Top Ten World Cup Wonders (So far…)

Siphiwe Tshabalala of South Africa celebrates scoring the first goal during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group A match between South Africa and Mexico at Soccer City Stadium. 2010 Getty Images

John Doyle
The Globe and Mail
Published on Thursday, June 24, 2010

On the cusp of the Round of 16, time to assess and nominate the great, weird, wacky and wonderful World Cup phenomena to date.

One: South Africa’s Siphiwe Tshabalala’s opening goal against Mexico. It was magic. After a tense, nervous first half, the host country burst into action and that goal, the first of this World Cup, was as sweet s sugar. A surging run, a beautifully weighted pass and the ball hitting the back of the net. I watched the opening ceremonies and opening game with bestselling South African writer Deon Meyer. He was quietly emotional for the longest time, explaining how much the World Cup meant to his country, how it had in an authentic way, brought a divided nation together. He was choked up when the TV showed Bishop Desmond Tutu dancing in the stands. Then he leapt to his feet, shouting, “Yes!” when the goal came. And it felt like the whole world, not just South Africa, was cheering.

South Africa's Siphiwe Tshabalala (R) celebrates his goal against Mexico next to team mate Katlego Mphela (L) as Mexico's goalkeeper Oscar Perez (R) lies on the ground during the 2010 World Cup opening match at Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg

Two: Diego Forlan. A lithe blond god, he reminds of us of the sweetness of the poached goal, the long-distance strike hitting the net. Mocked after a so-so term in England with Manchester United, Forlan has emerged in Spin, and in South Africa, as a gloriously gifted striker. No one thought Uruguay go be this entrancing and deadly. Forlan could take them to the quarter-finals and beyond.

Uruguay's striker Diego Forlan celebrates after scoring his team's second goal against South Africa. AFP/Getty Images.

Three: Diego Mardona. He appears to have bought one suit – an expensive, though ill-fitting double-breasted number – for the World Cup, and he’s sticking with it. He’s cracked in the head but, by heavens, he enjoys the game and adores his players. He feels every foul, every missed shot, and every small mistake. He is Latin passion and South American soccer superiority personified. And he is forgiven everything.


Four: New Zealand. Ragtag, hopelessly outclassed – on paper – and never, ever stopping, they are not sublimely gifted players but supremely disciplined and unawed. Watching these guys hold Italy to a 1-1 draw on a Sunday afternoon was way-better than any Hollywood movie about underdog triumph. Because it was real – every kick, tackle and lung-bursting run. Hearts of oak, these guys.

New Zealand players, front row from left, Ryan Nelsen, Ivan Vicelich, Leo Bertos, Shane Smeltz, back row from left, Chris Killen, Winston Reid, goalkeeper Mark Paston, Tommy Smith, Rory Fallon, Tony Lochhead, and Simon Elliott, pose for a team photo before the World Cup group F soccer match between Paraguay and New Zealand at Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane, South Africa.

Five: Germany’s Mesut Ozil. Where did this guy come from? Werder Bremrn, actually. Germany’s outstanding player so far, Ozil is on the cusp of superstardom. This kid is the business – fast, tricky, always in search of a goal, and handsome. For once the FIFA website was not exaggerating when it declared “The sigh of relief in German football was almost audible when Mesut Ozil made the step up to international class…”


Six: France. Came to the World Cup on the ugly odour of bad karma. Imploded. Mediocrities playing for a weird-type guy, one Raymond Domenech. Good riddance.


Seven: John Terry. The farce of Terry’s press conference, suggesting he was some sort of leader of the England’s players, was Python-esque. Here was a guy, earlier stripped of the captaincy, making a bizarre claim for representing player-integrity. An ego the size of the African continent and the little talent to help defeat Slovenia (population: 2 million) by a single goal.


Eight: Kaka. Wrongly red-carded for an alleged assault on the pathetic Kader Keita, of Cote D’Ivoire. Keita got a casual brush-off from Kaka and fell to the ground clutching his face. Kaka walked away, perplexed but resigned to the absurdity of others. Couldn’t be bothered to protest. More élan than all of France combined.

French referee Stephane Lannoy, left, speaks to Brazil

Nine: Maicon’s stunning narrow-angle goal for Brazil against North Korea. Who says there’s a problem with this Jabulani ball? All you need is skill, obviously.


Ten: U.S.A. Sublime organizational skills and breathtaking never-say-die-spirit. A goal down, they come back. Two goals down, they come back. They just keep going. Landon Donovan’s last-gasp goal against Algeria wiped away years of his MLS strutting and preening. The Americans are so very hard to beat. And anyone who under-estimates them should remember this – these are not pampered college kids on a lark. Clint Dempsey is dirt-poor Texan and learned his soccer in a trailer-park playing with Mexican and Honduran kids. When he gets to the World Cup, he ain’t complaining (unlike the English whiners), and he intends to stay there.

Landon Donovan of the United States celebrates with teammate Edson Buddle after scoring the winning goal that sends the USA through to the second round during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group C match between USA and Algeria at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium. 2010 Getty Images.

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