THE world cup in South Africa is slowly coming down to the business end with the conclusion of the group matches in a day. Four groups have finished their fixtures, two more will complete their engagements in a few hours and the rest will finish off tomorrow.
Australia bowed out as expected, leaving everything to the end by expecting to record a big win and also be helped by a result from the other game in the group. The team was humiliated in its opening fixture and that put paid to any chances of going into the round of 16.
Thus far, the traditional powerhouses Brazil and Argentina have looked the goods. Germany put up a horrible show in their second group tie but are still a force to be reckoned with, and teams like Portugal, Holland and Paraguay are also showing signs of being competitive.
Holders Italy, normally a sluggish starter, have to win their final game to qualify, with a shock draw against minnows New Zealand putting them somewhat off their stride. Pre-tournament favourites Spain have also left it to the end to qualify.
The teams from Africa have been a disappointment – only Ghana will be there when the knockout phase begins. Ivory Coast was the strongest contender but unfortunately is in a group with Brazil and Portugal. The other African team to perform well in the past, Cameroon, looks like a shadow of what it used to be. The hosts, South Africa, have been knocked out as well.
But none of the games played so far have produced classic soccer. There have been upsets a plenty – Switzerland defeated Spain, New Zealand drew with Italy – but the kind of top-drawer performance that one sees at every world cup is yet to be seen.
There is no star player either. Nobody can yet call this world cup his own. It’s a reflection of the fact that football is now a game which attracts so much money that not losing has become paramount.