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
 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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