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Three Lions

Yes, I know the subtitle of this song is “Football’s Coming Home”, and football didn’t, but what am I supposed to do? It’s been a month or so since the end of the World Cup, and I think it’s enough time to be able to reflect on the event that crams 64 games into about 28 days, so here goes.

To start with, staging the finals in Russia has been discussed at length and needs no input from me. No one who follows football actually believed that removing Sepp Blatter and his cronies would make a difference in how FIFA does business, and of course, it didn’t. FIFA makes even the worst dictatorship look squeaky clean, and this was embodied in the opening game. On more than one occasion we saw shots from the V.I.P. box of  a triumvirate of evil; Vladimir Putin, FIFA President Gianni Infantino ( AKA Johnny Baby) and someone who I assume was Prince Salman of Saudi Arabia sitting next to each other and chatting. To be honest, it looked like the supervillain conference scene from a James Bond movie: There’s always one Arab in traditional dress present, Johnny Baby looks like a Bond villain and Vlad the Invader IS a Bond villain.  The scene just reeked of influence, corruption and contempt, so it was no surprise when the hosts, the lowest ranking team in the competition made it to the quarter finals.

Do you honestly believe that their games were fair and square? I’m pretty darn sure that every single official involved with Russia’s game had a visit from a couple of big blokes called Ivan and Sergei who said:

” Mister referee, here is special gift from people of Russia. Is whistle for competition. Is good for use in Russia, it glow in dark, and it stay  warm, so please, keep hold of whistle. Russian winter is very cold and dark, and we want you to be safe and make right decisions in game. last referee who made bad decision sat on park bench in Salisbury, he get very ill. We not want that to happen to you.”

Or words to that effect. You catch my drift, anyway. You might think that not having any kind of television service would be a disadvantage, but far from it, as I used a couple of streaming websites and saw all, or at least highlights of 63 games. I didn’t bother with the third place playoff as it’s the most meaningless game in world football and neither team wanted to be there. I was pleasantly surprised at England’s performance as I’d expected the usual squeaking through the group and then going out in the first knockout round to any half decent team. Thankfully, not being in England I avoided the inevitable hype surrounding a decent run, although by the time the semi final came round, even I was beginning to think that I might be about to experience England’s second appearance in a World Cup final.

Mind you, as a Liverpool fan I had already experienced the result of getting over enthusiastic about a final once this season, so kept my own counsel. I don’t know if the Germans have a word for Schadenfreude, but there was plenty of that to go round, and as well as seeing the Germans finish bottom of their group, I took especial delight in seeing Portugal, Argentina, Spain and Brazil fail to make the last eight. I have nothing in particular against those countries, but seeing Cristiano Ronaldo have to go home early was a delight. I can’t stand the guy for a number of reasons: He thinks he’s Gods’ gift and makes no attempt to hide it, he’s not a team player and doesn’t track back or make any effort to help the team and if he was made of chocolate, he’d eat himself. So, seeing him trudge off the pitch after the Uruguay game looking like you could light a candle on his bottom lip gave me quite a lot of satisfaction. I should point out, as others have done, that the last time Germany failed to make the last eight of a World Cup was 1938. Yeah, I know. They didn’t take that defeat particularly well, so I’d do a bit of planning if I were you. Yes, I know a lot of people were joking about this, but not really joking.

Mind you, I suppose I shouldn’t have been so surprised, I mean, Germany doesn’t exactly have a stellar record when it comes to winning in Russia, although at least this time the trip home won’t be quite so traumatic. I am, however, a little disappointed that Germany didn’t play any games in Volgagrad,  although I suppose that would have been a little tasteless.

As an Englishman, the most disappointing thing was England’s performance in the Semi Final. The way I look at it is that if you get that far, you go out and play the greatest game of your life, putting all your energy into the game on the principal that if you lose, you will at least go down swinging, and if you win, hell, you’re in the final, and you might not be fully recovered physically, but the adrenaline rush of being in the World Cup Final is enough to reanimate even the mouldiest of corpses. Alas, this never occurred to the English team, who apart from the free kick never looked like scoring. Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane and Dele Alli were noticeable by their absence, and it just stunned me that they didn’t seem to realise that this game actually mattered.  As with all the other games I made a very strong effort to avoid learning anything about the game, so at least my day wasn’t ruined until the end.

My plans for the final were to watch it at home mid morning, until a friend offered to host me, as he has television service. Works for me, I thought, as long as his other half doesn’t object. In the end, two other friends, also expats announced that they would host a party in their workspace and had bought at 52″ T.V. in honour of the event. They popped by work the day before to buy ham and cheese for Panini, I brought some strawberries, and set off early on Saturday morning to indulge in that most English of activities, morning drinking while watching football.

There were about 18 present all told, most of them locals who were there for the social rather than the football portion of the morning, but my Chelsea loving expat friend and I parked ourselves in prime viewing spots and enjoyed what was, all in all a pretty good game. Of course I was disappointed, but in no way surprised that France won, but I have to say that Croatia ran them close at times, dominating the opening 20 minutes and giving as good as they got. By the end of the game, suitably full of beer and food we stayed to watch the trophy presentation ceremony, and I have to admit that there may have been some coded messages involved.

Firstly, as Putin stood on the pitch awaiting the completion of the podium, he was accompanied by someone who I can only assume was a very expensive Russian prostitute. I don’t know why she was there, as the rain made sure that the pitch was well watered. Maybe she was being rewarded for a job well done. The large flags or Tifos on the pitch were a regular feature of every game, but I couldn’t help but wonder why they were being held by what appeared to be extras from a low budget 1980’s sci fi movie, nor why there was a line of female flight attendants standing behind the dignitaries. Of course, all this took a long time to set up, and was done purely for the cameras and the advertisers, no walking up the steps to receive the trophy as Bobby Moore did in 1966 and I did wonder why only Putin had an umbrella while the Croatian president, Johnny Baby and everyone else simply soaked. Talking of all things soaked, did you notice that when the confetti cannons were let off, they shot huge volumes of golden foil into the air? Hmm. A golden shower in Moscow. Nah, it couldn’t have been any kind of sly jab, could it? Admittedly, Putin did have a sly grin on his face, but then again, he usually does, so I don’t want to read too much into it.

So, not a bad way to spend a month. Plenty of football, not too many boring games, a lot of beer drunk whilst watching it and a fun morning to cap it all off. Now what do I do? I have to wait a full nine days for the start of the English Premier League season to begin, but at least that’s a damn sight less time than the 1,572 days 13 hours and 25 minutes until Qatar 2022. Assuming of course it even happens.

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World Cup Willie

Hmm. Now I look at it, that title may give the impression that I suffer from some sort of embarrassing social disease. Well, to be honest, I do, as loving football is still looked upon as something vaguely unpleasant and not to be talked  about in polite company. As you know, I love football ( see “Football Crazy”) to a fault and like any true fan spent most of the second quarter of this year with bated breath in anticipation of the  extravaganza that is The World Cup. Just to turn it up to eleven, not only was this years’ Copa das Copas held in Brasil, but my dad was here for the first time in two years.

Four years ago I thought that South Africa would be the last World Cup my dad and I would watch together, so this year had a special  poignancy to it.  Logistics took the lead as I only have my desktop monitor to view the games and that makes for a less than ideal situation, so I was pleasantly surprised when my ex said that it was O.K. for us to watch some of the games at her house while she and the kids were at Disneyland. Seeing as she has a 60″ HD screen, I jumped at the chance.

For the first two weeks my dad and I looked at the schedule and decided where to watch the game depending on which teams were playing and the kick off times. Of course, we watched the first two England games on the big screen, all the better to watch our pathetic performances and well deserved defeats. Watching England is a soul destroying experience at best, and this was not best by any means. Mind you, the 5-1 thrashing Holland gave to Spain took some beating as a spectacular game.

For some reason, when talking about the U.S. team, he always calls them “You lot” as if my having lived here for 22 years somehow makes me no longer English, which I think is rather amusing.  I will admit to following the “Von Trapps” with a great deal of enthusiasm, but I’m still a proud and loyal Englishman, so the team that represents  the country of my children’s birth will never be more than second choice.

Of course, the highlights of the tournament were the Germany v. Brazil semi final which showed beyond any doubt just what an incredible game football is and made even more laughable (if that were possible) the eyewateringly high level of ignorance displayed by Ann Coulter in a recent article that did the rounds on  social media – Excuse me while I disinfect my keyboard – and Tim Howard’s amazing display against Belgium

However, the weirdest part of the whole tournament was the final. My dad was basically wherever the kids were, and Final day saw them with their mum. My sweetie and I were both invited to watch the final there and it was without doubt the weirdest experience of my life to watch a football game with my ex on one side of me and my sweetheart on the other. I have to say that my sweetie was very nervous about the whole situation, but displayed a level of aplomb and courtesy that just emphasised how much  our relationship means. There are not many women who would share a couch with their boyfriends’ ex for the sake of a football game.

The World Cup is always something of a Curate’s Egg, and while the bad parts are truly dreadful  –  yes, I’m looking at you, England – the good parts are to be relished and savoured like a fine single malt whisky shared with good friends. The best part of it is the male bonding. My dad and I get very little one on one time and the World Cup gave us the opportunity to spend true quality time together by staring at a screen and moaning as the team in white disappointed us once again, just as we’d expected.

And yes, I can’t wait for Russia 2018. Only a little over 1,400 days to go and I’m already looking for a suitable pen with which to fill in my wall chart.

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