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: What makes a ‘good’ World Cup?

Throughout the current 2014 World Cup, TV presenters, pundits and commentators have been referring to the tournament as one of the best in history.

Those opinions provoke the obvious question “what makes a good World Cup”?

If a ‘good’ World Cup is judged solely on goals, France ’98 would come top of the pile with 171. Brazil 2014 is currently on target to smash that with 140 goals scored and a healthy 14 games remaining.

Goals, though important to the enjoyment of a football match, are not the lone gauges of whether a World Cup is ‘good’ or not.

Historically, World Cups with a large dose of controversy are often remembered more than those that pass without incident.

For instance, would the 2010 World Cup in South Africa be as memorable had it not been for a tetchy final marked by Nigel de Jong’s ‘kung-fu’ kick on Xabi Alonso and referee Howard Webb’s decision to show a yellow card instead of red?

Or will Luis Suarez’s bite at Brazil 2014 be the defining memory of the current tournament?

A ‘good’ World Cup could also be measured by the amount of magical and dramatic moments, such as Gordon Banks’ incredible save from Pele at Mexico ’70 or Roberto Baggio’s penalty shoot-out miss against Brazil in the 1994 final.

There are obviously hundreds of similar moments that won’t get a mention, but viewers will often point towards a perfect storm of goals, controversy, super saves and drama as being a good indicator of whether a World Cup has been ‘good’ or not.

But, despite all those components, the most telling aspect of a ‘good’ World Cup is the atmosphere.

If the fans are not enjoying themselves, if there is a lack of singing in the stands or if the host nation is eliminated in the group stage then history dictates that that World Cup would be deemed an anti-climax.

For instance Spain ’82 would be a candidate for a forgettable World Cup as it is rarely mentioned by experts as being anything other than ordinary.

Spain were knocked out in the second phase, while reigning champions Argentina and their arch-rivals Brazil also fell at the second hurdle.

The Spanish heat may have been a direct cause of a lack of action on the pitch, but also an uninspiring set of fixtures coupled with a shortage of excitement did not help the tournament in any way – only Paolo Rossi could realistically claim to have created any lasting World Cup memories.

Perhaps no atmosphere of a World Cup however, is as intense as the one in Brazil this summer.

For months before it started and in some parts while it is still running, Brazil had witnessed dozens of angry protests about the excessiveness of the spending of money allocated to accommodate the World Cup.

Yet the football-loving people of Brazil have combined to mask those protests and channel positivity through the veins of the country with their passion and love of the game.

Some 200,000 people crowded along Copacabana beach yesterday to watch Brazil defeat Chile on penalties to reach the quarter-finals.

The World Cup is the greatest prize for the majority of Brazilians in a continent which sees football as a religion.

The result is a festival-like environment at almost every World Cup match to have been played so far, and by any reckoning Brazil 2014 will be remembered as a ‘good’ World Cup – and potentially the best of them all – no matter what happens in Rio on 13 July.

You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

Who are the best and worst Premier League referees?

One of the most asked questions in football is, “Who’d want to be a referee?” – only someone capable of ignoring volleys of abuse hurled at them from all parts of the pitch, and a good amount from the stands. And the dug-outs. And those perched in front of a TV.

Newcomers to football might wonder why these referees, who give up their Saturday afternoons to officiate in the biggest games, actually put up with all the insults.

It could be because they get a great deal of protection from the sport’s governing bodies.

For instance, five years ago the FA started a ‘Respect’ campaign which was broadened by UEFA and FIFA, but which, like so many other schemes, has done little to mollify those who shout at officials with Neanderthal-like ferocity.

UEFA and FIFA have even refrained from publishing referee statistics, i.e. the number of yellow and red cards they have awarded in a given season, to further protect them from the bitterness that they so often encounter.

However, it is also said that the mark of a good referee is to go through a game virtually unseen. So who are the best and worst referees that Premier League fans have the pleasure of watching?

The good ones are up first:

5. Martin Atkinson (26 yellows, 1 red in 2013/14)

Fans can readily expect a good level of consistency from Atkinson, which is a quality so often desired by commentators around the country. His calm demeanour and the fact that he is also one of the more experienced referees currently officiating in the Premier League means he is a safe bet for the more explosive matches.

4. Mark Clattenburg (34 yellows, 0 reds)

A couple of years ago, Clattenburg would not have made the good list. His former tendencies to be erratic and inconsistent in big matches were key pieces of evidence on that front. However, after serving an eight-month ban for breach of contract he has enjoyed a renaissance. Now seen in high-profile games and aided by stronger and more accurate officiating, Clattenburg is one of the country’s top referees.

3. Howard Webb (29 yellows, 0 reds)

Up until the 2010 World Cup final, Howard Webb might have been recognised as the best referee in the world. However, the feisty nature of that match coupled with his decision not to send Dutch midfielder Nigel de Jong off for a ‘kung-fu’ challenge on Spain’s Xabi Alonso has tarnished his reputation somewhat. As a result, the FA has shared around the highest-profile matches more recently, despite Webb maintaining a level of respect from players that is rarely enjoyed. Is that because he’s a policeman?

2. Chris Foy (23 yellows, 1 red)

Steadfast and commanding, Foy finds himself high up on this list. Although recently developing a reputation for shyness in awarding penalties, Foy is a very capable referee who rarely makes glaring errors. Foy, 51, is currently in his eighteenth season as a professional referee and has worked his way up from the Football League to the top flight.

1. Andre Marriner (40 yellows, 4 reds)

Although card happy this season, Marriner has improved his officiating and is now considered to be one of the top referees in the FIFA family. The pinnacle of his career to date was the 2013 FA Cup final, where he became one of the few referees to show a red card in the final, after dismissing Manchester City’s Pablo Zabaleta for a reckless lunge. That he was chosen to officiate that match is evidence of the quality of his refereeing and could be in with a chance of travelling to Brazil next summer.

Now the bad…

5. Anthony Taylor (32 yellows, 2 reds)

One of the youngest referees in the Premier League, Taylor visibly lacks the experience required in big games. Unfortunately for him, he fails to assert his authority in matches, and players are often seen howling at his decisions. That he is rarely picked for games involving the top-flight’s largest teams suggests the FA lack confidence in him at this stage of his career.

4. Mike Dean (34 yellows, 2 reds)

Guilty of awarding soft penalties and often too card happy, Dean is also notorious for his inability to let games flow and is perhaps fond of the sound of his whistle. Despite his shortcomings, Dean is an experienced official and regularly oversees derby matches and other high-profile fixtures.

3. Phil Dowd (43 yellows, 0 reds)

In the past, Dowd was a figure of fun for his bulging waistline, but must attract praise for lifestyle changes that have helped him lose weight. Sir Alex Ferguson was one of the leading critics of his fitness, once remarking that Dowd was often found too far behind play to make key decisions. Dowd’s style also irritates, especially his snarling approach to on-field conversations and a whistle-happy tendency.

2. Jonathan Moss (33 yellows, 2 reds)

Moss, much like Taylor, has a lack of experience at the top level and consequently is prone to making decisions which are often inconsistent. He has twice been the specific subject of criticism on Match of the Day this season, and was guilty of a nightmare display in Crystal Palace’s trip to Old Trafford where several highly contentious decisions went against the Eagles – notably the dismissal of Kagisho Dikgacoi after Ashley Young’s dive.

1. Michael Oliver (44 yellows, 1 red)

To coin a popular phrase, Oliver is a ‘bottler’. A measure of a referee is their ability to withstand the heated atmosphere and pressured environment of top-flight football and, on many occasions, Oliver has quivered in the face of such requirements. He is, nevertheless, highly-regarded by the FA and has overseen his fair share of big matches. In mitigation, he is very young and will only improve with more experience, but has perhaps been promoted too soon into his career – and that is sorely evident.

  • You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89