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World Cup Soccer

Petulant players, underwhelming teams highlight World Cup

By Igor Henriques, Contributing Editor

Toronto, Canada (Sports Network) - It was supposed to be a celebration of a beautiful game, a gathering of some of the best soccer players in the world. The 2010 World Cup, however, has raised concern in regards to some of the world's best teams.

First and foremost came the French, a team made up of tactically talented individuals like Franck Ribery, Nicolas Anelka and Florent Malouda, but lacking the overall guidance and composure to leave their mark in South Africa.

Indeed, the French team has never been the same since that fateful day at the 2006 World Cup final, when team captain Zinedine Zidane ended his international career not in glory, but in shame, after head butting Italy's Marco Materazzi.

With Zidane's playmaking abilities no longer available, the French struggled to produce the kind of magical soccer that saw them win the Cup in 1998, due to a lack of strong presence in the midfield.

To further fuel problems, coach Raymond Domenech was made into a lame duck coach right before the tournament, and what followed was perhaps the most shameful display ever seen at a World Cup.

After a scoreless draw with Uruguay in their opening match, the French needed a positive result against a resolute Mexican side, but were undone by the Mexicans, 2-0. And so it began, after outspoken forward Anelka got into a verbal spat with Domenech and was dismissed from the squad.

A French coup d'etat then commenced as captain Patrice Evra, believing there was an informant within the squad, got into a altercation with a French training ground assistant and led a player revolt against Domenech. The team then refused to participate in a training session before their final match against South Africa because of the dismissal of Anelka.

Evra was promptly benched for the match, an uninspired 2-1 loss to South Africa which sent the French crashing out of the tournament. Domenech refused to shake South Africa coach Carlos Alberto Parreira's hand after the match, his final act as the French coach.

Fortunately for the French, defending champion Italy had their own problems in South Africa, albeit for different reasons.

The Italians, who had a subpar Euro 2008 tournament, brought back 2006 Cup- winning coach Marcello Lippi in hopes of rekindling some old glory.

Unfortunately, the key term wound up being "old". Lippi's insistence on keeping much of the old guard that brought Italy the title in '06 proved to be their downfall in South Africa.

Players like Gennaro Gattuso, Gianluca Zambrotta and Fabio Cannavaro were all well past their prime but Lippi refused to budge, while younger talents like Antonio Cassano, Fabrizio Miccoli and Giuseppe Rossi were all left out. One would think they could have proved the difference in the Italians' lackluster showing in South Africa, finishing at the bottom of a group that featured soccer minnow New Zealand and lightweight Slovakia.

Perhaps no team in South Africa had higher expectations than the English national team. A strong World Cup qualifying campaign under Italian manager Fabio Capello had many in England thinking that its 44-year title drought would end this year.

Manchester United star Wayne Rooney did not find the net, however, and once again Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard failed to gel in the midfield, a major problem that has existed for years.

Though a controversial disallowed goal was the focus of their 4-1 loss to Germany, the English always looked second-best to their German counterparts, with a lack of speed on defense being a major concern.

Boasting a roster comprised solely of English Premier league players, they failed to live up to lofty expectations. Given the age of stars Gerrard, Lampard and John Terry, the English may not get the opportunity again with their current group of players.

Expectations for Cristiano Ronaldo's Portuguese side were meek considering the team struggled in qualifying and was drawn into the supposed "Group of Death" in the tournament. What was expected of the Portuguese, however, was a flair-filled offensive attack that has made them a very entertaining team.

A very defensive approach under coach Carlos Queiroz allowed little room for the likes of Ronaldo to showcase his talents, who showed displeasure in his inability to create quality scoring chances under Queiroz' system.

Besides a 7-0 drubbing that was handed out against a weak North Korean team, the Portuguese failed to register a goal in matches against the Ivory Coast, Brazil and Spain.

A renaissance of sorts is needed for these teams to achieve the heights of past results. Whether or not it happens four years from now in Brazil remains to be seen.

07/02 11:39:20 ET

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