- Lifestyle & Sports
- 21 Jul 14
After weeks of high drama, the tournament of tournaments is almost over. So how are we going to survive the interminable wait until the next one?
So how are you all planning to survive the next four years? Like all the best holidays, the World Cup has been slightly overshadowed throughout by the agonising awareness that it will eventually finish, and will do so when you’re least ready to wave goodbye.
Already, the blissful nirvana of three matches a day is just a distant memory. There are now only three games left (the third-placed play-off doesn’t count) and, by the time you read this, there will be only one. And after that, no football whatsoever. Sure, it won’t exactly be an endless wait (one month) for club action to swing into life again, but let’s not kid ourselves that it comes remotely close to the magic, colour and suspense provided by a World Cup. I caught a horrifying glimpse of Foul Play’s bleak future the other night when, Wimbledon highlights having finished, BBC2 were attempting to entertain us with RUGBY FUCKING LEAGUE. A very swift flick over to Sky Sports left me staring in disbelief at the following menu:
Sky Sports 1: Premier League Darts from Brighton
SS2: Twenty20 Cricket
SS3: Grapple Greats
SS4: Super League Backchat
I have seen the future, and brother, it is murder.
But back to the things that really matter: who will win the ultimate prize? At the time of writing, I can’t separate our four semi-finalists with a slide-rule, and though hindsight makes fools of us all, it’s highly likely that you’ve just witnessed two knife-edge encounters, going all the way to extra time and penalties. In the interests of posterity, I will state my suspicion that some almighty sort of voodoo will be needed to stop Brazil from fulfilling their destiny of a home final by hook or by crook, probably with a scrambled, vaguely accidental goal which ricochets off Fred’s arse in stoppage-time.
As I write, they are down to the bare bones. Neymar’s injury against Colombia was an almighty shame for the tournament (despite the fact that Brazil were by far the greater aggressors on the day) and though the Chelsea pairing of Oscar and Willian have the capacity to inflict serious damage, there seems little point in disputing that the German line-up is vastly superior. My hunch is that it won’t have mattered.
The cast of strikers — to wit, Jo, Fred and Hulk — aren’t names to stand alongside the hallowed likes of Rivelino, Zico, Pele, Ronaldinho and their illustrious predecessors. Still, our old pal Eamon Dunphy was surely way off the mark with his observation that the team were ‘useless’ and had only qualified by virtue of beating Colombia’s ‘headless chickens’. True, Brazil could very easily have been eliminated by either Chile or Colombia, but the point is that they found a way to win against two excellent sides. David Luiz’s sensational thunderbolt free-kick would have been salivated over had it come from the boot of a Pirlo, Gerrard or Ronaldo, while a re-run of the Chile game demonstrates that the hosts made much the greater effort to win in extra-time and, on that basis, deserved to progress. The team is populated by grafters rather than great entertainers, and in terms of overall talent they are the weakest of the semi-finalists, but to dismiss them as an international version of Tony Pulis-era Stoke is stretching it.
The Colombia affair brought down the curtain on Foul Play’s hopes of pulling off another bank job at 40/1, a fact which may not have been lost on those of you who followed my gambling recommendations of last issue. The bets didn’t quite work out, with Algeria dead-heating for Best African Team and the rest falling by the wayside. It will probably be no consolation to anyone that I am (very narrowly) in profit after three-and-a-half weeks’ combat, almost entirely thanks to the mighty James Rodriguez storming his way to the Golden Boot at 33/1 (assuming that Messrs. Messi, Muller, Robben and van Persie haven’t managed to outstrip him by the time you read this). The winnings (again, assuming they materialise) just about exceed the losses from a campaign of gruelling intensity, but any mistakes can surely be blamed on the stifling heat and sapping humidity. Ahem.
Foul Play spent six extremely relaxed days during the group stages in sunny Amsterdam, and had a ringside seat for a nation’s collective nervous breakdown as Holland were put through the emotional wringer by the plucky Aussies in a match of many twists and turns. The Dutch have a reputation as calm, cerebral types, but you wouldn’t have known it from the reaction of the Oranje masses, roaring and gesticulating and generally going every bit as ballistic as the Irish are wont to. They made it through a vicious first-round group which claimed the bloodied corpse of reigning champions Spain, my pre-tournament tip for glory, while my initial Golden Boot selection (Cristiano Ronaldo) also limped out in round one, accompanied by our neighbours In-ger-land, who mustered a grand total of one point from three games, confirming the suspicion that football in these islands, Premiership riches notwithstanding, is probably at an all-time low.
At previous World Cups, you could look on and make a plausible theoretical case that Ireland might have prospered. This time, no-one in their right minds could cling to the delusion that Ireland would have brought anything whatsoever to these Finals apart from comic relief. Our 5-1 friendly defeat to Portugal, mere days before the same foes collapsed and sank without a trace 4-0 against Germany, offered a frighteningly graphic illustration of just how far behind the pace we are. We are in better hands now than we were two years ago, but the gap that needs to be bridged is a vast one.
The four semi-finalists have been, not coincidentally, the four best teams (with Colombia, Chile and arguably Mexico probably the most impressive of the rest after playing some brilliant, enterprising, fearless stuff). Again at the mercy of events, I’m sitting so firmly on the fence for Holland-Argentina that I intend to back extra-time and a penalty shoot-out, though with a gun to the head I’d probably opt for Messi to conjure up a moment of magic to make the difference. If I am right, this leaves us staring at the vista of a Brazil-Argentina final, about which little more needs to be said. The dream Final? The ultimate, one-for-the-ages showdown? Maradona’s rightful heir taking on the nation more closely identified with The Beautiful Game than any other? All of those things, and more. It is a prospect for which the term ‘mouth-watering’ was invented. But, should the gods have delivered us Holland-Germany, I’ll be more than happy with that too.
I will of course lavish all due attention upon the All-Ireland Hurling and Football Championships next issue, and may even assess the current state of the Airtricity League, but right now, there is no way on earth you want to read about anything other than the World Cup. Enjoy the Final, comrades.
- Lifestyle & Sports
- 11 Jan 18