World Cup 2014: An ignoramuses guide to Brazil
Julio Cesar, the Brazilian keeper. He came, he saw, he stopped a few penalties
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 11 June 2014
The comedy writer Armando Iannucci had a terrific TV sketch about his utter ignorance of, and lack of interest in, football, and his pathetic attempts to hold his own in laddish conversation when his beery compadres are watching or discussing a match.
I'm the same. The footballing gene passed me by, zoomed past me on the chromosomal highway from my father straight to my son, without taking up residence in my DNA. I never watch football. I don't know my Suarez from my Van Persie. I'm dimly aware there are controversial superstars around called Messi and Ronaldo, but have little clue where they feature in the Grandstand universe. I cannot talk football with confidence to my footie-loving friends, my children, to fellow journalists, blokes in pubs, people on trains or my daughters' prospective suitors. I feel hopelessly out of touch.
There are others like Mr Iannucci and me, however. So, to help other ignoramuses who may have strayed by mistake on to this page, I've trawled through the sporting press since last weekend to bone up on World Cup 2014…
1. Nobody has the faintest clue about how England will do. Roy Hodgson's team is full of World Cup virgins – only five of the squad have played in one before. England are the most inexperienced team in the whole shooting-match. But everyone's fond of Roy, so this fact has been greeted with delight by commentators. "All are united in feeling that we don't know what we're going to get from this England," opined one, "and that is invigorating in itself."
2. The surname of Italy's star midfielder Andrea Pirlo is only one consonant away from pirla, which is idiomatic slang for "dickhead." This is one of those killer facts you can bring up in conversation, along with the news that Uruguay's captain last year played for West Bromwich Albion reserves.
3. Lower-limb-based wisdom abounds. "Roy's picked a positive squad. A squad full of legs, energy. Older players don't like to play against legs and pace – and we've got that in abundance." – Steven Gerrard.
"He is a brilliant striker of the ball with both feet" – David Moyes on the clearly talented Toni Kroos of Germany.
4. World Cup TV commercials: The one for Adidas is apparently set in David Beckham's charming home. He and Zinedine Zidane are chatting in adjacent chairs while Gareth Bale, the Welsh winger with the £15m salary and Paris St-Germain winger Lucas Moura snigger on the sofa over a football videogame. The oldies challenge the young tykes to a proper game, and they kick a ball around the Becks mansion, destroying a trophy cabinet and a chandelier. Carlsberg features an idealised pub where everyone's watching the match. After a handball is disallowed, Ian Wright shouts at the screen in Spanish and the referee changes his mind and awards a penalty. (But don't they speak Portuguese in Brazil?) Easily eclipsing them both is the Argentinian TV channel TyC Sports, which uses footage of the Pope addressing a huge crowd, intercut with footage of the national team, as if his words were aimed squarely at the players. It's clever, effective and rather moving.
5. Oh, and the Chilean TV ad features the 33 miners who were trapped 2,300 feet underground for days, before being winched to safety. The catchline is: "Nothing is Impossible."
6. Players with characterful names, which will amuse Gary Lineker and Adrian Chiles, include:
Switzerland midfielder Granit Xhaka. Good name for a square-jawed African superhero.
Italy striker Ciro Immobile. Do Italian fans sing a certain aria from Rigoletto whenever he scores?
Julio Cesar, Brazilian goalkeeper. He came, he saw, he stopped a few penalties.
Quincy Promes, Dutch striker. Probably destined to open a chain of slightly precious health-food shops.
7. Shocking behaviour No. 1: Did you know that, in the first World Cup, the Belgian team dropped Raymond Braine, their star forward, because he'd opened a café? They claimed he'd broken "the rules of amateurism," which presumably included not making any money.
8. Shocking behaviour No 2: Liverpool defender Glen Johnson was once spotted at a B&Q, sneakily putting a lavatory seat into a box bearing a cheaper price tag. He was arrested and fined £80. These days, he can presumably afford diamond-and-uranium lavatory seats from Harrods.
9. Sports journalists are oddly keen on posh abstractions beginning with "re-". One writer said Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain "continues his rehabilitation," referring to a strained knee ligament, as if he was in treatment for crack addition. Another wrote about Jürgen Klingsman giving Germans hope – "craving renewal first and performances second." "The downs I've had with the England journey," says Gerrard. "If you're a winner, you want to bounce back and resurrect it." Resurrection, rehabilitation, renewal – is there a theme here?
10. Shocking behaviour No 3. Mario Mandzukic will miss the game with Brazil because, during the play-offs, he deliberately stamped on an Iceland midfielder's left knee. Did you know he's the only player ever to receive a yellow card for lying to the referee? In 2009, on being shown a red card for some infringement, he told the ref he'd been hit by a bottle flung from the stands. The ref didn't believe him. He's also notable for being the only player in Croatian football history to be fined (€100,000) for not trying hard enough.
11. Top Wags: Sarah Brandner, girlfriend of Germany's Bastian Schweinsteiger has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated, as has Cristiano Ronaldo's Russian babe, Irina Shayk. Diego Maradona's daughter Giannina had a child with Argentine striker Sergio Aguero. But as glamorous companions, they can't compete with Spanish centre-back Gerard Pique's companion (and mother of his son) – the Colombian firecracker Shakira.
Better bring the water cannon to Manaus, boys
On my first visit to Rio, I found myself floundering through the Tijuca rainforest, sweltering in 35C heat, a tad concerned about the 14 varieties of deadly snakes lurking in the trees. So I sympathise with the England team in Manaus. It's a jungle out there (really – it's in the Amazon rainforest) and just as hot: someone's calculated that they'll run the equivalent of seven miles in 90 minutes and sweat five litres of fluid. American "soccer" fans like to exult that the heat is a major factor in the tournament: no European nation, they point out, has ever won a World Cup played in the Americas. It certainly seems to offer an unfair advantage to the already acclimatised, doesn't it? I see Fifa has now ruled that, should the temperature rise above 32C, three-minute water breaks should be introduced, after 30 minutes play in both halves. That hardly addresses the main problem, of humidity, which stops you sweating properly. It's not a little drink that's required every half hour. It's a police water cannon, on full blast.
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