The final rosebushes in bloom, hidden from the public view by tracts of weeds in FIFAs overgrown garden
2002 South Korea / Japan
FIFA’s decision to have two countries host the finals stage prompted a spate of no hopers to club together for future bids, in the hope that they might win the bidding process and qualify for the finals themselves. Scotland have been among the most prominent names to feature in these partnerships although I believe their chances were hampered when they tried to use Atlantis as co-hosts. FIFA’s Inspection Reports suggested that the waterlogged pitches may prove problematic and Atlantis didn’t have enough stadia to cope with the deluge of matches being shifted due to the Scottish weather.
English football, the Premier League had assumed its mantle of being the financially dominant competition in club football, reflected in the number of players at these finals who plied their trades in these shores. It meant a plethora of transfer targets could begin to appear in the back pages. Bixente Lizarazu joined Vieira, Henry and Wiltord in the French squad who as defending champions put in a shambolic defence of their crown. Former Arsenal midfielder, Emmanuel Petit, had yet to start his movie career, plying his trade in the pre-Russian Chelsea Republic having failed to make any impression at Barcelona beyond a nifty set of brass rubbings from Catalan churches. No goals, no wins and one point; at least they provided a different comedy relief, the sort of derision usually reserved for the England squad swam across the channel before collapsing into gales of laughter on the Normandy beaches. Any Arsenal supporters involved would feel French wrath in later years when they decided that Mikael Silvestre should join from Manchester United when his prime was well behind him.
The Danes topped that group including Thomas Gravesen, the lost Mitchell Brother, who some thought Arsène should sign from Everton when the midfield looked a little light. Poland meanwhile had future Arsenal player Jerzy Dudek in their squad. Yes, I know you are scratching your head at that one but it’s true, Arsenal did announce him as a player before the ink had even touched the contract (thanks to Arseblog for the picture and the story). The then-Liverpool goalkeeper could do little as they crashed out of a group won by South Korea. Second place was taken by three teams – the USA! USA! USA! – whilst Portugal and Poland occupied the bottom two spots. The Americans included Brad Freidel whose name popped up on lists of experienced goalkeepers that we should sign in recent seasons before he went to the wrong end of the Seven Sisters and everyone realised he wasn’t actually that good any more. Co-hosts Japan also won their group, Belgium finishing second largely thanks to the intelligent midfield play of Danny Boffin.
Once again, there were no confirmed sightings of Alex Song in the crowd to support his cousin, Rigobert in the Cameroonian squad or Arsenal’s right back at the time, Lauren. The Africans exited in the opening round, unable to cope with the hustle and bustle of Ireland’s style, having beaten Saudi Arabia and lost to a German squad which included future Arsenal goalkeeper, Jens Lehmann. He was a proper goalkeeper unlike Niall Quinn, who had been tagged as the third in Jack Charlton’s squad twelve years earlier. This time he was included as a striker and enough said about that, the better. Davor Suker, the Croatian captain and one-season wonder at Highbury, was now plying his trade in Munich with 1860 and managed just over an hour of their first game defeat to Mexico before catching a flight home as the Croats exited in round one. It was a common theme for this tournament as teams which were expected to do well, fell at the first hurdle.
England somehow didn’t and perhaps that was due to the strong Arsenal backbone in their line-up. Three of the club’s quartet – Seaman, Cole and Campbell – lined up against teammate Freddie Ljungberg, fresh from making Chelsea look ordinary in the FA Cup final. And winning the league at Old Trafford, of course. Campbell scored a legitimate goal for his country, quite possibly for the first time at the World Cup finals, but Sweden pegged them back for a one-all draw that was entirely unsurprising and a fair result from memory. The Swedes beat Kanu’s Nigeria as England faced Argentina in the next group match, winning thanks to a dubiously won but comfortably converted penalty from future Arsenal trainee, David Beckham. The remaining group games were drawn and the Europeans qualified with Sweden top on goals scored, no thanks to Freddie who had yet to trouble the record books. He didn’t in the next round either, Sweden surprising losing 2 - 1 to Senegal.
England comfortably bounded past a Bendtner-less Denmark to set up a meeting with future Arsenal gentleman, Gilberto Silva, and a Brazilian squad determined to put right the wrong of not turning up for the 1998 final, which they duly did. David Seaman was in the England squad so often that this was his third major finals in three different decades. A shame his arm couldn’t stretch back that far as Ronaldinho’s free kick went past him. Whilst Ashley Cole played well and was on his way to a record twenty-two appearances for his country in major finals, I still maintain that had Martin Keown played, he would have stopped Brazil in their tracks. As it was, he didn’t play a minute, joining Viv Anderson and George Eastham as one of the few who were picked for two World Cup squads and never played.
When Michael Owen told us that he was looking forward to seeing Sven Goran Eriksson on 9th July, we knew at whose house the England Team were having their World Cup Final Barbie. The former striker’s optimism was so utterly misplaced as an abysmal England squad proved to be worse than we thought in Germany. But that wasn’t the news of the tournament, Arsène was busy signing the legendary Tomas Rosicky before the tournament from Borussia Dortmund, even if the paperwork wasn’t filed until afterwards. Who says the market is quiet beforehand? He was one of a cast of thousands of future Arsenal players at these finals, Mertesacker was there, Fabianski, William Gallas, along with *whisper* Mikael Silvestre and Park Chu-Young as some sort of bad omen for the future. Perhaps Arsène had seen something then which we all missed? That’s before we mention Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Rami Shabaan, Patrick Vieira and Sylvain Wiltord, who had left the club for pastures new by this time. Failed Arsenal trialist Yaya Toure was in the Ivory Coast squad. How bad must he have played at Arsenal not to be taken on?
If there were many of the future and past, the present provided 15 of the Arsenal squad, along with 625 of Team Adebayor who were beginning a scouting mission for their venture two years later which would end in his sale to Manchester City. The full list is: Lehmann, Cole, Campbell, Walcott, Ljungberg, Kolo Toure, van Persie, Silva, Henry, Djourou, Senderos, Reyes, Fabregas, Eboue and Adebayor. Sol Campbell’s inclusion meant that he set a new record for playing in the finals of six consecutive tournaments, from Euro 96 onwards. That’s France 98, Euro2000, Korea/Japan 2002, Euro2004 and this one, to save you working out the others. Theo Walcott’s selection was contentious until the FA explained that they had spent their travel budget but could take the youngster as he qualified for a child’s fare. It was money well spent as he learned a lot that he has been able to put to good use in World Cups since.
England topped their group, impressively beating two countries in one match, 2 – 0 vs Trinidad and Tobago, having subjected us to 87 minutes of mind-numbing tedium in the opening 1 – 0 over Paraguay. Freddie Ljungberg scored in Sweden’s win over Paraguay and unsurprisingly, the two European nations drew when they met but unlike four years earlier, England topped the group. A fat lot of good it did them as they continued the time-honoured tradition of losing on penalties, this time to Portugal whose goalkeeper Ricardo was, to the regret of a thousand headline writers, not replaced by Benfica’s Quim.
And what of the rest? Reyes and Cesc went home at the same time as England. Arsenal transfer targets Xabi Alonso and David Villa set them off to a fine start with a win over Ukraine which led to a procession of points from Saudi Arabia and Tunisia. First decent team and they lost, France winning 3 – 1 in the second round. The French were in the same group as Togo and Switzerland, who qualified with them. Senderos got on the scoresheet against South Korea, kept Henry at bay in a goalless draw and was probably sad that the Swiss exited unbeaten in open play as they lost on penalties to Ukraine. Adebayor was deemed a ringleader as Togo players argued about bonuses and went home without a point to their name. He didn’t even have the record of scoring their only goal in that tournament either. The French made up for their disappointment four years earlier by making the heartache worse, losing their heads and the final to Italy on penalties.
Eboue and Kolo Toure faced Arsenal colleague Robin van Persie, ending up losing to the Dutch and Argentina before exiting with a win over Serbia and Montenegro, the winner coming courtesy of some-time Arsenal target Kalou. Don’t even go there, Arsène. The Dutch went out to England’s conquerors, Portugal whilst Gilberto Silva’s Brazil lost to France. All the while, I know what you’re thinking (beyond that this is going on a bit), where’s Lehmann in all this? He was busy saving penalties with his infamous note of paper. Well, with his hands as opposed to the paper itself as Germany cracked on to finish third, having lost to Italy in the last four before beating the Portuguese in the fourth-placed trophy final. And yes, you’ve guessed, the Portuguese goalkeeper was…still Ricardo.
2010 South Africa
If Germany spoilt us for choice, only 11 of the Arsenal squad made it to the first African finals. Thankfully, Theo Walcott wasn’t one of them because England were so bloody awful that I am sure his reputation was enhanced. Yes, England were unlucky that Lampard’s goal was disallowed by it would have been a travesty if Germany hadn’t won. Still what did Capello expect with no Arsenal players to call on, former employees Ashley Cole and Matthew Upson were present. Yes, Matthew Upson was for a time the best centre back the country could call upon…
Whilst there was an average number of Arsenal players in attendance, the past and present was a veritable smorgasbord. Henry and Anelka were with France, Bacary Sagna too now falls into this category. Kanu, Park Chu-Young, Squillaci, Clichy, Gallas, van Persie, van Bronckhorst, Bendtner, Gilberto Silva, Julio Baptista, Toure, Gervinho, Demel, Eboue, Cesc and Senderos. It’s almost an XI on its own. Some can fall into both, their Arsenal careers not yet started in 201o and now over.
The French were in disarray before the tournament started and continued to descend when the time demanded they were serious. The heirs did what seemed impossible and put in even more abject performances than in 2002, losing along the way to Carlos Vela’s Mexico, who would eventually lose to Argentina in the second round.
But it was the Germans who once more set the world alight. Last four in 2006, a repeat performance in 2010, undone in the semi-finals by the eventual champions once more, this time Spain courtesy of a Carles Puyol goal eliminating them. Özil was instrumental as England were torn apart and the highly thought of Argentinians were shown equally little respect in the quarter-finals as they were battered 4 – 0. The Germans were many peoples favourites to win the tournament but the warning signs had been there with defeat to Serbia in the group stages. It just goes to show how blinded you can be by a couple of good results. They finished third again, Podolski grabbed a couple of goals in the tournament although his trademark finish against England was his last, Özil scored the winner against Ghana in the group stages.
And you’re right, this final section is brief and that brevity reflects just what an awful tournament 2010 was. What should have been a celebration was for the most part, drab, dour and uninspiring, epitomised by the Dutch performance in losing to Spain when it mattered. Let’s hope that Brazil, with its history in the game offers something
And at a long last, there was a sighting of Alex Song at the World Cup, Rigobert showing him the ropes as a senior member of the squad.