WORLD CUP JUNE 11, 2010
Am I disappointed? Well, yes. Whenever a team owns the ball for 70% of a match, one is bound to feel frustrated if said match ends in a draw. But I’m used to this. A friend just shared with me what seems like the perfect epitaph for Mexico’s first outing in South Africa: “If football were a game with no results needed, Mexico would be a real contender.” It’s true: We’ve always been masters at possession: the lateral pass is a country specialty and we can cover the ball just like the best of them. But when it comes to scoring, well, let’s just say we still haven’t figured it out, especially in World Cups. In all, I thought Mexico was the better of two very limited teams. The “Bafana-Bafana” danced and taunted in the tunnel and then left the whole field to their opponent (is that “Parreira’s strategy?" Man! I’d like to coach too!). The hosts were less than mediocre. For 45 minutes, they didn’t manage four passes in a row. And then, in the second half, they had one chance and nailed it. One play and that was it. Mexico should have scored at least twice in the first half. But, alas, it didn’t. That’s football for you and Mexican destiny for me.
Still, there’s something that left me sadder after this first day than Mexico’s shaky start. I’m talking about the ball. I tend to disregard the kvetching about the new ball. It happens every time: “It moves a lot,” the goalies say; “it’s unpredictable,” add the forwards. Just play, is my usual answer. But not this time. Just watch Lloris, the French keeper (a great goalie, I might add). His face says it all: “Where the hell is that thing going,” he seems to be asking. Or see Forlán (Forlán!) trying to field a long cross from Lugano. The ball flies too much, it’s slippery and, crucially, it really is capricious. A shot on goal can inexplicably turn into a missed chance by the ball’s strange sense of dynamics. And that, my friends, is a pity. FIFA has long been run by a showman, more interested in promoting the sport than in respecting it. If Blatter had his way, the goal itself would be expanded a couple of inches. Now, I fear, he has gone too far. Yes: Football has always been about taming a ball while facing loyal competition. But the ball itself should be neutral and faithful, not a crazy gerbil playing tricks on the participants. Jabulani is no fair ball.