Since the final stages of the World Cup started, I’ve written about it more than anything else. Why? Because the so-called ‘greatest show on Earth’ has been just that. Football fans love drama, excitement, uncertainty, controversy, beautiful play, stunning goals, and more. We have had all of that in spadefuls. You want drama? Get it early, as when the USA’s Clint Dempsey scored against Ghana within one minute of the start. Whatever plans Ghana had went out of the window, because they were in the hot seat. You want excitement? The dying minutes of The Netherlands against Mexico this weekend had too much. Only minutes left and Mexico were sailing into the quarter finals. The Dutch had tried, but close is never enough in football. Wesley Sneijder had played an almost invisible role. Then he was left all alone on the edge of the penalty box, and boom, the ball was sailing into the back of the net past the otherwise unbeatable Ochoa: 1-1. Into added time, and Robben jinked into the area, stopped on a Euro and turned and pushed the ball back toward the penalty spot. Out came the lunging foot of Rafa Marquez, onto Robben’s foot.
Oh, dear. Why, Rafa? Pheep! Penalty! Up steps Hintelaar, and down went Mexico. Pande-bloody-monium! 2-1. The Dutch win. Mexico are crushed flat as a tortilla. Uncertainty? Hello, Greece? Can you play against Costa Rica’s 10 men for most of the second half and into additional time and not win, please? Then watch the Ticos score their first four penalties? You score your first three, then miss the fourth? The Ticos score their fifth, and win 5-3 on PKs? Too unlikely? Wrong! Broken plates all around cannot undo that reality. Controversy? Well, how do you want that served? You like the ‘man bits man’ variety provided by Luis Suárez, and his uncontrollable jaws? (At least, he had the decency to stop that lunatic defence of stumbling and falling into Chiellini’s shoulder. Whether or not he came clean because Barcelona said they wanted to see clean teeth, I don’t know. I hope his grandmother and all the politicians jumping up to shout conspiracy and ‘we are the victims’ will put away the masks.) Or do you want the variety served up by African countries? Cameroon, ahead of the games, Ghana and Nigeria during the knock-out stages, all got tripped up by the green stuff. Not grass, but the crispy, crunchy, paper (or into my Swiss account) type. Cue Pink Floyd. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wy04c-6DEgE Or you want the (assistant) referee who disallowed what seem like two good goals by Mexico in their opening round win against Cameroon, and has to be sent home variety? He was Colombian and any suspicions… Or match-fixing allegations being investigated by the Cameroon football federation. Beautiful play? When does the word that sound like Messi get used when the maestro is at work. Tell me his winner against Iran was not a thing of sheer beauty and grace. Tell me! A left foot like his could win elections in many countries, and need no platform. Comparisons with Maradona are not needed: Lio-nel is himself. Two Argentines with such sublime left feet. For those, who only watch the World Cup, realise that he does it all the time. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iEiWfRPx9sM Stunning goals? Messi again. Tim Cahill’s rocket volley. James Rodriguez’s volley for Colombia against Uruguay: back to goal, chest trap, swivel, ball does not touch the ground, smack with left foot, goalie tips it to underside of bar, ball nestles into net. Gooooaaaallllassssooooo!
Check the other candidates in the eyes of one British paper. Phew! Where were we? What else? Up to yesterday, more goals, 150, (not including in penalty shoot-outs) had been scored than in South Africa in 2010 and we still have 10 or so matches to play. The goals have been coming is bundles, at 2.78 a game, a high number for those who worry about low scores, which football fans don’t. Technology now allows us to be up-to-date in real-time, and that is wonderful. Check out some of the statistics. Some extraordinary interactive data have been prepared, including a set that shows from which clubs all the players come. I cannot wait to hit Rio in a day or so. It’s one thing to watch matches on TV. I may not get to see a match up close and personal. But, the atmosphere of live football going on around you is intoxicating. I’m glad to say that I have a lot of women friends who are mad football fans. Men have their passion, but women get absolutely delirious, plus they get into stuff most guys do not, such as the size and shape of thighs and butt cheeks. But, that’s the sport. The manufacturers are helping us buy into the many new aspects of football. Shoes that are more colours than in the rainbow: Adidas, Nike, Puma are duking it out.
The players, too, add to the hype: their celebration dances, which are now group affairs; their hair cuts, which seem crazier each game. Their little rituals. Officials have been slow to get in on the act, as is right. But, the power of the spray can. Almost as iconic as the vuvuzela? Stretching it, right? Well, another few hours before one more spin of the wheel on this crazy tournament. Some people have found other things to fascinate them. I have no clue what that could be. All activities should be shaped around the World Cup schedule. Play golf? Start at 7am, finish by 10.30. Home by 10.55. Game on. It’s really simple. All tasks must fit into half-time window. Phone, if they ring, will be ignored. “Dad, can I take the car to Timbuktu?” Yes, just be back by half time. I feel sorry for those in the USA who try to dish football (soccer) as some evil, alien force–the most ridiculous of which must be Ann Coulter. I’m glad that I have a huge number of American friends who are as crazy about the World Cup (that truly represents most of the world) as many are about the so-called ‘World Series'(which covers the 50 states of the USA). But, that’s a topic for a boring dinner party. Today, they will get the chance to show their real interest. They already celebrated great goals. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MUnO2AJVJ6c They will be getting used to the irony that their German coach has managed to find many German-Americans, who speak German better than English, but have great pedigrees if not college degrees. Top players can look like Rastamen, but speak of nothing to do with jerk as a food. That is part of the fabulous gift that is this so mesmerizing and enthralling sport.