BERLIN, July 10: Italy's penalty shootout victory over France in a dramatic finish to the World Cup in Germany ended a great tournament, marred only by the action on the pitch.
The World Cup was almost flawlessly organised, attracted great crowds and inspired a carnival atmosphere which turned Germany into one big party zone.
The Germans even got to grips with soccer's persistent problem with hooliganism, handling the large visiting supporter groups, especially those from England, with great aplomb and allowing everyone to enjoy themselves without fear of violence.
For once, the fans actually behaved far better than the players.
On the pitch, there were too few goals, too few great matches, too few great players, too few upsets and too little goalmouth action.
There were too many fouls and too much blatant cheating by players -- in particular diving and feigning injury to earn unfair free kicks and penalties, all unchecked and sometimes even encouraged by coaches.
For once, nobody could blame the match officials. The refereeing was of a surprisingly high standard, even if there were the inevitable mistakes here and there.
UNADVENTUROUS ATTITUDES The lack of thrills in most matches was mainly caused by the unadventurous attitudes of coaches, many of whom packed their midfields and played with a lone striker up front.
On average the tournament produced fewer goals per game than any other of the 17 previous finals, except for 1990 in Italy, a tournament widely regarded as one of the dullest ever.
As in Italy -- and also in England in 1966, another tournament with a reputation for relatively insipid play -- one problem was the premature exit of the Brazilians.
Brazil traditionally bring flair and flamboyance to the World Cup.
This time they did not. Their big name players all failed to sparkle and, as a team, they completely failed to provide even half their usual quota of entertainment.
Most disappointing of all was Ronaldinho, who came with the reputation of being the world's best player but was almost anonymous in Brazil's five matches.
Equally anonymous was England midfielder Frank Lampard, a player who has gained huge plaudits over the past two years and who did nothing to justify it in Germany.
Few young players emerged to take their place at the summit of world football.
In the final, Italy's youngest playing lining up at the start was Andrea Pirlo, who is already 27. France had only one player under 26, midfielder Franck Ribery, at 23 one of the few revelations of the tournament.
YOUTHFUL TALENTS Of the much-vaunted youthful talents of Argentina's Lionel Messi and England's Wayne Rooney, there was little to see - though both had suffered serious injuries before the finals.
Argentina graced the finals early on with some scintillating soccer but paid the price for lack of adventure against Germany and went out on penalties at the quarter-final stage.
Italy and France arrived in the final deservedly and Italy played some of the best football of the entire month when they beat Germany 2-0 after extra time in the semi-finals.
But the final itself was a mirror of the tournament, starting with great promise but ending in disappointment.
It was a sad farewell for Zinedine Zidane, one of the few players ever to attain genius level, who was ending his glorious career on the greatest stage of all.
He graced it by scoring an audacious penalty off the crossbar and then finished in disgrace, butting Italy's goalscorer Marco Materazzi in extra time and getting sent off.
That he was clearly provoked by Materazzi was a reflection of the cynical nature of play at what could and should have been one of the best tournaments ever.
On the bright side, Germany turned out to be splendid hosts who did their best to make their guests from all round the world welcome.
Their somewhat under-rated team showed an attacking spirit and determination which did them credit too and their third place finish was a fitting reward for their enterprise.