The Fab Four miss out on the last four


They came, they saw, but to every-one’s surprise, they failed to conquer.

With the semi-finals of the World Cup coming up over the next two days four of the world’s best known players will be watching the action on television whilst on holiday, on the outside looking in.

As the draw was made for the 2010 World Cup, we were licking our collective lips in anticipation of seeing the greatest footballers on the planet parade their skills on the grandest stage of all. Who among them would hold aloft the great prize in South Africa?

The Argentinian genius Lionel Messi-the man we all agree had surpassed Christiano Ronaldo as the best in the business?

Ronaldo himself- The Portuguese with the smile and talent almost as big as his ego?

The brilliant Brazilian Kaka-carrying the hopes and dreams of the 5 times World Champions and their fanatical fans?

Or, Wayne Rooney- Architect of so many English victories and scorer of vital goals in the qualifiers?

All are gone and with them the chance to finally lay claim to the title-“Legend of Legends”. On this occasion at least.

Messi was the only one who came remotely close to replicating his previous form and upholding his reputation as a serial tormentor. He showed fleeting glimpses of his ability and was a constant thorn in the sides he faced-until illness took it’s toll on him.

Shortly before Maradona’s men were due to face off against Germany in the quarter- finals, Messi was reportedly suffering flu like symptoms. It was alleged he was masking the reality of his ailment-a sinister virus which threatened his participation in the game.

He took the pitch, much to the delight of myself and millions of others willing him to perform as only he can and hopefully see him score his first goal for the Albiceleste in the tournament. It was to be a forlorn hope as Germany took Argentina apart and Messi was a shadow of his former self. Whenever the camera panned in on him, he seemed to look gaunt. I had no doubt his inclusion was a gamble and his haunted look throughout seemed to vindicate this opinion.

Messi played well in the games leading up to the quarter-final against Nigeria, South Korea, Greece and Mexico and it would be unfair to judge him on his lack of goals. He was the instigator of some exhillerating moves by his team and his assists were plentiful. Perhaps his physical demise was instrumental in Argentina’s spectacular downfall. We’ll never know.

Ronaldo played in a Portugal side initially brimming with confidence. A largely anonymous performance in the draw with The Ivory Coast was to set the tone for a sub-standard quartet of games for the player who had statues unveiled of him in World Cup adverts-all before a ball was kicked in earnest.

He found a bit of form and scored a strange slow-motion type goal at the fag end of a 7-0 demolition of a hapless North Korea. He was awarded the Man Of The Match trophy but sensing the feeling of injustice and elitism in this decision, he magnanimously handed the award to Tiago, who was much more effective. Tiago also scored two quality goals and Ronaldo’s gesture reflected this. It did his reputation no harm and emitted a sense of fair play.

The bore draw with Brazil showed the seamier side of the game, with neither side overly ambitious or willing to offer the paying public bang for their buck. Portugal dug in and a forward foray was an occasion-something we’ve seen before from sides with rabbit-in-the-headlights syndrome. Both sides were through in the event of a draw and only Brazil looked like they cared for the glory. Ronaldo would have been better off at home changing the nappies of his

new born. What would have been found in said nappies would not have been out of place on the park, according to the spectators.

Spain eventually found them out and a 1-0 defeat meant that Portugal were going home before the quarter-finals. David Villa was the name on everyone’s lips and not Christiano Ronaldo. The statues it seems, would have to be quickly covered up- until next time.

Kaka was the man the critics felt was most likely to be holding the World Cup aloft in Jo’burg. Like his co-Real Madrid star Ronaldo, he had something to prove and was desperate to salvage a major award from a wretched season. Four good results on the trot combined with some Brazil-like performances sent the faithful into raptures.

North Korea, The Ivory Coast and Chile were disposed of effectively if not ruthlessly and Kaka was among those who shone brightly. Even in the Portugal match when everyone was man marked and chances were as rare as a pope with tourettes, Kaka showed why he is rated so highly in the world game.

Few players can cause so much consternation among opposing sides as this man and he is always available to inflict maximum damage when least expected. Holland knew this when they set out their stall to ensure he went home empty handed. They succeeded.

Having achieved their initial goal of riling the South Americans, the Netherlands mirrored their nemesis’ tactics and out-Brazil-ed Brazil. They scored a fortunate equaliser and the Brazilians stood still whilst one of the smallest players on the park headed in the winner. Game over. Brazil and Kaka were out and we were left to rue the loss of one of the world’s greats before the semi-finals.

When Wayne Rooney of Manchester United picked up an injury a few weeks before the World Cup was due to begin, the population of England from Carlisle to Exeter held it’s breath. The colour was only brought back to their cheeks when Sir Alex declared his centre forward fit for active duty.

Whether the duty was seen to be active or not is a bone of contention for all who witnessed one of the most inept and gutless displays ever by an England side at a major finals-and Rooney was left to ponder why nobody would pass the ball to him.

A 1-1 draw against the United States followed by a 0-0 shocker with Algeria had the headline writers wringing their hands and prompted the usual suspects to publicly flay the men they were supposedly “supporting”!! Rooney was getting the brunt of the criticism along with Capello.

A ground out, but deserved 1-0 win over a poor Slovenia side did nothing to dispel the doubters grumblings and again, Roo failed to hit the target. He was not receiving the service he craved from a lethargic midfield. However,he was clearly unfit and out of sorts. England qualified by the skin of their teeth from the easiest group of them all and celebrated like it was ’66-and all that. All except Rooney who looked like he just wanted to go home for a cuddle from Princess Fiona.

Germany came calling next and hammered England 4-1 with a devastating display of power play and counter attacking efficiency, sending them catapulting out of the World Cup, humiliated and without so much as a Wayne Rooney goal to celebrate.

Four great individuals who all exited the World Cup prematurely and without fulfilling their promise. All had different circumstances and different service from team mates but ultimately, all will see this as a chance lost to establish themselves firmly in the minds of football fans all over the world as the new Peles or Maradonas. Time will tell if they can achieve this on another stage-at another time.

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