Sunday, July 09, 2006

Hot cuppa

A good World Cup, not a great World Cup. Beautifully staged, fantastic stadia full to the brim, omnipresent sun, a pleasant way of spending a summer's evening after work. But then, so is Big Brother.

So why wasn't it great? In part, it's circumstance of the the modern era that even the most ardent fan has enough football on TV to satisfy their needs. Wall-to-wall-to-wall live football means that it's no longer a treat to see the games. Once upon a time live football was a novelty, from overseas was a positive curiosity. Now it's all a bit too familiar. All but a handful of the squads had players who play or have played in the Premiership and the even those who don't have players familiar from the Champions League, Spanish and Italian football. Very few players emerge at a World Cup. Once upon a time a Brazilian would arrive at a World Cup having played in his domestic league, he may be picked up by a bigger European club, but the gateway was the tournament. Now players outside Europe barely play in their home country, picked up before they get a chance by the hugely efficient scouting systems of the top European clubs. 

Overall, however, there's been no narrative. Every great World Cup has a narrative. The emerging nations failed to compete like they did in 2002, the hosts didn't fulfil their destiny like France in 1998, England failed predictably unlike 1990, Ronaldihno didn't turn up to complete the Holy Trinity of footballing greats joining Maradona's beatification in 1986 and Pele's in 1970. There have been great goals and moments of great skill, but no truly great games, like the 1982 France vs Germany semi-final. 

The rebirth of Zidane flickered briefly against Brazil with a thrilling performance of panache, but then age got the better of him and he was subdued against Portugal before going completely mad in the final. Italy's corruption backdrop, a mirror image of 1982, is a story, but, ironically, it's like the remake of The Italian Job - it may be well made and visually spectacular, but in the end it still stars the lead singer of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. Perhaps above all, this was the World Cup England were supposed to win, the nation was no longer enthralled by its betters, or charmed by those lower down the order. The country had a purpose, to efficiently dispose of all that came their way and win the cup. Perhaps next time we need to set our sights a little lower, and allow ourselves to be surprised about what's given to us.


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