With all the social upheavals, corruption cases, strikes and anger brewing in Brazil, it is hard to get too excited about the 2014 World Cup. But then again, since FIFA, in its infinite, corrupted wisdom, has given the next two World Cups to Russia and Qatar, I suppose it is better to try to enjoy this tournament in the best way you can, because this summer you just about get away watching it with a clear conscience.
But of course, I cannot really pretend not being any bit enthusiastic. Perhaps the best thing about the World Cup is that one gets to see teams rarely on show otherwise. So forget about the boring Messis and Ronaldos blocking your screen every week during the football season anyway, instead enjoy the Algerias, Japans and USAs of this tournament.
What comes to the football on show, this should be an interesting tournament tactically. The Italians, as is their wont, have a squad brimming with huge tactical potential (more so than actual individual brilliance). Japan and Chile should provide great all-guns-blazing entertainment. And Greece, again, aim to park the bus (and throw the bus furniture in for good measure) in front of goal to scrape through another major tournament without making a single dent on it.
The above mentioned teams will unfortunately probably not win the tournament, though. It would be the most boring thing in the world if Spain, the reigning champions and back-to-back EURO winners, would. So, for me, anyone but Spain. It would almost be equally boring should Brazil win. And I know people always say one should root for the host nation, but since I am not rooting for Brazil in general, there is no reason I should now. And besides, it would be a bit too perfect, should Brazil lift the trophy on their home soil. It would simply be too damn predictable as a great football narrative. After all, is that not what one should also be celebrating in order to be a good and proper fan of football – unpredictability (the life blood of football, the thing that makes it so special, blah blah blah).
The truly unforgettable football narratives come from epic failures. Had Brazil won the home World Cup of 1950, would the triumph be remembered with such overwhelming weight as is their collapse in the last game against eventual winners Uruguay? The answer is no. As a result, Brazilians now have a nation-uniting trauma to fall back on (to go with the five World Cup trophies, of course). The same goes for Roberto Baggio. Had the great man won the 1994 World Cup for Italy in the penalty shootout against Brazil, would anyone remember who scored the winning penalty? Not really. Now everyone with any knowledge of football or pop culture knows THAT penalty and the name of Baggio. The penalty miss and the fall from grace of the man who singlehandedly dragged the Azzurri to the final were as beautiful as they were traumatising.
So who will win the 2014 World Cup then? My guess is (and that is what it really is, guesswork) that Argentina and Germany play in the final. And Germany will win.
And now a few things to look forward to for the Brazil World Cup 2014.
The hipster favourites: Belgium are so 2013 – here are the true hipster favourites for 2014
- Japan: After Japan’s drab showing in 2010, the gung-ho Japanese style is brought back by the pragmatist Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni. So there you go, pragmatism does not always translate as defensive football.
- Greece: Yes, they play very defensively. True, they do not score any goals. Agreed, people most often dislike them as a football nation. But hey, these are exactly the reasons what make Greece special! And there is also the case to be made about our European brotherly economic solidarity. So when your hipster friends smugly say that they go for Belgium or Chile (well done otherwise, but Chile already were the hipster favourites of 2010), you know being ahead of the pack with your new favourite football country, Greece.
- Italy: Forget the mouldy stereotypes; it is 14 years since Italy’s style of play resembled anything like a catenaccio in a major tournament. And similarly like Greece, most fans dislike Italy exactly because this tiresome stereotype. Also, to have any hipster football cred, the one thing you need to master is tactical discourse. This does not mean that you actually have to know football tactics; you just need to know how to talk about them (you know the stuff, false nines, etc.). And as Italy again showed in the 2012 Euros, if there is something the Italians do better, it is tactics (just look at the opening game against Spain or the semi-final trashing of Germany)!
The fashion tip for 2014 World Cup: Sport a beard!
And speaking about hipsters, remember all the ridiculous haircuts and silly goalkeeper shirts of yesteryear (the shaved Mohawk of 2002, the Wuwuzelas, etc.)? Looking at the 2013-14 season, this summer beards should be all the rage on and off the pitches in Brazil! And there are few who do beards better nowadays than, again, Italy. And I’m not talking about the stereotypical expertly trimmed, sleazy moustache and goatee but actual Williamsburg-approved bushy brilliance. In terms of berads, there can be only one winner: Pirlo (although expect team-mate Daniele De Rossi put in a good fight).
The teams to spring a surprise:
- Switzerland: The Swiss have tournament-experience, tremendous solidity and a perfect blend of experience and youth in the team. They also have a potential breakthrough goal-getter in Josip Drmic, as well as a smart, if conservative, brain in coach Ottmar Hitzfeld.
- England: Expect ‘Brave England’ for once to look fresh and exciting. That may not be enough of course as they line up against Italy and Uruguay, but at least England should this time give it a proper go with the young, unproven squad.
- Japan: If nothing else, this Japan side should be great fun to watch. Zaccheroni has focused solely on maximising the attacking potential of the team. Which is of course just as well, when even your full-backs are better at going forward than defending their own goal. It is a balanced and exiting group with teams from four continents, all featuring different styles of play. Japan may be the surprise package of 2014 or they may go out with hardly a whimper.
- Bosnia and Herzegovina: Sure, this is a long shot. It’s the nation’s debut in a major tournament, and they have a very slim squad. But this shout goes out to Miralem Pjanic, one of the most underrated players in Europe. And with goals like this, can you really disagree?
The teams to disappoint:
- Belgium: Belgium to win the World Cup? Really? Come on guys, be realistic. I know every third player in the English Premier League is a non-Belgian, but the Belgian players have no experienced from major international tournaments. Out of the group just about and then out of the tournament when the first top team comes calling.
- France: This is what they do, disappoint. France really have a tendency to go all in; either they go far (winning in 1998; runners-up in 2006), or then make themselves the donkeys of the whole tournament (2002, 2010).
- Germany: So much is expected from this young, fleet-footed German generation that everything short of a place in the final would be a disappointment. Recently Germany have been ravaged by injuries, and they go into the tournament with only one real striker, the 37-year-old Miroslav Klose.
- Colombia: The “third team” from South-America go into Brazil with high hopes and big expectations. This they also did in 1994 (or was in 1990?), and what happened then? Nothing, that’s what.
So there you are.