A friend of mine who’s a primary school teacher tells me that the World Cup is an excellent teaching aid. What better way for her young pupils to learn about geography?
She says that they all know about the major cities of Brazil, or where the Ivory Coast is, or what’s the population of Costa Rica. And mathematics, too. The league system of the first round groups is a valuable and practical method of teaching multiplication and, in the case of England anyway, subtraction.
In the question of geo-politics and history, too, the World Cup presents some interesting test case. Why is it, Miss, that English people don’t like Argentina? And why does everyone want Germany to get beaten?
For the rest of us, this World Cup - in terms of footballing quality and excitement, the best in my lifetime - offers up more complex issues, relating to morality, and a sense that the global order of things is changing.
Much has already said about Luis Suarez, but the gory irony of a governing body which has been accused of selling its most precious asset to the highest bidder, and apparently values its commercial interests above its integrity, standing in judgement on an individual’s incomprehensible and reckless actions must not be lost in the rush to condemn Suarez.
What he did was so stupid as to defy rational thought. But it was an instinctive, and, as it turned out, pretty harmless act: its perpetration - unlike the alleged crookery that FIFA has undertaken down the years - does not weaken the fabric of the sport one jot.
Suarez, possibly even repentant and reformed, will return in four months’ time to a game that will be ever more shameless in its commercial pursuits, and will find potential employers ever more desperate to claim the services of a player whose footballing ability is such that it powerfully transcends his moral turpitude.
Notwithstanding scandal and injustice, this past fortnight has been a very powerful advertisement for the world’s game. Who could have thought that we’d be transfixed until midnight by games involving Costa Rica and Greece, or Algeria and South Korea? Who could possibly have forecast that the world’s traditional footballing powers would find their hegemony challenged by nations with a fraction of their resources, and with little or no record of success on the global stage?
Goal of the World Cup contenders
Goal of the World Cup contenders
1/5 James Rodriguez vs Uruguay
The chest and volley strike at the Maracana was worthy of taking any side through to the quarter-finals. That it hit the underside of the bar just made it look even better.
2/5 James Rodriguez vs Japan
Rodriguez was already in contention for the best goal after his solo effort against Japan. He turned a defender inside out before a delicate chip over the on-rushing goalkeeper. Exquisite.
3/5 Robin van Persie vs Spain
The flying Dutchman with the flying header that really got the tournament going. The image of Van Persie flying through the air already feels iconic. That it came against the defending champions and went over the head of Iker Casillas made it brilliant.
4/5 Lionel Messi vs Iran
Argentina's talisman came to their rescue when it looked like a draw with Iran was on the cards. In the 91st minute, he picked up the ball on the right, shifted the ball onto his left foot to take it past a defender and then curled it round the keeper into the far corner. Well worth the wait.
5/5 Tim Cahill vs Netherlands
Cahill's left-footed volley went into the net with such speed and ferocity and the way the ball had come across his body just made the technique even more difficult. Another one off the underside of the bar.
But, in this respect, isn’t this tournament just a lens which helps us understand what’s going on in the real world? Traditional power bases are crumbling, and the tectonic plates of the world’s economy are shifting.
Algeria may be able to go toe-to-toe with an industrial giant like Germany only on the football field. But they played with no fear, which comes in part from a sense of greater economic confidence.
Foreign investors are looking at relatively stable countries like Algeria - or Nigeria, or Chile, or Ghana - with a core workforce of young, mobile, technologically adept, engaged people as very attractive places to do business.
In the primary schools of the future, the World Cup will be used to teach more than geography and mathematics. It may be used as the illustration for how the world itself is changing.