The best and worst World Cups ever

After a magnificent World Cup in Brazil, there has been much talk both in newspapers and on social media as to whether it was the best World Cup ever.

There are several contenders for ‘best World Cup’, but what about the ‘worst World Cup’?

Answering both those categories at once, here are my picks for the best and worst World Cups in footballing history, starting with the best.

3. Switzerland 1954

If goal-drenched football is your thing, you could do no worse than delving into the archives for footage of Switzerland 1954. With over five goals scored per game, spectators were treated to some memorable scorelines including a 9-0 win for Ferenc Puskas’ Hungary against South Korea, an 8-3 Hungarian thrashing of West Germany and a seismic 7-5 win for Austria against hosts Switzerland in the quarter-final where nine goals were scored in the first half.

Best moment: Despite their earlier defeat by Hungary, the canny West Germans, knowing that scouting and video footage of club football were in their embryonic stages, had played an under-strength side in that game and later defeated the surprised Hungarians 3-2 in the final.

2. France 1998

Zidane’s double against Brazil. Beckham’s kick at Simeone. Carlos Valderrama’s haircut. Owen’s solo goal against Argentina – just some of the enduring memories of France ’98 that will continue to endure for some time to come. France ’98 was certainly a purist’s World Cup with an emphasis on attacking football. As a result, 171 goals were scored in a tournament eventually won by the home side as they triumphed 3-0 over a lacklustre Brazil.

Best moment: Dennis Bergkamp’s fear of flying had restricted his international appearances, but he braved the Channel Tunnel to take the stage for Holland in France. In the quarter-final against Argentina, with the score locked at 1-1 in the 89th minute, Bergkamp elegantly controlled a diagonal lofted pass before slamming home a volley to send Holland through to the semi-finals.

1. Brazil 2014

The Brazilian public were promised a marvellous World Cup and they were not disappointed. Despite taking place amidst noisy protests about the weight and wisdom of Brazilian government spending for football’s showpiece event, the tournament let its football do the talking as some hefty attacking play drew rich rewards for the billions of viewers around the world. Reigning champions Spain were thumped 5-1 by Holland, James Rodriguez announced himself as football’s next superstar and Germany swept all before them to record a fourth World Cup crown.

Best moment: Hopes were high for hosts Brazil going into their semi-final with Germany but, when Neymar fractured a vertebra and captain Thiago Silva earned a suspension, things quickly turned nightmarish as a ruthless German side dismembered them 7-1, compiling a 5-0 lead by half-time. Ouch.

Now we move on to the worst World Cups in history – brace yourselves!

3. USA 1994

The tone for USA ’94 was set in the opening ceremony when Oprah Winfrey fell off the stage in introducing Diana Ross before Ross famously missed a penalty in a pre-orchestrated routine. The football itself was not much better, with hot temperatures and a lack of attacking football combining to bore viewers rather than excite them. USA ’94 also made history by hosting the first goalless World Cup final – a dour 0-0 draw between eventual winners Brazil and Italy.

Worst moment: Diego Maradona was sent home in disgrace after testing positive for the banned weight-loss drug ephedrine. The fiasco ended his equally controversial and glittering international career, although he continued at club level for three more years.

2. Italy 1990

Italia ’90 is not fondly remembered by the football fraternity – unless you support Germany. The tournament was so bad that it caused the back-pass rule to be created while many experts consider the tournament to have been the crucible of defensive football. Only 115 goals were scored in the 52 matches played – a record low for World Cups – with one group even recording five draws from six games. A dull World Cup final was enlivened by Andreas Brehme, whose 85th-minute goal won the tournament for West Germany.

Worst moment:  Pedro Monzon is not a household name, but he went into the record books as the first man to be sent off in a World Cup final. The Argentine may rightfully protest his case though as a lunge on Jurgen Klinsmann missed the German, with replays appearing to show Klinsmann diving.

1. South Africa 2010

As the drone of vuvuzelas rang around every World Cup venue, the players may have been distracted, tactical messages from the bench drowned out and commentators unable to hear themselves speak. Whatever the reason was, South Africa 2010 is by far the worst World Cup in history. Teams were hindered by bobbly surfaces and an unpredictable ball, ironically named ‘Jabulani’ – Zulu for “bringing joy to everyone.” The tournament average of 2.27 goals per game is beaten only by the tally of 2.21 at Italia ’90. South Africa 2010 also hosted what many claim to be one of the worst World Cup games in history as England dismally drew 0-0 with Algeria in Cape Town.

Worst moment: Yet another recent World Cup final became an abysmal affair as Spain’s already lamentable encounter with Holland was spiked by Nigel de Jong, who took his position of central defensive midfielder too literally. De Jong’s ‘kung-fu kick’ on Xabi Alonso was only given a yellow card by referee Howard Webb – a decision almost as bad as the tackle. Spain went on to win 1-0 thanks to an Andres Iniesta goal in extra-time.

You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

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2014 World Cup: Ten young stars to watch out for

Can you hear the sound of the world’s biggest carnival yet?

When it wheels into the newly-built Arena Corinthians on June 12 over one billion viewers will be gripped by World Cup fever.

Home nation Brazil will take on Croatia in Sao Paulo to begin the month-long festival of football.

Of course, there is much expectation and pressure on the Brazilian team to win on home turf and there have also been well-documented clashes and protests surrounding the judiciousness of the finances released by the Brazilian government to host this magical tournament. (There will be more on that in a later blog).

To help get your football juices going this blog will be the first of ten special World Cup blogs to supplement your enjoyment of the greatest sporting event on the planet.

Blog number one previews ten of the best young footballers to feature at the World Cup this summer.

To qualify, there are two criteria: A player must be aged 23 or under and must be making his World Cup debut.

So, let’s start the countdown. Who is set to be the brightest young talent of the World Cup?

10. Fabian Schär – Switzerland, age 22, centre-back (5 caps, 3 goals)

Perhaps a surprise inclusion at ten on this list, Schär is arguably one of the most exciting defenders in the world. His aerial ability from set-pieces is allied to an instinctive reading of the game and his impressive pace serves him well when faced with one-on-one duels. Recent performances for Basel in the Europa League suggest that Schär excels on the big stage and will be in contention for a starting place in Switzerland’s first game against Ecuador.

9. Mario Götze – Germany, 21, attacking midfielder (27 caps, 7 goals)

Undoubtedly one of the best German talents, of which there are many, but will he get a regular starting spot in Brazil? The competition for places in the German midfield could hinder Götze’s chances of making a big impact on the tournament but he has proven his goalscoring prowess at international level despite being in and out of the Bayern Munich side this season.

8. Son Heung-Min – South Korea, 21, attacking midfielder (23 caps, 6 goals)

After an impressive season with Bayer Leverkusen, Son will be carrying the affection of South Korea on his shoulders. Son usually plays just off the lead striker but such is his versatility and talent he can switch positions across a forward three and is also deployed on the wing. Son’s flexibility rids South Korea of a rigidity which had plagued their game in recent years but with their new hero they should be a threat to Belgium, Russia and Algeria in group H.

7. Adnan Januzaj – Belgium, 19, attacking midfielder (0 caps, 0 goals)

At just 19, Januzaj is part of a youthful and promising Belgium squad in Brazil. A long wrestling match between several countries is to blame for his lack of international experience but, after opting for Belgium, manager Marc Wilmots has wasted no time in including the Manchester United star in his plans. With the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin Mirallas and Kevin de Bruyne ahead of him in the pecking order Januzaj could make a significant impact coming off the bench against tiring opponents with his jinking runs.

6. Ross Barkley – England, 20, attacking midfielder (3 caps, 0 goals)

Barkley’s place on this list is dependent upon Roy Hodgson giving him the playing time many onlookers are craving. The precocious young talent has drawn comparisons with Paul Gascoigne but his technical ability stretches far beyond that of Gazza’s. Even if Hodgson prefers to be conservative in Brazil he is set to make substantial contributions when coming off the bench, particularly with his energetic and creative game.

5. Paul Pogba – France, 21, central midfielder (8 caps, 1 goal)

An authoritative and commanding presence in midfield, Pogba is very much in the Yaya Toure mould of footballer. He can rampage forward and score goals as a stellar season at Juventus has proven. Doubts still remain about his mentality but bearing his age in mind that is a problem he will overcome with maturity and should that process happen this summer he could be France’s star player in Brazil.

4. Mario Balotelli – Italy, 23, striker (29 caps, 12 goals)

Commeth the spotlight, commeth the maverick. Balotelli relishes attention and a World Cup in Brazil presents him with an opportunity to display his skills in the biggest arena of them all. His superb performances at Euro 2012 saw a coming of age for the rebellious striker and he has built upon that with some assured displays at AC Milan. He will be the spearhead of Italy’s attack versus England but can he control his temper to replicate his Euro 2012 showing?

3. Thibaut Courtois – Belgium, 22, goalkeeper (15 caps, 8 clean sheets)

Some may be surprised that a goalkeeper makes third place on this countdown, but Courtois will be one of the stars of the tournament. His potential is staggering and his acclimatisation to Spanish football with Atletico Madrid at a young age has been exceptional. A series of assured displays coupled with some outstanding saves shows why Chelsea paid €9m for him when he was just 19.

2. Eden Hazard – Belgium, 23, winger (43 caps, 5 goals)

A world-class talent but inconsistent with it, Hazard has the chance to exorcise his critics with a memorable display in Brazil. His tally of five goals in 43 games for Belgium is underwhelming but after enjoying a spectacular season for Chelsea there are signs he could flower into an international star this summer as part of a dangerous Belgium team.

1. Neymar – Brazil, 22, forward (47 caps, 30 goals)

There has been no expectation as high as this on any player in history. A home World Cup in a land where football is a religion. It seems made for Neymar and all his astonishing skill, but can he deliver under such a burden? His goal-laced performances at the 2013 Confederations Cup would offer a resounding yes to that question, even after an unconvincing opening season at Barcelona. Despite that, the Brazilian team is built to utilise his incredible talent with some tipping him to earn the Golden Boot. Could this tournament belong to the darling of Brazil?

You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

The lowdown on BT Sport’s free weekend

As battles go, this was as one-sided as they come.

BT Sport certainly picked a good weekend to open up their channels to everyone in what they billed as their ‘free weekend’.

By comparison, their archrivals Sky Sports, the other protagonists in this war of the sport broadcasters, had a meek splattering of goods on offer for their customers – who at £60 per month are being stripped of £720 per year. That sum would be sufficient to buy a season ticket at most Premier League grounds.

Even so, for at least a decade Sky have held the throne as the Kings of all things sport in the UK, but this season the tide looks to be turning.

BT Sport have them worried, and why not?

They’re offering free viewing to all customers with BT Broadband and, for those without the broadband deal, a fee of just £12 per month to view 38 first-pick Premier League games, an array of top Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1 matches, plus comprehensive coverage of the Aviva Premiership.

That’s just for starters. If you’re a self-confessed sport addict then BT Sport could prove to be the perfect place for you.

Allied to the sport mentioned above, there’s football action from the MLS, A-League and Brazilian top flight plus other bits and bobs such as tennis, UFC, Major League Baseball and a generous helping of some innovative, interactive and engaging panel shows – the best of which is fronted by Tim Lovejoy and Matt Dawson on a Saturday morning.

On Saturday, BT Sport trumped Sky with their coverage of Crystal Palace against Arsenal. They also delighted in showing Inter Milan’s entertaining 4-2 win over Verona, while there was also a very watchable 3-0 victory for Wolfsburg against Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga.

If Sky can’t match the variety of BT Sport, then they can certainly pack a big punch of their own with the most anticipated fixture in La Liga – El Clasico.

It was rather unfortunate for Sky then, that the match was under-par by El Clasico standards – a 2-1 win for Barcelona failed, judging by various social media outbursts, to get the pulse racing.

Gareth Bale was largely anonymous and Lionel Messi was overshadowed by Neymar. That said, the goals scored by Barcelona were of high quality, particularly Neymar’s opener in which he embarrassed two Real Madrid defenders before finding the net.

The fact that the match disappointed wasn’t Sky’s fault, but what is evident is that if you put all your eggs in one basket – as Sky have done with their lack of variety – then the occasional anti-climax will inevitably happen.

But Sky’s tonic to that frustration is their Formula One coverage, which this weekend encompassed Sebastian Vettel’s title-clinching victory in the Indian Grand Prix.

Sky also screened the fifth one day international between India vs. Australia – or would have done had play not been abandoned because of rain.

Aside from that, Sky had very little to offer last weekend. Various repeats were screened and events like the CIMB Classic golf tournament from Kuala Lumpur did little to wrestle the attention away from BT Sport.

Sunday was slightly better for Sky, with the Tyne and Wear derby preceding the clash between Chelsea and Manchester City – once again their ability to show the top football matches in the Premier League proved the main draw to their coverage.

The second NFL London game between the Jaguars and the 49ers was also available to Sky customers, but they lost out on millions of spectators as it was also on offer to terrestrial viewers over on Channel 4, who have maintained their growing grasp on the sport in this country.

It was, at this point on Sunday teatime, as if BT Sport had their opponents on the ropes. It wasn’t long before they delivered a final blow.

France’s two cash-rich clubs, Monaco and PSG, kicked off one after the other – enabling viewers to gorge themselves on Ligue 1 action that is quickly being elevated to a higher level thanks to players such as Monaco’s Radamel Falcao and PSG’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

If that wasn’t enough, then a brilliant panel show featuring top football journalists from France, Italy and Germany, presented by the insuperable James Richardson, gave viewers a comprehensive and informative round-up of the best Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1 action.

In critical terms, Sky’s service to sport fans has been bettered by BT Sport – and by some way.

The diehard Premier League fans will always flock to Sky, but BT Sport are slowly cranking up the pressure in that department as they bid to show more and more games per season.

Then there is the issue of costing. Would you pay £60 per month for Sky or £12 per month for BT Sport? True, Sky will have autumn international rugby Tests and the Ashes coming up soon, but when they’re all done and the viewers are sat down in February, what else is there to watch?

BT Sport will always be there with a good variety of sport, and it’s a strategy which is intrinsic to their quest to surpass Sky as the country’s leading sports broadcaster.

On the evidence of the last weekend at least, BT Sport have won the battle. Give them a few more years and they may well have won the broadcasting war.

  • You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89