My tournament began in the conference room of a fund management company on George Street in Edinburgh: I had travelled through from Glasgow for the day to visit a friend who had invited me to watch South Africa-Mexico on an extremely large flat screen TV in his office. A month later, I staggered out of a bar in the red light district of a Chinese city at 6am on a Monday morning, fighting unsuccessfully (though not literally) for a taxi to take me home before the sun came up.
What did we learn between these two events?
1 - Leave predictions to the octopus
Normally I can't be arsed with fantasy football or prediction games or the like, but for this World Cup I had been peppered with them and succumbed to three or four. Mostly I'm pretty garbage at soccer soothsaying, but it seems there are many worse than me - I ended up in the top quarter in all of them and came *this close* to winning a holiday in Bali.
However Paul the psychic octopus outguessed me. Obviously I had Germany beating Serbia, which he got right, but I was also pretty confident that an English-born octopus residing in Germany had no business predicting a Spain-Netherlands final, and therefore he was going to get it wrong. Sadly for my Bali ambitions, he was right and I wasn't.
Octopuses are considered the most intelligent invertebrates and have both short- and long-term memory, so this makes me feel a bit better, and I believe this specific octopus is teetotal, which must help. Also, they lack emotion, which clouds judgement - whereas I fell for the hype machine and had Rooney as one of the tournament's top scorers. After this diatribe (Dear England
), can you believe that? Next time I will listen to the squid.
2 - Our Spain games will be interesting
It doesn't take a cephalopod to tell you that Scotland will have a hard time getting a result against Spain in the Euro 2012 qualifiers. The way they've been playing, I think we will do well to touch the ball long enough to score a goal.
Spain had 62% of the possession in the final against Holland. When the Oranje beat us 1-0 at Hampden, we gave as good as we got but had only 42% of the possession. Now I am not a huge believer in these metrics - I saw Scotland defy them twice against the French - but at some point you need to get hold of the ball to score. We will need some midfielders who can chase, tackle, and pass accurately (87% pass completion from Spain in the tournament overall!).
My one hope while seeing Spain succeed in South Africa was that we played them very early in the qualifiers, so we could take advantage of a post-victory hangover. Well, we play them in October at Hampden but that'll be their third game of the series, so any early upsets will have them focused by then. I suspect we will have to resort to a couple of games of 4-5-1 "Wattenacio" (note how the Dutch adopted it, but dressed it up as 4-2-3-1) and hope for 90 minutes of magnificent defending interrupted only by a blistering run and strike from Alan Hutton.
Apart from Spain: I do hope the Czech Republic continue on their downward slide
3 - The small country myth is a myth
The other half of the velvet divorce, Slovakia, put up a decent showing despite having the same population as Scotland. Uruguay, population 3.5m, reached the semi-finals - and not for the first time. Even Slovenia, with a population less than Strathclyde's, were but an injury-time Landon Donovan goal away from the last 16.
So it's not the size, it's what you do with it.
4 - Vorsprung Durch Technik
It's been acknowledged for years - perhaps two decades - that Scotland needs to rebuild its footballing infrastructure, yet nothing has been done. Contrast that with the Germans: they were disappointed after a quarter-final exit to Croatia in 1998, and by May 1999 had revamped their youth system resulting in what you saw over the last few weeks - gorgeous flowing football played by a bunch of kids scoring goals for fun.
The Dutch are renowned for their systematic approach, and despite failure at the national level (well done, Domenech) the French academy system produces lots of wonderful Arsenal players. We have a few SPL teams taking promising teenagers into decent youth setups, but the pool of recruits is too small by that time, while co-ordination across clubs, schools, and the SFA is not there.
I've downloaded and read the first part of the McLeish report, which focuses on talent development. I intend to discuss my thoughts later - my views are mixed - but if we sit on our collective hairy ginger arse and do nothing about it, we'll be sat on the sidelines of World Cups for generations to come.
Top Goals Of The South Africa Football World Cup 2010