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The dullest game in World Cup
Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder, but
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there are some things even the most steadfast of contrarians would struggle to find attractive. One such example was the last-16 match between Switzerland and Ukraine at the 2006 World Cup, a game so dull that dishwater should take offence if ever mentioned in the same sentence as this horrorshow.
Ukraine eventually emerged victorious after 120 excruciating minutes, Oleg Blokhin’s side triumphing in a penalty shootout that featured only a marginal increase in quality on what had gone on before. Reaching the quarter-finals in their first – and so far only – World Cup was a commendable accomplishment for Ukraine, but there’s an argument that both sides should have been immediately expelled from the tournament.
The question of what makes a football match great has
no objectively correct answer but ask a range of people and a few themes are likely to emerge: goals, end-to-end
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action, intensity, quality, drama, incident, controversy. Switzerland versus Ukraine was lacking in all seven of these departments.
“The tedium of much of this occasion should not detract from Ukraine’s achievement,” wrote Dominic Fifield in his match report.
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“It was to be admired, even if it was occasionally exasperating to watch.” The BBC echoed these sentiments, albeit in more diplomatic tones: “In a tightly contested match both teams found it difficult to create clear openings in the penalty area, with the game’s best chances coming from set pieces as well as some powerful long-range shots.” Even Fifa’s own report struggled to find a positive angle, describing it as a “scrappy affair devoid of highlights” that “could never develop any genuine ﬂow.”
On TV, Ray Stubbs said: “Dull doesn’t quite do it justice. Franz Beckenbauer must have wondered why he gave up a night of his honeymoon to see the match.” A highlights package broadcast by ITV later that night skipped straight to the penalty shootout to “prevent the TV audience from taking further punishment.” Italy 4-3 West Germany this was not.
In hindsight, we should have known what was coming. Both teams put great stock in keeping their sheets clean: Switzerland had topped a group containing France, Togo and South Korea without conceding goal; and this was Ukraine’s eighth clean sheets in nine games in 2006. The 45,000 spectators inside Cologne’s RheinEnergieStadion were never likely to be treated to a spectacle.
Even so, the opening stages passed by without anything that even resembled an incident. Johan Cruyff used to implore his players to treat the ball as a friend; on that basis, the Adidas Teamgeist must have severely wronged all
22 players on the pitch. Neither side was able to retain possession for very long, with a
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flurry of hurried passes and sloppy touches giving way to what must be the earliest Mexican wave in the history of football. Occasionally a deviant maverick would look to break forward and progress up the pitch, but such missteps were quickly quashed as both teams resumed their joint endeavour to cure insomnia.
Ukraine captain Andriy Shevchenko hitting the crossbar with a header and Switzerland striker Alexander Frei hitting the woodwork with a well-struck free-kick were the
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only moments of note in the first half. The 15-minute interval brought welcome respite, but the early stages of the second period made it obvious that no teacups had been sent flying in the dressing rooms at half-time. Both sides, it seemed, were perfectly happy with how the opening 45 minutes had played out.
Ukraine started the brighter after the break but failed to test Pascal Zuberbuhler in the Switzerland goal, with Andriy Voronin’s speculative long-ranger the only time the Basel goalkeeper was called into action before the hour-mark. Not that the Swiss fared any better: the first time they tested Ukrainian goalkeeper Oleksandr Shovkovskiy was an overhit free-kick which was drifting well wide of the target anyway. “This is bloody awful,” said subtlety’s Mick McCarthy, cursing his luck at being placed on co-commentary
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duty for the evening. Tell us what you really think, Mick.
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