From Iceland — The Stories of This World Cup

The Stories of This World Cup

Published June 22, 2010

The Stories of This World Cup
African Tragedy
Cameroon was the first team eliminated in this World Cup. Ivory Coast and South Africa are holding on by the slimmest of threads. Algeria and Nigeria need things to go their way and win against tough opponents (the US and South Korea, respectively). Ghana has to hold of a German team that needs a win to get through to the knockout stages. Things aren’t looking good for the African teams, and every one of them may end up eliminated, which would be the first time a team from Africa hasn’t reached the second round since 1982. This would be a great tragedy for African football, which had high hopes going into this tournament.
What would change the story?
If two African teams make it to the second round, the tragedy would lose some of its sting. If an African team reaches the semi-finals for the first time, it would be a great success for African football.
French Farce
As I mentioned in my inaugural blogpost, France was damaged goods coming into this tournament. They needed to play positively to regain their reputation. So far their performance on the pitch has been dreadful. Their actions off the pitch have possibly been even worse. Forward Nicolas Anelka has been sent home for insulting the coach, Raymond Domenech, and the team refused to train in protest. The team has disgraced itself in every possible way short of beating up a referee, though the way things are going, I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened too. As Zinedine Zidane said: “This World Cup will be remembered for two things: the winner and that the French team refused to attend the training session before the South Africa game.”
What would change the story?
France advancing from their group. Though, really, anything short of winning the tournament will be overshadowed by the team’s antics.
East Asian Teams Are Good
South Korea’s run to the semi-finals in 2002 has been written off as a fluke by arrogant European and South Americans. Of course, being arrogant doesn’t always equal being wrong, but the solid wins by South Korea and Japan over Greece and Cameroon, respectively, turned heads. That they then lost to Argentina and Holland isn’t that important, since most everyone loses to Argentina and Holland. If both teams advance from their groups, or one of them makes it to the quarter-finals, that will be one of the stories of this World Cup.
What would change the story?
If neither team makes it out of their group. Both teams have difficult final matches against teams that need a win.
Brazil Are Boring
I am 29 years old. The first World Cup I watched was Italy ’90. Then Brazil went out against Argentina in a fierce 1-0 game. The Brazilians peppered the Argentinian goal with shots, hitting the woodwork at least twice, but had no luck. After that, the Brazlian style of play changed. It became all about winning. They started playing a defensive brand of football that had more to do with the traditional Italian way of playing. In place of jogo bonito, there is jogo duro. Some people have been talking about this for the last couple of decades, but it hasn’t been until this tournament that the Brazilian narrative has been changing. That is not strange. If you grew up watching the Brazil teams of 1958 to 1986, it is only natural to have an enduring love for them. It takes a long time for the brilliance of Pelé, Socrates, and the beautiful football they play, to wash off the yellow jersey.
What would change the story?
Circumstances, say falling behind, require the Brazilians to go on the attack. Though if Elano is injured, their forward line would operate with reduced elegance.
Europe Is Slipping
It is nothing new that European teams do poorly outside of Europe. No European nation has claimed the World Cup outside its home continent. But so many European teams are in trouble this year, with only Holland certain of passage into the second round. All the European World Cup winning nations are in deep trouble, France nearly certain of elimination, England and Italy drawing against minnows and needing a win going into the last match of the group stage, and Germany having lost to Serbia after going a man down and, shock of shocks, missing a penalty, which hasn’t happened since 1982. Spain, who many considered the tournament favorites, need a win against the dangerous Chile to be assured of qualification. Few of the other European teams have been playing well, even the Dutch have been stodgy and lucky in their two victories.
What would change the story?
If a lot of the currently struggling European teams qualify for the second round, and then go on to the quarter-finals, that story will peter out, especially if two or more European teams play in the semi-finals.
The New Zealand Fairytale
Few expected New Zealand to score a goal. Fewer expected them to still be in with a decent chance of getting out of their group after two games. But here they are, having gotten two 1-1 draws against Slovakia and Italy. If they beat Paraguay, which would be no mean feat, they’ll go on to the second round automatically. If they draw, there’s a slim chance they’ll still go on, if Italy draws their game against Slovakia, and doesn’t end up scoring more goals than New Zealand. Even that, in itself, is a fairytale come true for New Zealand. If they do make it to the second round, they’ll pass into New Zealand sport legend.
What would change the story?
A thorough drubbing by the Paraguayans, though it would have to be pretty one-sided, at least 4-0, to take the shine off the New Zealanders’ accomplishment.

Photo by cangaroojack.

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