And just like that, the World Cup is upon us.
The few days before the tournament gets underway always brings mixed emotions. It makes you ponder the conceptual accuracy of time, as the last World Cup in South Africa doesn’t seem like four years ago. Then when the tournament arrives, it seems to progress a frenetic pace. In a flash, before you know it, it’ll be over again.
The sad thing is that as it only happens every four years the hype during the build-up tends to transcend the likely reality of these tournaments, most games are cagey and cynical, and as the years pass the annoying revisionism of how good they were sets in. Even I’ve done this. Italy ’90 was the first World Cup I remember, and it’s my favourite, but its totality pales in comparison to its flashpoints. Usually memories of that time, which have nothing to do with football, become attached to those tournament flashpoints, a trigger of sorts for nostalgia. In my own case it was collecting the Italia 90 Panini sticker album and finishing it during the tournament. It was my first and as such it’s my beloved. And why not? It had the team names in many languages I’d yet to properly encounter. The shorts in the team photos were dangerously short and the player headshots had more dodgy perms, creepy stashes, the cheesy smiles than an early 80’s porno filmset. Terrific stuff. I look at it at least three times a year.
Anyway, fuck it, that’s enough of the contemplation about what the tournament might come to mean. There’s gonna be football, loads of football. So then, are you ready for three games a day for the next two weeks, and then the tension of the knock-out phase after that? Are you ready for the insufferable hysteria surrounding team England and the equally insufferable self loathing after their inevitable failure?
No? Thought not. How about a few thoughts on the tournament? Go on, read on as I’ll be making a few comments and a few predictions, the kind of territory where I make a complete arse of myself. I won’t be deleting or editing this post either. When you make a pick, or series of predictions, you stick by them, no matter what. Anyway, here we go:
Belgium won’t be as good as many are predicting
They’re the trendy sexy (or is it sexy trendy?) selection as ‘Dark Horses’. What does ‘Dark Horses’ mean in this context? Winning the thing? Please, let’s be real here.
Let’s start with the obvious problem – too many of their players are overrated, and some seriously.
The same thing happened with Portugal’s so called golden generation of the late 1990’s to mid 2000’s. Everyone focused on the better individuals, and that Portugal side had Rui Costa, Luis Figo and a young Cristiano Ronaldo towards the end. Belgium has nobody as remotely good as those three. For example this Belgium team will prominently feature the mutant toilet brush that is Marouane Fellaini, destroyer of David Moyes and Manchester United.
Harsh I know, and yes, Eden Hazard is a top player, and he’d start for most of the sides in this competition. Kompany’s a fine centre back, and Courtois is a really good keeper, but after that things are less certain.
What will they get from Romelu Lukaku? At times he reminds you of Didier Drogba, others Emile Heskey, who was often as useful as trying to polish a marble surface with a piece of coal. They’ll be using centre backs at the full back positions, this usually doesn’t work. Dembele and Mertens aren’t automatic starters for their clubs but will probably start in Brazil. Witsel is another one who’s received a disproportionate amount of hype relative to his performances. He’s never impressed me.
In their favour is a trend of so called smaller nations doing well in recent World Cups; Sweden, Croatia, Bulgaria, South Korea and Turkey have made the semi-finals over the last twenty years. I don’t think Belgium will join them, and you have better choices for surprise packages. Belgium will qualify from their group, but won’t go much further.
If you’re looking for a dark horse, go with France
Again, I’m interpreting ‘Dark Horse’ as a euphemism for making the semi-final/finishing third. Do I believe they’ll win the tournament? Not really, but they have some very good young players; Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann (I before E, remember) and Raphael Varane, to name three. Euro 2016, held in France no less, might be their time.
The Surprise package will be…Chile
You should root for them, as they’ll attack, often recklessly, they’ll be robust, and they have enough quality to make things interesting against anyone. I would’ve gone with Colombia here had Falcao been fit. Another alternative is Ivory Coast; they have Yaya Toure, and some interesting younger players, but Didier Drogba’s 36 now. Croatia has the talent in midfield with Rakitic, Modric and Kovacic, but not enough of it elsewhere. Uruguay has a front three of Suarez, Cavani and Diego Forlan, but again, they’re, in some cases, severely lacking elsewhere.
One of them will make the last eight and it’ll be Chile, unless it’s not. How is that for arse covering?
England will fail to get past the group stage
Hardly an earth shattering prediction as Roy Hodgson (just look at the picture above – FUCKING. HELL.) and an unfit and disinterested Wayne Rooney are involved. Even worse they seem to be conjoined at the hip. Wherever Hodgson is so is Rooney, and because Hodgson’s the manager and managers are omnipresent, Rooney will play.
There’s also the small matter of a shaky defence. Glen Johnson has looked subpar (and that’s being kind) for club and country for months, Jagileka is average. Only Gary Cahill looks up to scratch. The options on the bench don’t inspire confidence; Jones, Flanagan, Stones and Shaw are unproven, and Smalling’s feet are too slow, even for England.
If England had a more adventurous coach this wouldn’t be such a big issue – play to your strengths etc, etc. But Hodgson is who he is, a voraciously arrogant, self pitying mediocre with a persecution complex, so he’ll revert to his bunker football type at the first sign of the opposition’s superiority, which will arrive in game one against Italy. Remember how England played against Italy at the last European Championships?
Still, Rooney looms over everything like a bad stench emanating from the kitchen of your local Chinese takeway. The implausibly odd English obsession with the saviour complex applies here. They are suckers for periodically anointing one player and hyping him up, possibly in the subconscious belief that he will have transformative powers to make the hype become a premonition. Too many people, including sponsors and the FA, have invested the stock of their intellectual and vocational reputations on not only England succeeding, but being lead there by Rooney. It’s coming back to haunt them now as there are better options up front (Sturridge), out wide (Sterling, Lallana, Chamberlain), and in the number ten role (Barkley, Sterling and Lallana), yet Rooney must play because he’s Rooney. It means either someone else has to play out of position, or not at all to accommodate him. Hodgson is further compounding this problem due to his strange infatuation with Danny Welbeck as a wide player. Theo Walcott’s injury hurts double here, as, while it wouldn’t solve the Rooney issue, it would’ve prevented Hodgson from making this gaffe.
If things start badly, will Hodgson be brave enough to drop Rooney and Welbeck and revert to England’s two best young talents, Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley, before it’s too late?
Maybe it’ll snow in Brazil?
Marco Reus will be one of stars of the World Cup…until he buggered his ankle in a warm up game against Armenia, and is now out of the tournament
This is a wider lament on those players who’ll miss the tournament. It’s doubly frustrating as the World Cup only happens every four years. A footballer’s peak is usually short, and when it coincides with a World Cup you want them to be fit for it. Missing one World Cup isn’t similar to missing one domestic club season, where they can be fit for next year’s edition of the Champions League. Reus isn’t the only one missing, Radamel Falcao (Colombia) is out through injury, and Franck Ribery (France) is struggling to make it, and unlike Reus they’re highly unlikely to get another crack at it in their primes. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden), Gareth Bale (Wales) and Robert Lewandowski (Poland) won’t be there because their teams didn’t qualify. But Reus is the biggest loss. He’s an elegant player who makes the game look effortless, whether it’s his balance, passing, scoring, dribbling or creating. He glides, almost as if he’s weightless. While Germany is fortunate to have an abundance of attacking midfield talent, none of them are as good or productive as Reus is and he’s right at his peak. Without him, Germany’s chances of winning the tournament have taken a serious blow.
All eyes are on Luis Suarez
Look, I’ll freely admit I’m biased about this as he plays for Liverpool, my team. I love the guy, and deep down, isn’t everyone fascinated to see the truly ugly, xenophobic nature of many little Englanders, incited by an equally hateful tabloid press, unrepentantly seep out after Suarez, already a hate figure, sends their pathetic insipid national team home?
I think he’s already there, but this stage gives him the opportunity to show that he deserves to be considered an equal of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. You could argue that he’s not the best player of the three, but as his craziness and his genius are intertwined, he is the most unpredictable, therefore he’s the most fascinating to watch. How is his fitness? He says he’ll be ready after a minor knee operation, let’s hope so.
Go on FIFA, give everyone a lift and take the 2022 World Cup away from Qatar
This doesn’t apply to Qataris of course. It would be a shame for them. But honestly now, when will common sense, not to mention the bureaucratic influence of UEFA and it’s associations which make up the Champions League, the richest and most watched annual competition on the planet, finally take hold here?
That’s not to mention the whiff of corruption of vote buying surrounding the Qatari bid to help secure the tournament. Sepp Blatter is a crook, this we know, but he’s also a cockroach, and when push comes to shove he’ll cut bait. Already we’ve seen him deliver a rather pathetic and snide attempt at deflection, by suggesting the groundswell of indignation at the illegitimacy of the Qatar win is racially motivated. Truly a shameless twatcunt of man.
My guess? He’s not getting away with this one, he’ll hold out for as long as possible to save face, before backing down to save his own skin. There’ll be an investigation, some people will be found guilty, though the top people, including Blatter, will insulate themselves, and the 2022 world cup will be awarded, within the next two years, to Australia, the US, or even England, basically a first world country that already has the infrastructure in place to hold a major tournament on short(er) notice. Australia would make a good job of it I reckon. A World Cup final at the MCG would be right mate.
Argentina will disappoint, and so will Lionel Messi
When I say Messi will disappoint, I do so relative to his ludicrously prolific form of many years for Barcelona. Replicating that in a side that’s clearly inferior doesn’t seem a realistic or fair expectation, but it’ll be there regardless.
I’m fascinated by this Argentina side. They have a preponderance of attacking talent, including the world’s best player, an utterly pedestrian midfield and a defence that’s less than the sum of its parts.
Key to their chances is how Messi will be utilised. Will he play as he does for Barcelona, or will he play in a more withdrawn position, with one or possibly two strikers ahead of him, or will he start wide, as he used to?
It would be a waste of Argentina’s resources if Aguero and or Higuain were shifted out of position, or out of the team altogether to satiate Messi’s insatiable drive to score goals by being placed furthest forward.
Recently there’s been some criticism from Barcelona fans towards Messi for being greedy, with his lack of work rate (at times) leading to accusations of decadence and his dictatorial influence over the club’s direction (transfer decisions and managerial appointments) becoming insidious to morale and team cohesiveness. True or not this version of Messi won’t translate well to this Argentina side, as it simply doesn’t have the Barcelona midfield apparatus which sets the platform to allow Messi to thrive. At Barcelona he’s also used to having two wingers as outlets, making runs, creating space for him and working primarily for him to benefit. Argentina has Angel Di Maria, but no other winger of top end quality.
You suspect it’ll be Messi behind Aguero and Higuain, with Di Maria in midfield. This puts a lot of pressure on the rest of the team, and Messi cannot afford to be as static when his team is without the ball as he can be for Barcelona. Bottom line, this side will struggle to keep possession against better sides, and it’ll cost them at some point.
I don’t buy the argument that Messi needs to win the World Cup to be considered one of the greatest ever players, as he clearly is already. Nobody throws such accusations at Yohann Cruyff or George Best. That said Messi could do with a good showing. He was a kid in Germany 2006, and had physical problems heading into South Africa 2010. There are excuses if Argentina fail to make any impression in the latter stages of the competition, but there’ll be few willing to excuse Messi if he fails to perform. I’m not saying any of this is fair on him, it isn’t, but you know what people are like with hyperbole. If a proclamation is made, and it isn’t fulfilled, then vilification usually follows. People don’t like being wrong, let alone admitting it.
While I’m at it, I fancy two other traditional contenders to disappoint – Italy and the Netherlands. I suspect the Dutch, relying on too many players now past their peak, will go out of a group that includes Chile and Spain. Italy will qualify for the knockout stages due to England being in their group, but this side lacks creativity and pace. I should know better than to write off the Italians in a major tournament, and it’ll probably come back to haunt me, but, whatever.
When it comes to the BBC and ITV’s coverage of the tournament, the mute button will be your best friend
So then, how does the prospect of having your World Cup ruined by having to listen to the cliché spouting, agenda driven, borderline xenophobic and just down right uninformed ‘opinions’ and ‘commentary’ of such luminaries as Clive Tyldesley, Mark Lawrenson, Alan Shearer and Andy Townsend sound? I could go on but I really don’t want to. What a shower of fucking turds. No wonder Roy Keane quit ITV’s coverage, he could probably hear his brain melting for a start.
And then there’s Adrian Chiles. A regal cunt with a face like a downs syndrome pug whose default setting is permanent sarcasm. Surely he’ll be more erudite and insightful than this?
My advice, don’t give him, or any of them, the chance. Value your sanity. Mute ‘em.
Yes, you can’t write off Spain, but where are the goals coming from?
The defending world and European champions deserve your respect. No team in major tournament history (except maybe Brazil ‘82) have had a cache of midfield players with more technical or inventive quality to choose from. They’re the favourite until proven otherwise.
That said there are concerns. Can Xavi play seven matches in four weeks? Will Del Bosque play both Alonso and Busquets again at the expense of another attacking player? And on that point, will Spain even play with a recognised forward at all?
There have been times recently when they haven’t. A huge part of Spain’s success has been their ability to prevent the concession of goals through ball possession. Did you know that in the last ten knockout games of European Championships and World Cups, they’ve conceded no goals. None. Zero. Sadly this can lead to drab games, particularly if the opposition simply don’t have the balls and or the quality on the counter attack to worry Spain. Looking at the other sides in this competition, few look equipped to trouble the Spanish approach. Brazil yes, Germany maybe, though they’re a slightly inferior version of Spain with similar issues up front. After that it’s the likes of Argentina, Italy, France and the Dutch, who are all flawed in some way. Other sides like Uruguay and Chile have quality players in attack, but hand on heart can you see them beating Spain?
So I fully expect Spain to stick to what has worked for them, and they’ll be even more pragmatic now that David Villa and Fernando Torres are well past their meridians, and Diego Costa has only one appearance thus far. Hopefully this won’t cost us the chance of seeing a side that starts with David Silva, Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas together, but I suspect it will. Iniesta is a lock to start and the other attacking midfield position and false-nine winger position will be rotated heavily.
They’ll make the semi-finals, at least, so let’s hope they’re put under some pressure and we get to see a side that needs to showcase the attacking potency we know they possess.
The reasons Brazil will win the thing
Might as well start with this stat – Brazil’s last defeat on home soil in a competitive match was to Peru, in 1975.
A better reason is Phil Scolari knows what he wants to do, and has selected a squad equipped to carry out his orders. Some of the names might surprise you. Jo, likely to be sub, failed in England at Manchester City and Everton. He’s rehabilitated himself back in Brazil and he’s got pace and strength. That’s the theme of this team. It won’t be popular with the traditionalists and aesthetes, but these two attributes featured heavily in their success against Spain last summer, in the final of that spiteful, money grabbing creation, the Confederations Cup. Brazil were rapid on the counter attack, defended stoutly, and overpowered many of the Spanish players.
But being Brazil, they also have skill. Hulk, who is bulky and can look clunky, is dangerous in full flow. Fernandinho will add class as the ‘volante’ to a midfield full of athletes. Oscar is wasted at Chelsea by Shitcoat ball, but not by Brazil. Then there’s Neymar, who also doubles as one of the most hated people on Twitter, according to my feed. Perhaps it’s just the people I follow. Yes, he’s had a series of shit haircuts, yes he’s received too much attention too soon, yes he was sold for too much money to Barcelona, where he and the team underachieved last season, but for Brazil he’s the real deal.
On paper this doesn’t look like a great Brazil side, yet that was also said before the World Cup finals of 1994 and 2002, which they both won, and the opposite was true in 1982, when they were hailed as great and transcendent, only to be mugged by Paolo Rossi. The lesson? People know fuck all, and even less so when making predictions, so me being a person, a person who’s picking Brazil to win it all, doesn’t help matters.
Anyway that’s my take. Above all let’s hope the weather’s good, wherever you are, the tournament goes without a hitch, the quality of football’s high, the games are exciting, and there’s a bountiful amount of close-ups of fit girls in the crowd.
That’s not too much to ask for, is it?