Thursday, 19 June 2014

A Day Of Contrasts: Bowing Out In Style And Shame

Day seven of the 2014 saw the first three teams eliminated from the competition. The contrast in the three different ways each of them exited the tournament could not have been greater. While one team enhanced its reputation, another marked the passing of an era of dominance. Sadly, the third team did neither.

The expectations on Australia could not have been smaller. They were the rank outsiders coming into the competition and they were facing the Dutch team who destroyed reigning champions Spain. They were expected to be blown away. Despite an admirable start, once the Netherlands took the lead those predictions looked even more likely. Instead, 13 seconds of playing time later, this happened...

That is how you respond to adversity! Despite going on to take the lead, Australia eventually lost out to the class of the Dutch, and in particular Robin Van Persie. They kept fighting for a result right up until the final whistle, doing themselves and their nation proud.

In contrast to the Australians, the weight of expectation on the shoulders of the Spanish team was immense. These were the superstars who had dominated World and European football for the past six years. The thought of Spain becoming the first holders to go out after only playing two games would have been inconceivable a week ago. Last night it happened. In truth they never looked like overcoming Chile, who were quicker, more energetic, and more creative. The Spanish looked tired and short of inspiration. We were watching the sad sight of a once powerful, but now wounded, animal trying to cling onto its former glory and dignity, but instead succumbing to the inevitable throes of death. This team has much to be proud of though. All good things come to an end, but we should not forget how good this Spanish team were for three consecutive tournaments. This group of players have more than earned the right to be forgiven for 2014's failures.

And then came Cameroon. Cameroon were the African nation who first showed the world how good African football could be. It was Cameroon in 1990 who battled past the reigning champions Argentina in the opening game. It was that 1990 team that made it all the way to the quarter finals, where they were very unlucky to be beaten by England. The team of Roger Miller and co showed passion, creativity and flair, and in the process won the hearts of the footballing world.

24 years on, their successors earned nothing but scorn and will not be missed from the competition. Unlike the 1990 team, the 2014 team were full of household names, reaping the rewards of the hard work of earlier teams who helped pave the way for African stars to have well paid careers with top teams from around the world. It was this squad of very highly paid players who refused to board the team's flight to Brazil because they wanted to be paid more in win bonuses. History is written by the victors, and history will show that this squad were self-centred and greedy, a disgrace to the shirt they wore.

Instead of squabbling over ways of inflating their already inflated bank balances, this team would have been betters served arriving in Brazil on time, and knuckling down to some hard work. Even if they didn't care about the glory of representing their nation, the thousands of their fans who made the trip to Brazil deserved better. Rather than win bonuses, this squad should be fined to help refund the fans who paid to experience the world cup.

Nobody is suggesting there is shame in defeat, or shame in not qualifying. However, there is huge shame in the way Cameroon played, and then threw away, the game. At times they looked like a team controlled by a novice trying to master a football simulator. Players running in every direction, charging down the pitch only to fall over for no reason, or to forget to take the ball with them. The performance lacked spirit or creativity.

Worse though, the performance lacked dignity or any comprehension of the value of representing their nation. Alex Song's dismissal for an off the ball elbow was stupid and cowardly. It cost his team any chance of survival. Benoit Assou-Ekotto's headbutting of a team mate was worse.

Where Australia kept fighting for a result earlier, Cameroon just kept fighting.

These Cameroon players should hang their heads in shame. They have been a disgrace to their nation. They won't be the last team to exit at the group stage - thirteen more must follow. However, I sincerely hope they are the last to exit with such a lack of dignity.

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