An unpredictable tournament was, in the end, won by the favorite, when Spain emerged from a brawl of a final against the Netherlands clutching the prize. Spain becomes only the third nation to win the World Cup while holding the European title (the others being West Germany and France) and the first to triumph in the final after losing its first match. Spain's occasionally explosive but predominantly neat and composed soccer produces unfathomably flawless statistics. The trophy rewarded its loyalty to that approach regardless of its reception elsewhere around the globe and in the face of a violent final.
The Netherlands, has raged at the referee's handling of Sunday's match, in which the Oranje saw nine yellow cards and one red, but its two midfield enforcers could both have been sent off before halftime, and probably would have been in a less important match.
On Saturday, the Germans made certain of a European sweep of the top three spots, a result that had looked incredibly unlikely midway through the tournament. Embroiled in scandal from the moment they stepped off the plane, the French at least laid down their farcical exit as a crash mat when Italy later hit bottom. Having squeaked through qualifying, Portugal only really roused itself against North Korea, while England proved that qualifying strongly doesn't always mean much. Denmark was knocked off its stride by an effervescent Japanese side and even Spain lost to Switzerland.
While the harbingers of Eurodoom solemnly rang their bells, the Central and South Americans made hay. Uruguay, Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, Chile and Paraguay all emerged from the group stage playing, for the most part, the tournament's most adventurous football. A maximum of four could survive the round of 16, since Chile and Mexico faced Brazil and Argentina, respectively, and all four duly went through. Doo-oom! tolled the bells. Doo-oom!
But as quickly as the storm clouds had gathered over Europe, they dispersed. The Netherlands forced Brazil into a calamitous second-half capitulation and Spain refused to share the ball with Paraguay. Argentina was poleaxed by a Germany side that picked up where it had left off against England. Had Uruguay not (literally) snatched victory from Ghana in the 121st minute, South America would have been cut from the fixture list entirely.
The near-absence of African nations from the knockout stages bucked the trend of unpredictability. Ivory Coast's labored efforts mirrored those of talismanic striker
But Africa's first World Cup has been, by all accounts, a barnstorming success, despite the rampant skepticism that marked the build-up to South Africa 2010. The fate that befell Togo's squad at January's African Cup of Nations seemed only to confirm the worst fears about security surrounding an event like this -- even Archbishop
Not only has the tournament passed with relatively little crime (about 100 people have been charged with low-level offenses), but it also has become the third-best-attended World Cup. Though some of the fields have struggled to stand up to the schedule and there have been some problems for fans traveling between cities, the stadiums, which many feared would not be ready, have been excellent.
"The atmosphere was incredible," German Chancellor
FIFA's Technical Study Group might have seen fit to restrict him to the Young Player category, but it's absurd to have a conversation about the tournament's best players without including Germany's
Forlan was voted the official player of the tournament and he was indeed impressive -- his mastery of the supposedly uncontrollable Jabulani ball was sublime. As was
A number of star players didn't perform in South Africa, including
But goalkeepers were the most regular occupants of this spot, starting with England's
We can't let the strikers off scot-free, though -- not when there's
A quick look at the 10-man Golden Ball short list will tell you that defenders have a hard time getting recognized for their contribution. So a word for a quartet of fullbacks who caught the eye during the last month: Chile's
From a U.S. perspective -- or rather, a Brit perspective on the U.S. -- Donovan has had rather more of the attention than two players who really deserve plaudits for their performances:
The perfect goal is all a matter of taste, and there was something to suit most palates here. A bullet from an unfathomable angle take your fancy, sir? Try
2) One of the only marks Italy made on the finals was
The World Cup is not a uniformly happy time for coaches. A dozen of them ended the tournament circling ads in the jobs pages and there are doubts over the futures of several more. Some were already going, such as France's
It was a happier tournament for
But no coach's corner would be complete without
"Let us keep celebrating, let the vuvuzelas keep blowing and let the football festival continue at Soccer City and the fan parks. This has been a truly inspiring, moving and uplifting month. Well done, South Africa."