World Cup: Life goes on

The scenes of hysteria and tears in the capital cities of the countries knocked out in the first round, not to mention wanton vandalism, walk hand in hand with the new media interest in “human reality” shots, such as the reaction of groups of fans in bars, or shots of a pretty girl sobbing on the terraces.

After all, the World Cup is supposed to be a sporting occasion, a meeting of the world’s top 32 teams and a month of healthy competition. The honour, the merit, the praiseworthy, is to qualify in the first place, leaving countless teams behind.

In this competition, Uruguay (two times winners), Argentina (one time), France (one time) join Russia, Croatia (third place in 1998), a useful Costa Rica side and Portugal’s “golden generation” in the first wave of hasty exits. Yet what is important is the fact that these teams took part in the party, played three games each and experienced World Cup football.

Teams which certainly have the talent to have stayed at least one more round are France, Russia and Portugal. France seemed to miss Robert Pires and Zinedine Zidane, but a squad that relies on two players is not a squad. Anyway, “Les Bleus” have already given the French a World Cup title and a European Championship, hence their warm reception in Paris.

Russia played well in the first match and was unfortunate in the last two, possibly because of the heat and humidity which took the edge off the team’s speed, making play onerous and predictable. This team works the ball up to the area a number of times but the final touch is either lacking, or when it comes, the opponent’s defence has had enough time to pack the area. On another day, Russia would have beaten both Japan and Belgium but it was not to be.

The horrific scenes of vandalism in Moscow on Sunday and the smashed lights in the Metro on Friday bear witness to the fact that Russia’s supporters are already infected with the western virus, called hooliganism, however few these elements may be.

As for Portugal, the “golden generation” which won the world youth cup in 1990 has never produced any silverware at the senior level. A team supposedly replete with stars, which allows itself to fall 0-3 behind to the United States after its first half hour of World Cup football and then has two players (justifiably) sent off in its 0-1 loss to South Korea does not, certainly, deserve to go through to round two, especially since this was arguably the easiest group. The blame is collective: in the first match, all the team played badly, starting with the goalkeeper and ending with the attack. Against Poland, Portugal redeemed itself 4-0 but against South Korea, Joao Pinto got himself sent off for a horrific tackle which could have ended the career of his Korean colleague, a sign of extreme stupidity at best, of lunging evil, at worst. The defender, Beto, predictably saw the team’s second red card as he carried the violent streak of his game at Sporting Clube de Portugal (curiously called “Sporting Lisbon” by the international federations) into the world cup. Portugal’s manager, Antonio Oliveira, defied logic in removing top striker Pauleta, who was looking dangerous, and replacing him with a defensive player while the result was still 0-0.

Such is sport and such is football’s highest stage. What matters is to be there, to compete and to make friends. The World Cup finals are supposed to be a party for sportsmen in general and football lovers in particular. The ball is round, it rolls both ways. Instead of the climate of national catastrophe which greets those teams knocked out, it would be better to assume that in a game, there has to be a winner and a loser. Only those who qualified have the honour to have competed in a world cup.

Congratulations to the top 16 teams which qualified and congratulations to the organisers of this fantastic tournament. Both Japan and South Korea have performed excellently, both on and off the pitch…but the day of reckoning may be coming for the so-called “smaller” teams. The Brazilian giant looms.


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