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July 19, 2010 | by  | in Opinion |
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The 2010 World Cup: Final Preparations

Some may say that when your country’s most successful participants at the World Cup are the referee and an eight-armed mollusk, something is wrong. However, it would be foolish to undermine the achievements and entertainment value of English referee Howard Webb and Weymouth-born Paul the Octopus.

On the eve of the World Cup final, Paul and Webb would each prepare in their own individual ways. Paul was brimming with confidence with a 100 per cent prediction success rate at the tournament. However, he was also under intense pressure after predetermining Germany’s semi-final fate against Spain; the expected Spanish victory resulted in widespread calls for Paul to become calamari. The tentacled oracle was promised bodyguard protection by Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero to ensure his safety. With German newspaper Westfälische Rundschau whipping up a frenzy by labeling Paul a “Traitor”, he was a marked mollusk in his Aquarium Sea Life tank in Oberhausen. Argentine chef Nicolas Bedorrou threatened on Facebook that “We will chase him and put him on some paper. We will then beat him (but correctly!) in order to keep the meat tender and then put it in boiling water.” Paul backed the Iker Casillas-led Spaniards to triumph over the Dutch and vowed to retire after the final.

Referee Howard Webb proclaimed it “an honour” to be officiating the final of the tournament. That was obviously before he walked into one of the most bruising games of the World Cup finals. Webb, taking courage from Paul’s resistance to threats, had to deal with his own on-pitch violence as the Oranje served up their version of anti-football. Nigel de Jong fulfilled the fantasies of thousands of angry footballers when he actually attempted a kung-fu kick to the opposition, planting his studs in Xabi Alonso’s chest. It was impressive, ridiculous, and inexplicably only earned him a yellow card. Webb’s hand-to-pocket reflexes were a testament to the obvious preparation he had put in prior to kick off, brandishing fourteen yellow cards throughout the course of the match. After the game, Webb admitted that it was the most difficult two hours of his career. “I am physically and emotionally drained,” he spluttered.

At times, this World Cup failed to live up to expectations, but the bald-headed duo have provided plenty of talking points for the round-the-water-cooler morning banter. Webb and Paul have both ensured that for the next four years, Spain will reign in a mist of yellow and red.

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