Every four years, the World comes together to laugh, cry, shout at their HD big Screens and fight battles on a sporting field. The World Cup exemplifies what’s best and worst in elite sport. We’ve had the drama, the cheating, the joy and the tedium of life in the first half of the tournament. Now we’re at the second act of the play when the full story will become apparent. And the actors really play their part in this pageantry of nations.
Competing countries have already earned their spurs, having got through the qualification process; for most, participating is as good as it gets. When Ireland failed to qualify, due to French perfidy, the country was devastated. Qualifying would have jumpstarted a devastated economy and restored some much needed morale. Instead, we got denied entry to the biggest global party going. It hurt bad; we were sick as parrots – there was to be no escaping from our recessionary trough.
Nor are India and China in South Africa 2010; over one quarter of the planet has no say in the outcome. When these countries get their act together, the World Cup will have new names to join the rostrum of glory. Until then, we await the rise of half of the BRIC nations; they are sure to join this small group of world beaters once coaching and technical skills improve. They are emerging nations economically, politically and on the football field.
For other teams, there are different narratives. For once, it wasn’t uncool for non-Americans to cheer for Team USA. The Obama factor had a big say in changing hearts and minds and allowing the Rest of the World to support the Stars and Stripes if they felt like it. At the back of these considerations was the assumption that the US probably won’t win the thing anyway and that they could go back to playing Gridiron and other indigenous activities once their sojourn in the sun was complete.
Then there’s England. Ah England, hyped beyond all reasonable expectations by a laughable tabloid press and then slaughtered when failing to win the World Cup. The inevitable match with the cooler and thoroughly European Germans, the national self-doubt following defeat, the end of another managerial reign and the cycle starting all over again. 1966 and all that. The best paid players in the World playing some of the worst football; at least this one can’t be marked down as symptomatic of New Labour malaise. David Cameron takes the rap here.
The French implosion was of epic proportions. Turning against their manager, their federation and, in many people’s eyes, their country, they sparked off a debate on national identity. Sarkozy became involved and now wants to take charge of the post-mortem investigation. It’s a huge dose of karma for cheating the Irish in the play-off. France; like Churchill’s Russia, ‘a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.’
And now to the South Americans. Leading the charge of a resurgent and proud continent, the rise of Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay and of course Brazil, echoes the rise of the Left in South America. Brazil, the Romantics’ great hope, always there or there abouts. Capable of sublime football and leading the charge yet again; poor in wealth but rich in poetic spirit.
Football holds up a mirror to the real world. Politics and sport, reality and escapism, workaday life and the theatre of dreams.