Four enthralling world cup quarter finals have helped to ensure that football’s on-going ills will remain untouched. How the administrators of other sports must view the round ball game with immense jealousy, for it is despite the best efforts of FIFA that the world cup burst into life over the weekend.
Poorly-thought out rules, and an attitude towards technology that would make the Luddites beam, could easily have finally forced footballs administrators to consider radical change. Lampard’s ‘goal’ has been written to death, but England’s abject second half against Germany prevented an appropriate furore. Spain’s late winner against Paraguay covered up the ridiculous decision to force Alonso to re-take his penalty. Deciding any match by penalties remains unsatisfactory. The Suarez hand-ball incident apparently affected the mood of the whole of Africa (is there really consternation in Constantinople to match the anguish in Accra?), but the unfairness of the rule – surely deliberate hand-ball on the line must result in a goal being awarded not a penalty – will be forgotten by FIFA as quickly as the hand of Thierry Henry in qualifying.
(Incidentally, to criticise Suarez is to miss the point. As Alan Shearer, finally developing some personality in his punditry, pointed out, anyone would have done the same thing in the circumstances. It is the rules that are flawed, not the Uruguayan team. Suarez is no more a cheat than the Ghanaian who fell over to claim the free-kick that led to the penalty – although I should confess that, on this subject, my impartiality is affected by my regard for Uruguay’s one-armed giant.)
FIFA has so far shown little intent to make improvements, happy to bask in the unquestionable drama and excitement of South Africa 2010. Football may face a dip in some countries in the period before the next world cup – who, for example, will want the £40 tickets for England v Hungary at Wembley in August? – but it will remain the world’s favourite game.
Germany’s destruction of Argentina’s superstars with a performance of crisp passing and simple movement was a fantastic illustration of the sport at its best. However, to fully understand the football phenomenon, look at the results for last week.
In the first qualifying round of the Europa League, South Wales’ Port Talbot scored a vital away goal against the mighty TPS from Finland. With a week and half of the World Cup to go, the football season started.