World Cup 2014: This festival of football is pure joy – and we can enjoy the highs even better without anxiety over England’s progress to bring us down
Monday 23 June 2014
Since victory is denied us we are left crawling on all fours in that desperate realm of “the positives”, endlessly harvesting what might be deemed the good bits from another disastrous campaign. On the home front one “positive” would be the removal of the patriotic bunting adorning the outside of our homes and those damned standards pinned to car doors. Like inflatable Santas and fairy-lights at Christmas, this exaggerated World Cup topiary has no place littering the gardens of England.
Another would be an end to social media missives from Brazil featuring the view from sundry hotel windows and Copacabana Beach. This sort of “welcome to paradise” thing is deeply irritating for those of us imbibing the pageant on these shores.
And we can only imagine how delighted Her Majesty must have been to have swerved the kisser of Mario Balotelli. That cheeky demand always seemed too high a tariff to pay for an inglorious crack at Costa Rica in the hope of extending our stay. In a tournament characterised by the fantastic eruption of big ambition and derring-do, missing out on a back-door pass to the knockout stage was a blessing for all the Queen’s subjects.
That a player considered unworthy of relegated Fulham should be the man to down Italy and send England home is marvellously apposite. Bryan Ruiz is emblematic of a tournament that has transformed the landscape, given the beautiful game a makeover so profound it might be described as a rebirth. Goodness gracious, it even survived the fixture photobomb posted by the Premier League.
This is what happens when you take the tournament to a country where football is relevant. The atmosphere is like no other since Mexico 1970, a distant epoch when the World Cup delivered an impossibly exotic experience, revealing to us in many cases players whom we had neither seen nor heard of. We thought it impossible to reconnect in this way in the world of Champions League excess, where fortnightly immersion in a football fest involving the best players in the world has paradoxically stripped the game of the unexpected and romance.
Not only are the stellar talents intoxicated by Brazil, the World Cup has supercharged ordinary footballing souls and so we have Iran jumping all over Argentina, and Ghana staring down Germany.
Both matches were extraordinary in their inversion of football norms. Germany and Argentina are football aristos, among the favourites to win. Iran and Ghana, despite the latter reaching the quarter-finals in 2010, are regarded as novelties by comparison, historically patronised as contributors of colour not substance. Not in Brazil.
The coruscating breaks engineered by Iran rendered the goalless state of the contest irrelevant. It was enough to witness the Messi mob thanking the Almighty for the dramatic interventions of their keeper, invoking the Hand of God at the other end of the pitch.
Similarly the inexhaustible exuberance of Ghanaians dribbling out of defence, the majesty of itinerants via Sunderland, Pompey and Spurs, Asamoah Gyan, Sulley Muntari and Kevin-Prince Boateng, dissing the mighty Teutons from the Bundesliga, was the best Saturday night television in a generation.
It even evinced from one 36-year-old a celebratory somersault. I don’t recall Simon Cowell giving us that. Then again Britain does not have that kind of talent. Rihanna appreciated it, too, tweeting a snap of her at the shoulder of the one and only Miroslav Klose.
Hers was another example of the rema-rkable levels of engagement engendered by events in Brazil. Surprisingly, perhaps, news of Chris Waddle’s rant failed to penetrate the Rihanna Twitter bubble. In one impassioned soliloquy the great Geordie sausage-packer rescued the reputation of the ex-pro pundit from the purgatory threatened by Phil Neville’s end-of-genre immolation. Not since his “Diamond Lights” duet with Glenn Hoddle on Top of the Pops has Waddle held the nation so rapt. And what a finale: “England neva, neva, neva learn,” he coughed in a sequence of rising inflections.
The demise of England, Spain and possibly Italy, should they fail to keep a lid on Luis Suarez in Natal, to progress has not cost the tournament one jot. In their stead come Chile, Colombia and even Costa Rica, Latino firestorms torching tired old templates with invention, dynamism and lethal desire. With England gone, we can savour the glories unencumbered by morose attachment.
Off the pitch, fears of criminal incursions from the favelas have proved largely baseless. Brazil’s underclass, it turns out, are unfailingly welcoming and sharing, the appalling inequalities and privations to which they are structurally subjected have not, amazingly, corrupted the well of simple goodness in the human spirit.
Hoary correspondents, veterans of multiple campaigns, tell of the most uplifting World Cup they have covered, their hearts warmed and reports informed by the congregation of football-lovers from across the continent and beyond, camped unfettered in temporary homes along stretches of iconic Brazilian waterfront.
Of course, all this rapture merely suspends the realities of the geo-political mess that is Brazil. But that is surely the point. Football is, to misquote Marx, the opium of the masses. High as a kite, I am.
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