The 2010 World Cup in South Africa will be remembered for many things. It will be remembered for the huge contrasts in the refereeing quality as some matches were worked wonderfully and others atrociously. With any luck, it will become the final World Cup held without the aid of technology for the referees.
However, I sincerely hope that this World Cup is remembered for all the history it created. Here are ten reasons outside the fact that it was the first World Cup ever held in Africa why the 2010 edition may be the most historically significant tournament since 1930. Some of these feats are clearly more impressive, more historic, and simply more important than others, but they all add to the glory of the tournament that so many thought would be a disaster.
10.) Klose goes Close
-Germany’s Polish-born striker Miroslav Klose scored four goals in what is in all likelihood his final World Cup to go second on the all-time list. Klose is now tied with countryman Gerd Müller with fourteen career World Cup goals, one goal behind all-time leader Ronaldo of Brazil. Klose did not have a great club season, but he once again turned on the goals just for the World Cup in South Africa.
9.) Ghana adds African Legitimacy
-Ghana became the third African nation to reach the quarterfinals at a FIFA World Cup. While most observers were disappointed that Africa’s first World Cup failed to produce the continent’s first semifinalist, the fact is that with this third appearance coming just five tournaments after Roger Milla led Cameroon to the quarters for the first time and being achieved by a team which made the Round of 16 in 2006, African soccer is clearly on the rise.
8.) Fall of the Mighty
-This was the first time that both of the finalists from the previous World Cup failed to reach at least the last 16. This is not quite as historic as it may seem at first as there have been editions where both finalists did not get past the first round, but those were in the days when not all teams could travel to anywhere in the world, the qualification process was very different, and when only 16 teams were invited to the tournament. Perhaps more importantly was the fact that these two teams were France and Italy, although the French have done this before. After winning in 1998, the last time they were finalists before 2006, they were eliminated at the group stage in 2002.
7.) Tops of Top 4
-With a third place finish, Germany extends it lead over the field as the country with the most ever top four finishes at a World Cup. Germany has been in the top four (and the semifinals) twelve times, finishing fourth once (1958), third four times (1934, 1970, 2006, 2010), second four times (1966, 1982, 1986, 2002), and winning the title three times (1954, 1974, 1990). Brazil is in second place, with ten top four finishes (although only 9 semifinal appearances because the 1950 tournament had a group stage to determine the winner, not a final), including five titles and two second-place finished. Germany and Brazil are tied at the top with seven finals appearances. This begs the questions of why Brazil is always so highly favored while Germany is ignored, and which team is really the most successful at the tournament. Are titles really all that matter?
6.) A Record for the Youth System
-With Thomas Müller winning the Best Young Player award, Germany becomes the first nation to ever have back-to-back Best Young Player award winners. First-team regular Lukas Poldoski won the award for Germany in 2006. This is an interesting stat for obvious reasons as the success of the youngster helps illustrate why Germany are consistently in title contention at the World Cup. The stat is also interesting because although Podolski won the award for Germany he was born in Poland. The ability of players to choose a nation to play for (within certain rules and criterion) is the closest thing in international soccer to the transfers and player selections that happened annually in the club game. As long as that is the closest the two come ideologically, the international game will remain far more competitive.
5.) Two Firsts in a Fourth
-By winning the 2010 Golden Ball, awarded to the best player of the tournament as voted on by the media, Deigo Forlán accomplished to feats. He became the first player from Uruguay to win the award. With Uruguay finishing 4th, the South Americans became the lowest-finishing team to ever produce a Golden Ball winner. He also became only the second player to win the award without playing in the final as Italy’s Salvatore Schillaci won the award in 1990 with Italy finishing in 3rd place.
4.) The First No One Wanted
-South Africa became the first host of a World Cup to be eliminated in the group stage. Still, Bafana Bafana, as they are known locally, can be proud of their performances. They went out largely because they were by far the lowest-ranked side to ever be the host nation. On the pitch though, South African can be proud of their performance. They tied much favored Mexico in the group opener, and the beat reigning runners-up France in the group finale. They missed qualification only on goal differential (to Mexico) after a nervous side succumbed to the pressure against a Uruguay side that went on to take fourth place.
3.) The Golden Child
-Thomas Müller, the 20-year old German sensation became the first player to ever win the Best Young Player Award and the Golden Boot as sole winner in the same World Cup. Hungary’s Florian Albert was named the Best Young Player and was awarded the Golden Boot jointly with five other players at Chile 1962. However, at South Africa 2010 Müller was awarded sole possession of the Golden Shoe outright after being tied with Diego Forlán (Uru), Wesley Sneijder (Ned), and David Villa (Sp) on five goals. Müller was given the award because he had three assists as well, more than the other three combined.
2.) European First
-South Africa 2010 was the first time that any European nation has ever won the World Cup when the tournament was held outside of Europe. Spain now joins Germany, England, France, and Italy as the only Euro nations to hoist the trophy. With the addition of Spain, 3 of the 5 European champions (Spain, England, and France) have won the trophy only once. All three South American nations to have won the tournament have won it multiple times. Europe now leads South America by a total of 10 trophies to 9. No nation outside of Europe and South America has ever won the World Cup.
1.) First Title
-By winning its first ever World Cup title in 2010, Spain has become the 8th nation (5th European nation) to win the World Cup. They now join England and France as the only nations to have won the trophy once. Spain, however, becomes the only one-time champion to win the title on foreign soil, with England and France both winning at home. Spain also joins Germany and Brazil as the only nations whose first Cup title was won on foreign soil. Spain and Brazil are the only two nations who have won the World Cup without ever having won it on home soil.