BfB Goes To The World Cup 2010 (Without leaving the front room)

The best thing about the World Cup is its elusiveness.

Try as they might in forty four years England have yet to catch up with the thing again – in a winning sense at least – and they are not alone in this near fruitless quest. The list of countries to have tried and not been able to have the right mix of impressive abilities and outrageous good fortune to be crown World Champions is a long and impressive one.

Spain – for example – have never held aloft the World Cup and while some think they could at the end of this summer many would have said the same about other teams. The Dutch side that featured Johan Cruyff in the 1970s twice reached the final scoring once without the opposition having kicked the ball but never were champions.

A better team in the form of the Hungarians of the 1950s – Ferenc Puskás and all – also ended up defeated in the World Cup final losing 1954 to West Germany despite fielding a side humbled England 6-3 at Wembley the year before and being holders of the Olympic Gold Medal from 1952.

The Golden shirts of Brazil 1982 are as memorable as the names of Zico, Socrates and so on. Another great team – some said the best every – who found the World Cup elusive.

So when asking why the likes of Michael Owen, David Beckham, Paul Gascoigne, Gary Lineker, Kevin Keegan and erm… Trevor Brooking have not been able to re-capture the lump of gold one can only say that they are in illustrious company and conclude that the thing is so very hard to win and in all likelihood some of the best players who will ever kick around a bit of leather will never know World Cup triumph.

The reason that the World Cup is this elusiveness beast is oft ignored in the national media of a country – and it should be noted that hysteria is by no means a solely English condition every four years – but is best summed up with the idea that in any given game at the World Cup the chances are that both teams will want to win.

Seas of red top newspapers have been written ignoring this central conceit that football is a multi-polar game and never is this more true so than in the geographically rather than financially collected world of nations. Read The Sun – no, please don’t – and one would form the impression that all the English have to do is to want to win enough and victory is assure as if whichever of the other thirty-one sides we come across are less interested in winning for their nations as we are for ours.

This is where support gives way to jingoism and is something unsavoury and to be avoided. The Sun leads a list of best avoided reads for the months of June and July but the majority of newspaper coverage is probably best avoided as journalists attempt to fill column inches with either hysteria or cynicism. Mute your TV at half time, especially if you are watching ITV, and put on some music or better be your own pundit and notice how if you and your mates start to talk about the game rarely do you compare poorly with the experts when it comes to analysis.

The beauty of the World Cup – and the core of that elusiveness – is in the fact that of the thirty-six teams who have entered a third could realistically be in with a chance of winning and while nominal favourites exist – The Dutch are, to me, very equipped to be champions – if Côte d’Ivoire were winners in July 11th one might be surprised but not shocked. A team with boasting Didier Drogba winning anything should be no surprise.

Holland, Brazil, England, Argentina, Italy, Germany, Spain, would surprise no one if they were victorious but add to that list Ivory Coast, Ghana, Cameroon, Paraguay, Chile, Portugal and Serbia and probably a few other names. Greece were one of only three teams not on a list of the sixteen at the 2004 European Championships who it was thought had a chance of winning it, they did.

The Europeans have never won outside of Europe, the Africans have never won. All these things change given time and unless you are the sort of person who gets a kick out of guessing which the next number out of the national lottery machine is then ensue ideas of prediction and enjoy the football.

The football is about an egalitarianism and hopefully the healthiest kind of collective nationhood. North Korea beat Italy in 1966, Cameroon beat Argentina in 1990 and in doing so both redefined the view of their countries on the world stage as a result. After Cameroon’s Roger Milla in 1990 a generation brought up with Africa as Ethiopia and a place of famine saw the continent reborn as strong, powerful and able to shimmy with a corner flag if circumstances required it.

The French far right politics has yet to recover from the sight of Algeria descended Zinedine Zidane, the Senegalese born Patrick Vieira and red wine countrymen Laurent Blanc and Didier Deschamps holding the trophy aloft in 1998 and since then Le Pen’s message has fallen on deaf ears since. Such concerns are of the future but illustrate the positives of winning six football matches in a month.

Achieving those aims in life is as elusive as winning the World Cup. Both are worth striving for and neither tarnished if they are not achieved immediately.

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