The Beautiful Game takes Center Stage.

11 06 2010

For anyone that has been living under a rock recently, today is the start of a small football tournament in South Africa.

Or soccer if you live in the continental United States of America.

The World Cup. La Copa de Mondial. A celebration of The Beautiful Game. 32 nations competing for the ultimate prize, 32 of the “best footballing nations” in the world all desperate to get their hands on the prize. Fighting for the right to be crowned World Champion – which involves actually playing against other countries as opposed to the isolationist policy that seems to pervade American sport.

64 games played over the course of a month. A festival of football and the chance for the world’s best players to showcase their skills and angle for a pay raise when they return to their clubs.

Of course, the 32 teams in South Africa are not all necessarily the foremost proponents of the world’s most popular game.

Brazil, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Argentina, The Netherlands, Italy, France and even England will all fancy their chances of glory. The USA may do better than predicted, Ivory Coast may actually be ones to watch and Mexico have come into the tournament in good form.

But the rest of them?

New Zealand, Honduras, North Korea, Greece (who did win the European Championship in 2004), Paraguay, Slovenia, China and Australia are all teams that could be just making up the numbers. Only the Aussies may make it into the round of 16 but they will have to get past Germany and Ghana.

The hosts, South Africa, kick off the tournament with a game against Mexico but it is possible that they could be the first host nation to not make it out of the group stages. They will be of cheered on by a nation, but even the constant blowing of the vuvuzelas may not be enough to cover the fact that the Rainbow Nation is not a very strong soccer team.

England’s first game is against the USA, a chance to avenge the defeat of 1950 and to remind the world of why we invented the game. Which is, of course, to be beaten by every former colony and to give the media the chance to roundly criticise the overpaid, pampered primadonnas who represent the supposed cream of English football.

Having arrived back in England a week ago, I have been assaulted by mass marketing and football fever. Everywhere you go, the flag of St. George is being proudly flown – even over 10 Downing Street – and the newspapers are full of interviews with players, fans and random pundits.

Walk into the supermarket and you can buy football-themed merchandise. Mars bars with the English flag on, boxes of Pringles (or Pringooals) with Spurs & England star Peter Crouch emblazoned on them and cans of lager with footballs. Wayne Rooney stares down from every billboard, London is awash with fans in replica kits and cars drive through the streets with little flags attached to their roofs.

So, it is far to say that this country will shut down @ 7.30 PM GMT tomorrow night when the team strides out into the stadium in Rustenburg. The next ninety minutes will dictate what sort of a mood the country will wake up in on Sunday.

We will probably lose.

I don’t even know if I will see the game, as the organisers of the Download festival have thoughtlessly organised a three-day music festival which starts today. There will be big screens at the venue, but as they are usually erected to show the bands that are performing on the stage then those of us who want to combine music AND football may be struggling.

But I am sure that all of my American friends would be only to happy to keep me updated with the score, one of the many joys of the mobile world that we live in.

But if we lose, I am not turning my phone on.




One response

21 06 2010

“New Zealand, Honduras, North Korea, Greece (who did win the European Championship in 2004), Paraguay, Slovenia, China and Australia are all teams that could be just making up the numbers.”

I trust you haven’t been doling out too many tips to vulnerable punters these past couple of weeks…

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