Leading article: The World kicks off

Kick-off this weekend for midsummer madness. As the football season proper closes with an FA Cup Final that delivered goals and gripping drama, the globally-warmed, genetically-modified version known as the World Cup begins.

There will be those who hope for the worst. It is true that if England is knocked out of the competition at the earliest possible stage - still several St George-cross-festooned weeks away - it would save a lot of angst about hooliganism, patriotism and the complex English-British identity. But that would be a negative and joyless way in which to hang out the bunting for a long warm-weather festival that brings people together.

In the youthful and optimistic spirit that characterises this newspaper, therefore, we look forward to an exuberant celebration of internationalism on the football field. The England flags (already everywhere), the bikini sets, the football shirts and the computer games tend towards excess, but that is part of the showiness of one of those few shared-experience moments of collective national passion.

If for that reason alone, even for fair-weather fanatics, it remains the beautiful game.

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