The World Cup's Real Winners and Losers

The World Cup is almost over. We won't know who technically won until after tomorrow's final. But like a human Paul the Octopus, Zach Dundas, author of the book The Renegade Sportsman, already knows who really won the tournament.

Spain and the Netherlands face off Sunday for the right to erase memory of Italy's 2006 World Cup celebration—basically, an eight-year-old's birthday party at a bouncy castle—from our collective consciousness at last. Even though FIFA's spectacularly ugly trophy remains up for grabs, we already know about as much as we will know about the 2010 World Cup.

Who came out looking good? Whose monumental hubris, boring performance-oh, screw it; I don't want to write about England. Whose thuggish coach and feckless players-no, I don't want to write about Brazil, either.

Let's be simple. Who won? Who lost? Let's review:

WINNERS

The World Cup's Real Winners and Losers

1. New Zealand: If Spain wins the World Cup tomorrow, only one team will escape without a single loss: MIGHTY NEW ZEALAND. The disturbingly named All-Whites (they're not, actually) arrived in South Africa favored to be one of the worst World Cup teams in history. After qualifying out of the pathetic "Oceania" region, the Kiwis featured the lowest-paid coach, a dude who works full-time at a bank, and several aged players politely listed on the roster as "free agents."

Surprise! Relying on a top-secret diet of raw hobbit meat and elf blood, New Zealand proved unbeatable. Starting with their last-minute goal to tie Slovakia, these knockabouts produced a few of the tournament's most exciting moments. After striking first against Italy, they held on for a heroic draw-in itself, one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. Sadly, their inability to win sent En-Zed home early-but, on the plus side, elimination preserved their perfect record.

2. Landon Donovan: Long derided as a fragile pretty boy who couldn't hack it at the top level, the American midfielder silenced critics up forever (or, in soccer terms, four months) with three crucial goals in the USA's scrambling campaign. My favorite remains his homicidal roofer against the sinister Slovenes, which almost decapitated the goalkeeper. Obviously, his heart-attack strike against Algeria inspired mass hysteria, or at least the most hysteria in American soccer history. Now the California-loving Donovan has to decide whether to sign with a European team-and brace himself for a boomlet of babies named "Landon" in eight and a half months.

3. Superdorks: Traditionally, American soccer fans were like practitioners of obscure cult religions-sociologically interesting, but not people you wanted to get caught in conversation with. (And by this, I mean me-as I have described at self-incriminating length elsewhere.) Now, with TV ratings way up and all our favorite locations of O'McShillelagh's Authentic Irish-English Publick House (Home of the $7 Guinness) packed to the gills during big games, a few of us are openly talking about switching to cricket. Still, we can now argue the relative merits of Soccernomics in the light of day. It's nice. Sort of. Cricket, I say!

The World Cup's Real Winners and Losers

4. North Korea: Astonishing achievements by the World Cup Team of The Democratic People's Republic of Korea, a people-centered socialist state, stunned capitalist societies ruled by egoism! Inspired by in-depth personal guidance provided by Dear Leader Kim Jong Il via a top-secret communications system, and informed by the Juche Idea, the World Cup Team of The Democratic People's Republic of Korea defeated all opponents! The Thousand-Mile Horse established complete dominance to further the ideological work of the Bulwark of Peace!

5. Diego Maradona: Before the tournament, everyone was sure Argentina's crazed, sport-mulleted icon and former cocaine vacuum would coach his ultra-talented squad straight into the ground. But Argentina showed up looking confident, relaxed and lethal, flattening four tough opponents by a cumulative score of 10-2. Maradona bests his critics again!

LOSERS

The World Cup's Real Winners and Losers

1. Diego Maradona: This joke of a manager had no idea what to do as a tactically, physically and (probably) morally superior Germany crushed Argentina 4-0. As his team unraveled into a confused morass, Wolfman stood stricken on the sideline, like a man who has just been told gravity no longer works. Once again, Maradona's tragic foolishness proves his critics right!

2. People Who Think Africa Is One Country: South Africa's historic role as host gave Western commentators carte blanche to run their jaws about "Africa." Before the tournament, magazines ran cover stories on "The Rise of African Soccer." When most of the African teams turned out to suck-but suck in their own distinctive ways-it was time for sweeping geopolitical analysis. Roger Cohen of the Times opined that the African teams failed because Africa "has too often been the continent of ‘The Big Man.'" (Or, as one Indian soccer blog sarcastically summarized, "Mobutu Sese Seko, your football Nazgul have failed you.") The whole affair smacked of a Russell Brand video.

3. France: France sent a gritty, hard-working, over-achieving team to the World Cup. Unfortunately, that team was Algeria. The actual French team acted hilariously French, surrendering (look, you knew it was coming) in a comedy of errors featuring a strike, ethnic hysteria, demands to see the president, and a parliamentary inquiry. Made you wonder why they cheated so hard to get there.

The World Cup's Real Winners and Losers

4. Cristiano Ronaldo: The coiffed king of the pretty (but often pointless) stepover dribble is fated to spend his whole World Cup career playing for Portugal, the team that does less with more than just about anyone. Neither Portugal nor Ronaldo scored against anyone besides North Korea. And even that goal, a silly cock-up scored in the final minutes, could not prevent The World Cup Team of the People's Democratic Republic's dramatic 8-7 victory!

5. Glenn Beck: Beck on soccer: "I hate it so much, probably because the rest of the world likes it so much."

  • Estimated American viewers who watched Glenn Beck on June 18: 1.39 million.
  • Estimated American viewers who watched USA vs. Ghana on June 26: 19.4 million.
  • Estimated American viewers who watched that game in Spanish: 4.5 million.

Enjoy the final, mis carnales!

Zach Dundas is a freelance writer living in Portland, Oregon. He blogs at True/Slant.