Thursday, December 14, 2006

Year Of Problems For The World Game

The World Cup finals provided the perfect metaphor for the state of soccer in 2006.

The game remains the jewel in the world's sporting crown but its value is slowly being eroded because of deep and possibly irreparable flaws.

Even Italy's joy at becoming world champions had a sting in the tail for within days of their triumph on penalties over France in the Berlin final, the biggest soccer scandal in the country's history reached its climax.

Two of the biggest clubs in the world: Juventus and AC Milan, along with Fiorentina, Lazio and Reggina, were severely punished for their roles in a long-running match-fixing disgrace, with Juve stripped of their 2005 and 2006 titles and demoted, forcing them to play in Serie B for the first time in their 109-year history.

On-field problems blighted the World Cup and while some of the football played in Germany's month-long fiesta was magnificent, too much of it was merely adequate or forgettable and the negatives outweighed the positives.

Although there was less violent play than at previous tournaments, there was more diving, more cheating and more feigning injury and unless FIFA deal with those issues swiftly and harshly the sporting fabric of the game will become increasingly threadbare.

Before they exited after losing on penalties to Germany in the quarter-finals, Argentina provided many of the positive memories and their 24-pass move that lead to Esteban Cambiasso's goal in a 6-0 first-round demolition of Serbia & Montenegro was one of the best in the competition's history.

Maxi Rodriguez's unstoppable volley in their 2-1 second-round, extra-time victory over Mexico a few days later was a classic goal which settled a classic match.

Italy's 2-0 semi-final win over Germany was the best match of the tournament.