FIFA hails Spain, points finger at goalkeepers, overlooks ref errors in analysis of World Cup

Thursday, September 2, 2010

FIFA hails Spain, overlooks referee errors at WCup

ZURICH — FIFA offered high praise for World Cup winner Spain in its official analysis of the event Thursday, and indicated African countries harmed their chances on home soil by employing foreign coaches.

The report also criticized goalkeepers for making “inexplicable errors” — possibly because of the Jabulani ball — but glossed over the refereeing errors that helped eliminate some teams.

It also questioned whether many players were too tired after long seasons to peak in South Africa.

Spain’s 1-0 extra-time victory over a Netherlands team widely criticized for violent tactics in the final. The report described it as “littered with fouls, mainly by the Dutch.”

The soccer governing body assembled a team of experienced coaches and former players to analyze the 64 matches for tactics, trends and observations before publishing a 289-page document.

It concluded that Spain produced “fantastic, highly attractive football,” said Jean-Paul Brigger, director of FIFA’s technical study group.

“They’re a complete team, arguably contenders for team of the century,” Brigger said in an interview published on FIFA’s website. “Xavi, Iniesta and Xabi Alonso in midfield cover huge amounts of ground but play fabulous football too — it looks pretty and even playful, but it’s actually very hard work indeed.”

FIFA’s advisers made a general point that many teams, including hosts South Africa, suffered under the weight of expectations.

They speculated about why Africa’s six teams — five with foreign coaches — faltered. Only quarterfinalist Ghana advanced from the groups.

“The coaches’ chances of success were limited by the fact that they often did not fully identify with the African culture, mentality and lifestyle or knew too little about these factors,” the report said.

Teams such as Cameroon, Nigeria and Algeria also struggled with the “extreme mental burden” of playing the World Cup just five months after the African Cup of Nations in Angola.

“The difficulty resides in keeping players motivated and fit for two such major competitions,” the report said.

Goalkeepers came under fire as “not very consistent,” struggling with penalty-area command, communication and stopping shots.

The “incredible speed” of the light, swerving ball was cited as a factor, but the report says some keepers were simply out of position.

In its match summaries, the report skates over the most high-profile referee errors.

After Frank Lampard’s shot hit the underside of Germany’s crossbar and went over the line, England “thought they had equalized but the goal was not given.”

Meanwhile, “the Mexicans were somewhat unfortunate to fall behind after half an hour” when Argentina’s Carlos Tevez scored from an offside position.

FIFA — which is reviewing match officials’ training — defended referees in a separate section of the report that stated 142 of 145 goals awarded were correct.

“It is clear that errors — some of them serious — did occur. These errors are neither covered up nor justified but are meticulously analyzed to learn from them and improve future training plans.”

FIFA’s technical advisers highlight young and skillful players as crucial to teams’ success, while others were hurt for failing to change their tactics during games.

The report praised Spain and others for defending in all parts of the field as soon as they lost possession of the ball. Argentina was singled out for failing to defend aggressively in its quarterfinal loss to Germany.

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