Football

The World Cup is Shit, and Yet I Still Can’t Wait

The World Cup is shit.

The early stages are tedious, similarly able teams setting up to negate one another, a desperate fear of defeat lingering over the ‘interesting’ statistics detailing how many 0-0 draws there has been. Even normally exuberant players will see their sparkle dimmed, ensuring their nation avoids the near-elimination humiliation of an opening game defeat. Of course, there will be victories, but these will be dismissed as coming from groups that are going to be dominated by one side.

The World Cup is shit.

Those groups will be dominated by one side. France, Germany, Brazil and Argentina will all walk their groups. They will either win all three or two of the three games, and all will go on to the later stages in comfort. Further to this, the sides that generally do well will continue to do well. Their squads will be able to cope with the demands of three games in a ten days not least when one of those games is only of partial importance. When it comes down to it, Spain may be playing Morocco for a place in the second round. Do you think Morocco stand a chance?

The World Cup is shit.

Over 31 days there will be 64 games of football. In theory, you could watch all but eight of them, and if you have two screens available, you could even avoid missing those. A great number of those matches will be forgettable – you will not remember them even a month later. Don’t believe me? South Korea will be playing their 34th World Cup Finals match in Russia. How many of the previous 31 do you remember? The victory against Italy in 2002, yes. A six goal ‘thriller’ (the BBC’s words, not mine) against Tunisia in 2014, probably not.

The same is true of goals – you might still be very familiar with Dennis Bergkamp’s goal against Argentina in 1998, but do you remember Adrian Ilie’s gorgeous strike against Colombia from the same tournament? If you don’t, you should. You will overdose on football, kid yourself that you’re enjoying it but find that you’re lost in a peculiar mire. If, by the time Senegal play Colombia in Match 48 (the last group game) you can remember any more than the most memorable part of Morocco v. Iran (the fourth) then I’ll be astounded.

One of the great things about World Cups of the past was the journey of discovery we all went on. Whole teams would appear and surprise us, either with the style of their play or their pure quality. In the modern era, everyone knows everything about everyone. Peru won’t surprise you by fielding Jefferson Farfan, and you’ll know who performs what task in the French team before a ball is kicked. While in some ways it is nice that the mystery is gone, and the instant accessibility of football has ensured it is so, it means two things now.

Either you know the players who will impress, or you will be told who those players are by people who know better than you. This process is already underway. Don’t worry, though, because the real unknown quantities play for teams who will only make it as far as the second round – if they were better than that, they’d be better known. They will give Clive Tyldesley a reference point, though, so he can refer to them as ‘tipped by some to be dark horses of the tournament’ as a meek submission to a more established nation sends them packing.

The World Cup is shit.

Already the tranche of new shirts, of sticker albums, of pre-tournament friendlies, news stories focusing on players missing the World Cup because of injury and quizzes about whether somebody can win it are springing up. It is March.

By June, you’ll have learned all the kits by osmosis, and probably seen celebrities wearing a lot of them out and about. You’ll know which players are missing from the albums because of injury and who made a late run into the squad and doesn’t have a sticker. You’ll have settled on a winner and you’ll get Portugal in a sweepstake and have to console yourself. At least it isn’t Greece.

It will make people talk about football who don’t care about football and everyone, but everyone, will have an opinion and possibly ask you yours.

This year it is in Russia, and next time it is in Qatar. While previous attempts to break new ground and explore new territory (South Africa, Japan and South Korea) at least gave the possibility of football spreading its wings to encompass its ever-growing support in a way the Cricket World Cup is singularly and preposterously failing to do, these two nations give an entirely different impression entirely. I’ll leave that one there.

The World Cup is shit.

Because it is broadcast on free to air TV, that means huge teams of journalists will be going to report on the tournament from lots of different nations. Within these teams, there will be some people who are a different gender to the players.

Women pundits and commentators bring out the very worst in some of the viewership and knowing that it is coming, hoping it might not and the inevitable disappointment when it does will make the World Cup something of a shame for men everywhere.

Pundits will be dismissed because they never played the game, criticised because they are too pretty to have an opinion or praised for being something to look at while Peter Schmeichel dissects Denmark’s midfield ad nauseum.

Commentators will be ignored because they’re women and people who are ‘not sexist but’ will say they don’t like hearing female voices commentating as if a tackle from Eric Dier is better if Andy Townsend describes it.

There’s some simple rules here. Women can know about football, lots of them do. Women can tell you about football, they almost certainly will do during the World Cup. It’s OK to agree, it’s OK to disagree, it’s even OK to think they’re attractive or not. The latter of those two is relevant – but sadly we’re setting ourselves up for “Nice rack, but that’s not the Christian Eriksen we see every week for Spurs is, it, darling?”

It promises to be painful.

The World Cup is shit.

Italy aren’t there. This means we miss out on the best national anthem in the world, the most beautiful team in the world, the most stylish players at the tournament, the best goalkeeper in the world, the most hand-wringing discussion about why a certain tactic was right or wrong even in a game that was won 1-0 (especially in a game that was won 1-0), the best singer of a national anthem in the world and the sense of drama and tragedy that is native to opera but fits every Italian World Cup campaign with a closeness that only the country that produced both Giuseppe Verdi’s majesty and Marco Tardelli’s visceral joyous release can ever truly hope to understand.

Other countries won’t be there either. Netherlands (50 matches), Chile (33 matches), Paraguay (27 matches)… none of those will be there. No vibrant orange, no buzzing Sanchez, no, erm, teams that look a bit like Atletico Madrid. I’d suspect you’ll miss them less, but none of them will be there.

The World Cup is shit. And yet you still can’t wait, can you? Me either.

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