Tuesday, 15 July 2014

What I learned from the World Cup

Following on from my revelations of London 2012, I’d like to share with you some thoughts and feelings gleaned from Brazil 2014. So here they are, in no particular order:
 
1. Patriotism trumps logic
 
This has been true in any number of situations, and it is certainly true in football. For football is a sport unmatched for atmosphere and sheer, bloody-minded loyalty to your team and its colours. For the English, this represents a healthy cynicism which is rarely disappointed. If things have the value we invest in them, then football is much more than a sport, and its triumphs and calamities are writ large on the faces of supporters, or at least, those not too fickle to emerge from outright despair and jump around like lunatics at the sight of themselves on a big screen. Patriotism makes us hope despite evidence to the contrary, makes us angry at things which are immaterial, makes us yell and curse at players for minor infractions, makes us scream with delight when hope turns into something more solid. For all this emotion, what has really changed? Is Germany much better off now than had they lost the final? Is Argentina much worse off than had they won? Not really, but pride goes a very long way.
 
2. Exuberance trumps reputation (sometimes)
 
Many of the bigger teams at the competition suffered, or came close to suffering, defeat at the hands of so-called lesser opposition. Those teams who, delighted to have made it to the World Cup at all, played with desire, energy, and a lack of fear. This is national pride at its best, and makes for the kind of football I love to watch. That said, the big names won through in the end, and the tournament may have been the worse for it.
 
3. Despite circumstance, past behaviour can never be discounted
 
You know who I’m talking about. Psychologists will tell you that the one reliable indicator of future behaviour is past behaviour, and if you think you don’t believe it, then go ahead and lend that £100 to the mate who still owes you from last time. Our Uruguayan friend can never really be expected to clean up his act, but as long as he keeps scoring goals, don’t expect Uruguay (or Barcelona) to care. By the way, the excuse he gave afterwards was one the lamest I can recall hearing in my life.
 
4. I really like the South American style of play

The South American style was the thing I enjoyed most seeing, and perhaps it went hand in hand with the exuberance I mentioned above. I’m not talking about the laboured games of Brazil and Argentina, dominated as they are by European players. No, the teams I enjoyed most were the three Cs: Colombia, Costa Rica, and Chile, all of whom were unfortunate not to progress further than they did, and all of whom have had players linked with transfers following the tournament. Their style, energy, and flair were refreshing to witness, and Rodriquez’s goal was the goal of the tournament.

5. The vanishing spray
 
The spray can for free kicks, has been used in South America for some time now. FIFA accepted its use, and it has been amazing to see exactly how much distance the walls used to steal. Now, when it comes to advancement and innovation, both FIFA and the European FAs seem about as forward-thinking as the Westboro Baptists, but I would love to see it used here, along with anything else which makes the game fairer.
 
6. The opposite of support
 
One image sums up the vicious nature of football support, the flip side of the enthusiasm supporters pour out for their team, and that it the one of Argentinian supporters holding up spines after hearing of Neymar’s injury. Now, I think Neymar has skill, and like many footballers on his level, he’s overpaid and arrogant, but no more would I wish paralysis on the man than I would on myself (ok, maybe a little more). The fans holding the aforementioned prop were more than happy to take a man’s injury, and wave it in the faces of their rivals with a kind of sadistic glee. This seems a bit more than support ever intended, and it is part of the dark side of football.
7. No one gives a shit about the third and fourth place playoff
 
Um. I didn’t even watch it.

8. World Cup B
 
It occurs to me that it would be nice to run a kind of World Cup B, alongside the current one. Of course the timings would be difficult. You couldn’t run it at the same time, because who would watch that? And you couldn’t run it too soon before or after, to avoid clashing with domestic league seasons. But I’m sure the seasons would manage somehow, the way they do with the African Cup of Nations. The reason behind this proposal is simply that the second tier teams, those who didn’t qualify, would be eligible for another tournament, so that some of the lesser teams could get experience, and still play some of the better teams in world football. Sure, it wouldn’t be as prestigious as the World Cup, but it would provide valuable opportunities for players and teams who might not otherwise get them.

9. Germany are so fucking consistent
 
Sure, they hadn’t won a trophy since 1996, but boo fucking hoo. Subtract thirty years from that, German fans, and then you’ll come closer to understanding the pain of the English people. Despite the lack of recent trophies, you always feel, going in to a tournament, that Germany are capable of winning it. They often reach quarters and semi-finals, and they never really look too terrible. Add to that becoming the first European team to win on South American soil, and the absolutely unprecedented demolition of Brazil, and you have a team which is to be feared, and feared even on their bad days.

10. Missed opportunities
 
I think the saddest thing about the World Cup is not the tears of the Brazil fans after that fifth goal went in. It’s more the possibility the country had to use the World Cup, to create jobs and economic stimulus, to give something back to the people who truly needed it. Instead, they got large bills, stadia they don’t need, and yes, of course, ignominy. Even had they won, it probably wouldn’t have been worth it, not in real terms. Now that they have lost in such style, insult is added to the already large injuries plaguing the nation. The World Cup was supposed to bring joy and hope, and for many it brought just the opposite.