession, but Switzerland’s defense was excellent – they showed great
determination and were very organized.

When Spain brought Torres on in
attack they looked dangerous, so I would expect him to start going forward. I
also expected them to have shaken off the cobwebs and gone through to the next
round, but this has obviously made it more difficult for them. It will be
interesting to see how they handle the pressure and the potential backlash of a
passionate nation that had anticipated so much.

Some might argue Serbia beating
Germany was a bigger upset. The reality is Germany still looks good after
thrashing Australia 4-0. That was the most impressive match of the World Cup so
far. What was so impressive is that Germany is a very young team who haven’t
been playing well in the last few years. They are the second youngest team in
the World Cup – behind Ghana – with most of the players coming from the team
that won the European Under 21 Championships last year. This is a great opportunity
for these young players, most of whom are only 21 years old.

German sides always manage to
perform well in the tournament format, even when their expectations are low,
they seem to know how to find the winning formula. The German team’s success
illustrates the paradox that exists between this and the French team’s
performance – the Germans team unity is far greater than the sum of the
individual players, as opposed to the star-studded French who do not seem to
gel as a team.

In fact expect the French to be
officially eliminated today against South Africa. France have been very poor in
this World Cup. They have some great individual players – such as Anelka, Ribery
and Evra – but they just don’t function as a team. They didn’t create many good
chances and I felt like we were always waiting for them to take off but it
never happened.

On the other hand their 2-0 defeat
to Mexico’s went a long way in deciding the fate of Bafana Bafana. However the
host nation will want to perform well in their final match and hope to get
another outstanding goal from Tshabalala. After all they are still hurting
after a 3-0 defeat to Uruguay that saw Forlan continue to be a threat up front.
That was a shame as we want the host nation to do well and go through to the
next round.

If South Africa doesn’t go through
(which seems very likely) it will be the first time ever that a host nation
hasn’t gone through. At the moment, Uruguay and Mexico have the most points in
this group so they are in the driving seat.

Meanwhile Ghana could still advance
in group D, which highlights the bigger picture here about this World Cup:
there is fantastic support for the African teams. All the African supporters
are coming together to support each other, which is fantastic and makes for a
great atmosphere. Ghana was the first African team to pick up three points and
could be the first to advance.

One of the biggest surprises of
this World Cup is Slovenia. A 1-0 win over Algeria followed by a fortunate 2-2
draw with the USA means they could still have a say in who wins this World Cup.
They (including players like Dedic) played very good football at times and
probably should have scored on more occasions. Imagine before the tournament
England were the favourites to go through with the USA. Now Slovenia top the
group and England would be lucky to advance. The funny part about that is a
goal-keeping mistake could cost the English.

Ultimately after today’s matches
thousands of people will party well into the evening, creating a fantastic
atmosphere which I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of as the tournament warms
up.