The eighteenth FIFA World Cup was held in Germany. It was the second time that the finals had been hosted by the Germans as the tournament was rotated back to Europe. Germany won the right to host the tournament in 2000 after fighting off competition to hold the finals from England, South Africa and Morocco. Brazil was also scheduled to bid but withdrew three days before the official result would be announced. England broke a gentleman’s agreement they had with Germany by bidding for the tournament. It was agreed that England would host Euro 96 in exchange for supporting the German’s bid for the World Cup. England, however, was not in the running and it was to come down to Germany and South Africa. Oceanic representative Charles Dempsey abstained on the eve of the vote. His vote would have all but granted the finals to South Africa but his lack of support gifted the tournament to the Germans.
The 2006 World Cup saw Germany as the only automatic qualifying nation. The finals saw eight teams qualify for the first time in their history. Four of the five African nations were new qualifiers as Africa saw a swing in the balance of power away from the traditional nations Cameroon, Nigeria and South Africa. The 2006 tournament saw Angola, Togo, Ghana and the Ivory Coast all take part at the highest level for the first time. They were joined by the Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Serbia & Montenegro and Trinidad & Tobago. The Czech Republic and Serbia & Montenegro were competing as individual nations for the first time. The fairy tale qualifier was undoubtedly the team from the Caribbean. Trinidad & Tobago, a country with a population of only 1.2 million, obsessed with cricket, under the leadership of veteran coach Leo Beenhaaker rescued a dire initial qualifying campaign to take their seat at the highest table.
Once again, thirty two teams qualified and were split into eight groups of four. From these eight groups the top two sides would progress to the round of sixteen. FIFA had now kept the format the same for the past three finals as it was deemed the most successful. The eighteenth FIFA World Cup was an overall success but was marred by a record number of bookings and red cards. The finals saw players receive 345 yellow and 28 red cards. As a result of the enormous amount of cards issued, Sepp Blatter came in for criticism as the standards the organization had laid down for referees, did not allow them any freedom of discretion. It appeared that once again, the need for so many rule changes enforced by FIFA simply clouded the referee’s judgment and tarnished the tournament. This was no more evident than in the match between Portugal and Holland when 16 yellow cards were issued and four players sent from the field of play. The tournament even saw one player issued three yellow cards in one match for the first time in history as English referee Graham Poll booked Josip Simunic three times before finally sending him off.
Reigning champions Brazil was drawn in group F with Croatia, Japan and Australia. The Socceroos were playing in their first tournament in thirty two years. The 2006 squad was arguably more talented than its 2002 counterpart. In its ranks was current world player of the year Ronaldinho, Inter Milan star Adriano, Kaka of AC Milan, three time world player of the year Ronaldo, young starlet Robinho and many other talented players. Brazil would dominate their group, but not in the manner that most expected. It appeared that the South American’s had too many extremely talented players to fit into one side. The five time winners began the defence of their title with a one goal to nil victory over Croatia. The only goal of the game was scored by Kaka as he marked his first World Cup appearance with his first goal. In their second game they faced Australia, whose players were on a high after coming from a goal behind to defeat Japan, to secure three points, their first in their World Cup finals history. The Socceroos began the game brightly and were able to frustrate Brazil with some astute defending lead by veteran Craig Moore. The resolve Australia played with was largely due to the influence of coach Guus Hiddink, coaching his third different side in World Cup finals. Australia was able to keep their more illustrious opponents at bay until four minutes into the second half when Adriano struck to give Brazil the lead. Instead of crumbling, the Australian’s fought back. Harry Kewell missed a glorious chance after Dida spilled a cross and then almost embarrassed Dida with a forty yard chip. Desperate for an equalizer they pushed further forward leaving themselves vulnerable at the back and they were almost punished by Robinho. With the game still in the balance, it took until the 90th minute to be wrapped up by substitute Fred who slotted home from a Robinho pass to flatter the South Americans. The final group game came against Japan. With six points, Brazil was guaranteed qualification and finally showed some of the style this talented group of players had promised. The match was also a historic occasion as Ronaldo tied with Gerd Muller to become the joint leading goal scorer in World Cup history. Brazil started the game with a high tempo and Japan had keeper Kawaguchi to thank as he pulled of a string of outstanding saves. Then, against the run of play Japan took the lead. Counter attacking brilliantly they were put in front by Keiji Tamada. The lead wasn’t to last long as Ronaldo tied with Pele to level the scores before Juninho and Gilberto gave Brazil a two goal cushion at half time. In the second half, history was made as Ronaldo wrote himself into the record books with his second to match the record set by West Germany’s Muller and gave Brazil their tenth consecutive World Cup win.
In Group A the host nation Germany mirrored Brazil’s three opening wins. They opened their campaign with a four goals to two win against Costa Rica and then followed it up with a 3-0 victory over Ecuador. In their first two games Miroslav Klose scored four goals to take his World Cup total to an impressive nine goals. In their final game a last gasp goal from Neuville gave the hosts a single goal victory against European rivals Poland. They were joined in the round of sixteen by Ecuador who recorded two victories either side of their defeat by Germany. Group B saw England top their group containing Paraguay, Sweden and Trinidad & Tobago. They opened with a single goal victory over Paraguay thanks to an own goal by Carlos Gamarra and backed it up with an unconvincing two nil victory against minnows Trinidad & Tobago. It took until the last ten minutes for England to break the Caribbean minnow’s defence when two goals from Liverpool’s Peter Crouch and Steven Gerrard gave the Three Lion’s the victory. A two all draw was enough to see both teams qualify and extend Sweden’s 38 year unbeaten run against England.
Group C was one of the toughest groups in the finals and arguably the “group of death.” Top seeds Argentina were drawn to face Holland, and new boys Serbia & Montenegro and The Ivory Coast. It was the two footballing heavyweights that qualified. Argentina laid down their credentials as potential champions with a six goal demolition of Serbia & Montenegro. Goals from Maxi Rodriguez (2), Esteban Cambiasso, Hernan Crespo, Carlos Tevez and Lionel Messi and the style in which it was achieved sent an ominous message to all other competing nations. Holland’s passage wasn’t as stylish but it was efficient. They recorded two victories over the Ivory Coast and Serbia & Montenegro and then drew with Argentina. The Ivory Coast played some fantastic football and was unlucky to lose to both Argentina and Holland. Had they been drawn in any other group they surely would have qualified for the round of sixteen but finished their debut campaign with a win over Serbia & Montenegro. In Group D Portugal underlined their status as one of the favourites by gaining maximum points as they recorded victories over Mexico, Iran and Angola. They were joined by Mexico who despite losing to Portugal and drawing with Angola picked up three points by beating Iran in their opening match.
Group E was another of the tougher groups, with thrice winners Italy drawn to face the Czech Republic, the USA and Ghana. Traditionally slow starters, the Italian’s won their opening game by two goals to nil against newcomers Ghana. This was followed up by a one all draw with the USA. This came despite the fact that the American’s had been reduced to nine men. The Italian’s had also had a man dismissed as Daniel de Rossi was shown his marching orders for an elbow that would earn him a four match suspension. The Italians would then knock out dark horses the Czech Republic thanks to a two goal victory. The Czech’s had begun the group in fine style beating the USA by three goals to nil. It was Ghana that surprised everyone by qualifying alongside the Italians. Lead by Michael Essien and Stephen Appiah, the Ghanaians played good football to defeat both the Czech’s and the United States. Group G was easily forgettable. Switzerland topped the group with seven points thanks to a draw with France and victories over South Korea and Togo. France started slowly once again. A scoreless draw with Switzerland was followed up by a one all draw with South Korea. It took until the final group game for France to register their first World Cup win since the 1998 final against Brazil, when they beat Togo by two goals to nil. The final group, H, was dominated by Spain who like Brazil, Germany and Portugal registered maximum points. The side from the Iberian Peninsular did it with style as the racked up eight goals and conceded just a solitary goal. They were joined in the round of sixteen by the Ukraine who recorded victories over Saudi Arabia and Tunisia to take advantage of a relatively easy group.
The round of sixteen saw Brazil face newcomers Ghana. The Black Stars of Ghana were without their star player Michael Essien. The match was far closer than the scoreline might suggest. If the African side had been able to call upon their star man and been more composed with their finishing it could have been a different story. The reigning champions took the lead after just five minutes when Ronaldo pounced to rewrite the record books to stand alone as the greatest goal scorer in World Cup history with fifteen goals. After going a goal down the Ghanaians rallied and put the South American’s under tremendous pressure. Playing with a freedom that the Brazilian’s are famous for the pushed the champions further back but were punished for failing to convert when Adriano doubled their lead on the stroke of half time. The game was put beyond doubt in the second half when Ze Roberto added Brazil’s third to send Ghana crashing out.
In other matches, Germany overcame Sweden with two goals from young starlet Lukas Podolski within the first twelve minutes. Henrik Larsson had a chance to pull Sweden back in the game but missed the penalty Sweden was awarded in the second half. Argentina and Mexico fought out a one all draw after ninety minutes after Mexico had taken the lead. Eight minutes into extra time Maxi Rodriguez completed the comeback by scoring the goal that would send the Argentines through to the quarter finals. England was yet to show any form and once again struggled to overcome their opposition. A David Beckham free kick was enough to take Sven Goran Eriksson’s side past Ecuador. A single goal by Maniche was enough for Portugal to beat Holland in a game that will always be remembered for the ridiculous number of yellow and red cards issued to both teams. Both sides finished with just nine men but Portugal would have to deal with the suspensions of two key players in the match against England. It took a 95th minute penalty from Francesco Totti to overcome a plucky Australian side. The fans of the Socceroos will always cry that Italian fullback Fabio Grosso dived over the prone figure of defender Lucas Neill to win the penalty, but in honesty, the Australian’s should have made better use of their man advantage after Marco Materazzi had been harshly sent off. Switzerland and the Ukraine fought out a scoreless draw that was ultimately decided on penalties, where the Swiss became the first side to miss all their penalties in a shoot out as the Ukraine wrapped up the victory. In the final match, highly fancied Spain took a 28th minute lead against France through a David Villa penalty. A Zidane inspired France turned the match on its head as goals from Ribery, Vieria and finally Zidane himself sent the ’98 winners through.
In the quarter finals, Brazil faced France in a repeat of the 1998 final. After inspiring France in the round of sixteen, Zidane again turned in a man of the match performance as he rolled back the clock eight years. The South American’s had no match for his skills and France’s organization as they managed only a solitary shot on target in the entire match. France’s winner was scored by Theirry Henry as he was left unmarked at the far post to convert a Zidane set piece.
In the other matches Germany and Argentina fought out a close one all draw. The South American’s took the lead through Roberto Ayala and held it until ten minutes remaining when Miroslav Klose scored his fifth goal of the tournament that would win him the golden boot. The scores remained tied after thirty minutes of extra time and the game was decided by penalties. The German’s as they have done so often in the past held their nerve to reach their second successive final. The host nation had come into the finals under a cloud of pessimism but had performed brilliantly and had reignited the German public’s love for the national team. Italy overcame the Ukraine with a routine three nil win with goals from Zambrotta and Luca Toni (2) and Portugal overcame England in a penalty shootout after a no score draw. The match became synonymous with the red card shown to England’s Wayne Rooney for stamping on Ricardo Carvalho. Rooney’s Manchester United team mate Cristiano Ronaldo appeared to play a large part in Rooney’s expulsion and was caught winking to a team mate in triumph as Rooney departed.
The semi-finals were an all European affair, with France facing Portugal and hosts Germany facing Italy. In the first semi-final Germany and Italy contested a hugely entertaining no score draw after ninety minutes, with both teams attacking in style trying to win the match. It took until the 118th minute for the deadlock to be broken as Fabio Grosso gave the Italian’s a vital lead. The German’s pushed harder for an equalizer but were caught at the back when Alessandro del Piero scored Italy’s second in the 121st minute, the latest goal in World Cup history. In the second semi, France overcame Portugal thanks to a penalty converted by captain Zinedine Zidane. Cristiano Ronaldo was routinely booed by fans of both England and France for his unsporting like behaviour in the previous match.
In the third place match, the hosts Germany rounded off a fine tournament by defeating Portugal by three goals to one. The German’s were inspired by young playmaker Bastien Schweinsteiger who scored his side’s first, set up the second, on own goal by Petit and scored the third to give the German’s a three goal cushion. Portugal responded with a consolation goal from Nuno Gomes but the German’s were too far ahead and finished in third place.
The final would again be contested by former winners of the trophy. The game was an entertaining affair that will forever be remembered for the sending off of French legend Zidane in his final match before retirement. France took an early lead when they were awarded a controversial penalty which Zidane converted that kissed the underside of the crossbar as it crossed the line. Their lead was a short one as Marco Materazzi out jumped Patrick Vieria and planted a header in the France net. Both sides had opportunities to win the game in regular time. Luca Toni slammed a header into the crossbar and France was denied a penalty when Malouda went down under a heavy challenge. After ninety intriguing minutes, the game went into extra time and it was in the additional period of time that Zidane imploded. Taunted by defender Materazzi, Zidane planted a head butt square in the chest of the Italian. Referee Elizondo from Argentina was left with no choice but to send the iconic Frenchman from the field. It was later alleged that Materazzi had taunted Zidane by saying “I’d prefer the terrorist whore that is your sister.” With no further excitement, the match went to penalties. With seven penalties converted France’s David Trezeguet missed the eighth and Fabio Grosso converted Italy’s fifth to give the Azzurri their fourth world title and enable them to close the gap on Brazil.
Goals: 147 (average 2.3 per match)
Attendance: 3 353 655 (average 52 401)
Golden Boot Winner: Mirolsav Klose (Germany) 5
Golden Ball Winner: Zinedine Zidane (France)
Fair Play Award: Brazil and Spain
Here’s to South Africa 2010!!!