Watching the World Cup Final last night it was hard to believe we were watching the two best teams on the planet competing for the highest accolade the game has to offer. Football is, allegedly, the most popular game in the universe - & the FIFA World Cup the biggest prize in sport. So where did it all go so horribly wrong?
From a nationalistic perspective, the hype had never been stronger. England, or so our media insisted, had their best shot at bringing home the Jules Rimet trophy since 1966 (OK, so they didn’t exactly ‘bring it home’ then, but you know what I mean). The redtops screamed. The public hung out flags. And David Beckham mumbled unconvincingly about ‘seizing destiny’ (don’t believe the hype).
Then came the injuries. Our toes curled. But not as much as Wayne Rooney’s toe curled. A nation sweated. But not as much as Wayne Rooney’s foot sweated. Then came the suspect squad selection: some 12-year-old wonder kid who hadn’t even played for his league club’s first team yet. Genius.
England duly flattered to deceive throughout the group stages. No Roon. Owen off colour. Crouch in ‘too tall’ shock. ‘They’re making us sweat like Wayne Rooney’s foot’, hollered the redtops. Unconvincing performance followed unconvincing performance. System was replaced by system. Sven didn’t seem to be able to chose the correct system. We scraped by. Thank God for free kicks. Tight enough at the back, muddled in midfield, Crouch was the only one upfront worthy of any faint praise. He may be unskilled, ungainly & too tall – but at least he never gives up.
As for the rest of them: Australia had the spirit, Germany the home crowd, Ghana the skill/flair, Argentina the hand of God on their shoulder, Brazil the weight of expectation bearing down on them - & Italy were under investigation for corruption. It was the Argies or the Brazilians for sure. Boring.
Of course, it didn’t turn out that way. Never does.
Call it bravado. Call it tempting fate. Call it what you will – but as soon as we’d made plans for a ‘Victory BBQ’ on the sweltering evening of Saturday July 1st 2006 - we instinctively knew (somehow) that by the time the naked flame hit the BBQ firelighters the celebration would turn into a wake. Still, Sven remained unbeaten. Sven collected his cheque.
England were cheated off the park by one of the most cynical displays of ‘gamesmanship’ the World Cup has ever seen. Months of practice diving at Faro Olympic Swimming Pool prepared Ronaldo & his chums perfectly. They fell over at every opportunity. Some of the replays even showed them falling over when no other player was within touching distance. However crap England undoubtedly are/were, there is no injustice greater than being swindled out of a competition by a technically average side who specialise in cheating.
There’s only one thing worse than cheating – & that’s unfairness. Italy progressed past Australia as unfairly as Portugal did for England. Suspension meant Ghana faced Brazil without Essien - & duly lost. France only came alive in the dying rounds as matches began to resemble games of chess & penalties reared their ugly heads once again. A competition so pregnant with promise during the group stages had become yet another damp squib.
By the time France & Italy lined up for the final on the evening of 8th July 2006 – anyone sane had long since lost interest. The cheating, the moaning, the petulance, the terrible refereeing (let’s not forget Mr Poll’s 3 red cards in one match!), the terrible assistant referees, the WAGS, the Mexican waves – all had battered us into submission. We don’t care who wins now. Just get the fucking thing over & done with.
As a match it was hardly a spectacle. France were by far the more technically gifted of the two sides & should have won comfortably. Italy showed none of the spark that saw them beat Germany - & - but for a moment of madness by Zidane – the French would surely have been crowned World Champions.
Many of the Italian squad awoke the morning after victory with only one thing on their minds: will we be playing 3rd division football next season?
They say cheats never prosper. They say corruption will be rooted out. Until FIFA relegate officials to a supporting role & embrace the technology of judgement by TV replay all we can expect is a circus.
Send in the clowns.
Jean Encoule – tMx 25 – 07/06
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