If I have to tell you that the 2010 edition of the World Cup played between football players representing their countries (not clubs) is going on and in fact reaching an intriguing climax, then either you have been living in forced captivity deprived of any contact with the outside world or you hate football thoroughly. So yes, the World Cup is on and I am hooked as are so many of you.
Before I go on with the main topic, I would like to state that I am not crazy about football like I am about cricket. I like to watch it only when countries are playing each other for the 4 year tournaments like the WC and the Euro. I do not believe in the club system because it is so transfer driven (a player can play for team A one year and then for team B the next year) that the passion behind following a particular player is diluted. That is my view and I do not expect others to subscribe to it. However I love the WC system of football which accommodates 32 teams and still produces very few dud matches (ICC, please take note). Ok, explanation over. On to the thoughts:
– Ever since I started following the football World Cup, every second WC has been held in an emerging market (US – 1994, SK – Japan 2002 and SA – 2010) with the middle WCs held in the primary markets (France – 1998, Germany – 2006, Brazil – 2014). If the same is deliberate, it is a nice way of increasing popularity in the new markets and at the same time keeping your current customers excited. It is this which makes me believe that a World Cup hosted by India is not far off (if FIFA is doing this deliberately). Think about it – emerging economy, football crazy people in the millions and emerging corporate support. Like hell, FIFA is going to ignore India for long. Indian football talent being up to the mar is immaterial.
-Africa has given this World Cup a distinct flavour (not just vuvuzelas, will come to it later). For one, the thin air compounded by the Jabulani ball’s extra lightness has made it difficult for teams to time the ball, or so they say. People are blaming the Jabulani solely for the inconsistent flight of the ball. No one is talking about the air. I find that confounding. As if all the commentators and players have been paid to criticize the Adidas manufactured ball. New form of ambush marketing?
-The exuberance and the enthusiasm of the spectators have added to the tournament. The World Cup has been managed really well, something not surprising since South Africa has made a hobby out of organizing sporting tournaments without a hitch (IPL2 was executed in SA in just a month’s notice. Cannot get better than that)
– It is not that only the Saffers have gone crazy. The rest of the world has also gone bonkers. We have octopuses playing the role of fortune tellers and doing a good job of it. So good that it is recieving death threats for it efforts. We have lingerie models vowing to run around naked if her team (Paraguey, for the info of the people under the rocks) won the World Cup (her team crashing out does not seem to have any effect it seems. NSFW!!)
– Before the WC started, people had mixed opinions about the vuvuzelas. Now there seems to be only one opinion i.e. to ban them. One can understand the sentiment. The sound of the ‘zelas takes some (rather, lots of) time to get used to. When I heard it for the first time, I swear I thought that a swarm of bees had attacked the stadium. Inspite of this, I believe that people are too hasty in writing it off. The vuvuzelas lend a distinctly South African flavour to the going on. Football in every continent and every country has a distinct voice. South Africans have made the vuvuzela their voice. Banning it would hurt the very people who have made the tournament such a success. FIFA again showed good thinking by squashing all demands to ban them. ICC, are you taking notes?
– The main learning from this World Cup according to me is the same one which has been repeated time and again but still is not followed – Matter over hype. We had stars like Ronaldo and Rooney flopping like anything. The hype balloon that was England burst and spread a huge stink. The hype balloon (literally as well) that was Maradona saw his radical vision get whacked the first time his team played a properly organized opponent. Highly paid stars got into ego fuelled clashes with their coaches. In the meantime, the teams which were tightly managed with no standout prima donnas did their work quietly and flourished.
– It is a travesty of justice that the two best teams, Spain and Germany played each other in the semi finals rather than the finals. The German team was made up of products of their youth system and a few stalwarts like Klose. They mixed typical German solidity with an unexpected flair which was beautiful to watch. Spain made entirely of La Liga players with Barcelona dominating are playing in typical Barcelona style – steady possession based play intended at wearing down the opponents. Sounds boring, but when you have chaps like Iniesta (saw him the first time, became a fan instantly) carrying out sudden and beautiful raids into the opposition half, you cannot complain much.
– The real surprise packet of this tournament has been the Dutch team. Not many call this side as good as the fabled Dutch teams of the late 70s. Heck, they could not even qualify in 2002. They have been a little lucky to reach this far (again, Spain and Germany should have met in the finals) but you require such luck to go this far. Only thing to complain is the blatant diving they did in the semis.
– Speaking of diving, this World Cup has seen a little too much of them. So much that any time a player falls down, the others around seem a little hesitant before approaching the fallen one. These footballers will give the Bollywood stars a run for the money in the theatrics department if we go by their acting skills on the fielding.
That is it for now. More thoughts on the football after the finals. Here is hoping for a good last couple of matches where the teams loosen up even more and give us some great moments to cherish.