John Walsh on World Cup 2014: Titans whose genius we were ready to savour are failing to deliver
Prolific writer and commentator John Walsh contributes columns to the paper as well as writing features, interviews and restaurant reviews. He has been editor of The Independent Magazine, literary editor of the Sunday Times and features editor of the London Evening Standard.
Wednesday 18 June 2014
The ignoramus’s guide to the World Cup continues with more important bulletins about the major issues of the day, starting with – what you should know about Uruguay, England’s opponents tonight.
LIVE: Follow the latest news as England play Uruguay, plus Colombia v Ivory Coast and Japan v Greece
1 Players and fans believe in la garra charrua (“the Charrua claw”, referring to the semi-nomadic Charrua Indians, who were wiped out in 1832), meaning the “spirit” of the national team. Mostly it’s their “ability to snatch victory from the jaws of imminent defeat”. Not against Costa Rica, obviously.
2 Their star is Luis Suarez, the Liverpool striker. Fans on the Kop like to sing, “I just can’t seem to get enough of Swah-rezz!” He’s been bragging for days that he’s 100 per cent fit, his treatment’s been “fabulous”, and he knows (Oo-er) the defensive weaknesses of certain England players. We shall see. Few victims of major knee surgery recover in under six weeks. He’s had four.
3 They’re weirdly keen on dulce de leche, that revoltingly sweet caramel custard made by boiling sugar. And their supply of 39kg of it has been confiscated by Brazilian customs. Hah!
Reasons to be cheerful about England vs Uruguay
1 The weather in the Sao Paolo Arena will be 14 degrees. Absolutely fine for England, bloody freezing for the Urugs.
2 When Uruguay were outplayed 3-1 by Costa Rica on Saturday, they conceded two goals inside three minutes. They’re below England at the bottom of Group D. With luck they’ll stay there.
3 They have no creative midfielders. Theoretically, they play a 4-4-2 formation. In practice, it’s more like 8-2, leaving everything to their strikers.
4 We’ve got Raheem Sterling, the most explosively talented young player to appear in a major competition since Wayne Rooney in Euro 2004. We cannot fail.
Shocking (lack of) violence
Was the Müller-Pepe incident, in the Germany-Portugal match, the most minimal display of violence ever seen on a pitch? Right arm outflung, Pepe fended off Müller with a gentle flap of the hand to his face, upon which Müller collapsed in a devastated heap. When the referee waved the game on, Pepe came over and gently touched heads with the fallen German – bonk-bonk, as if saying “C’mon, are you really hurt?” And they called it a head-butt, deserving a red card? Have they ever seen a head-butt? Pathetic.
Once, young World Cup fans collected metal doubloons bearing the faces of key players and stuck them into a pirate’s-treasure-style trophy book. This year they can buy packs of stickers bearing the faces of key players and stick them into weedy albums. In an impulse somewhere between narcissism and insecurity, many players have been buying packs and looking for their own faces among them. Joel Campbell of Costa Rica bought 100 packs (500 stickers!), looked for images of himself but found none. He tweeted a forlorn pic of the opened packs. Mario Balotelli, by comparison, found lots of himself, pasted them all in his album, then posted a snap of it on Facebook. Have these guys nothing better to do?
The politics of sport
During the Germany-Portugal match, the camera lingered on a familiar figure in the crowd: Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor in a red jacket and white slacks. She waved her fists in support, visited the team in the changing room, and took a cute selfie with striker Lukas Podolski. The minute the pictures went global, every head of state in the other 31 countries taking part smote their brow and said, “Why didn’t we think of that?” Will Ed Miliband be found grinning with Steven Gerrard in the Sao Paulo tunnel tonight?
Twilight of the Idols
The Samsung TV ad shows Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo kitted out in quasi-robotic, metallic, ubermensch strip, posing, running and scoring like footballing gods. So far, Ronaldo has done little on the pitch except look handsomely cross and frustrated. Rooney, although he set up a goal for Sturridge, seemed unable to kick a ball with any accuracy (but he’ll be brilliant tonight). And Messi, before his winning goal against Bosnia-Herzegovina played so badly that he was booed by Argentina fans. Why are the titans, whose genius we have switched on our TV sets to savour, failing to deliver?
Quotes of the week
“When chances are created for Balotelli, he will just do things.” – Rafa Benitez. Yeah. Don’t you hate the way he does that?
“I want everyone here in the northeast of Brazil [Fortaleza] and especially those in the stadium [Estadio Castelau] to sing the national anthem like we sing it on the pitch, and hug the person next to you. That will push us forward” – Brazil captain Thiago Silva, perhaps unwittingly asking for trouble.
“He has made an art out of nutmegs… in a flash the ball will go through your legs and he is away” – Jamie Carragher, sorrowfully admiring of Luis Suarez.
“I really feel a big responsibility because everybody is talking about me as possibly one of the surprises of this World Cup.” – Modesty deserts the almost-unknown Russia striker Alexander Kokorin.
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