The Optimistic World Cup

I’m actually enjoying a football tournament

Those of you that have read this blog will know that I normally write about a few sports other than football. Cricket, rugby and boxing are probably 1-3 and then football. I was never a great footballer myself, and therefore concentrated on other sports. It’s not that I don’t like the national game. The pace, power, skill and excitement can be great. Its just the week in week out drudge of being a spurs fan and the fundamentals of the premier league leave me somewhat disillusioned.

This feeling is magnified by international football. I grew up watching genuinely good England teams. Mexico 86, Italia 90 and Euro 96 were all genuinely good teams. If not as good as the 66 team my Dad watched as a young man, any teams with players as good as Shilton, Hoddle, Lineker, Barnes, Beardsly, Waddle, Gazza, Shearer and Sherringham would catch the imagination. They had a bit of luck as well, both with draws, playing at home or the odd penalty here or there, like against Cameroon.

The last few years however have been pretty grotty, and not just watching England. I like football played at pace. Not long ball Jack Charlton era Ireland stuff (although David O’Leary’s penalty was great) but the sort of game that England v Germany used to be. Spain’s tiki taka leaves me cold. Yes it’s technically impressive, but I want to be excited by football, not stroke my beard thoughtfully and discuss the merits of 3-5-1-1 vs 4-1-3-1-1. Then there’s the fear of failure that has taken over many tournaments, creating stodgy, dull football.

This world cup has been different. Teams appear to see the benefit in attacking, even if that’s counter attacking, that’s fine. Chris Eubank was a great counter puncher and no one suggests he was dull. Spain getting “humped into submission” (dodge ball) was a great night of sport, as was Croatia’s admirable fight against Brazil. I couldn’t believe Croatia didn’t get a draw, as their fight suggested they deserve. Costa Rica surprised everyone and well done to them. As I try, Mexico are playing very well against Brazil. 0-0 so far, but it’s exciting.

I haven’t really liked any England team since Euro ’96. Too much has been promised without any real delivery. Some individuals have shown a distinct lack of class. Not enough heart , guts or skill. Too much ego, not enough objective self analysis. I loved the Italy game. It was exciting. They fought hard till they ran out of gas, and they fought with no little skill. Italy were the better, more controlled team, but at least England didn’t fold and admit defeat, certainly not till they were so tired they were seeing double.

I’m going to call this the optimistic world cup. People are enjoying it. It’s great chatting about it in the morning at work. It’s great sharing views on what we like and don’t and then there’s the great debates it starts: favourite team ever? Best broadcaster / commentator? Best player? Best team?

FWIW mine are as follows: England at Italia ’90, for what they meant to a little boy and all his mates who loved the drama. BBC every time for me, particularly with “Oh you have to say that’s magnificent” Barry Davies. Best player? The two footed Andy Brehmer is a personal favourite. So talented with a great engine. An ultra modern fullback designed by some gold like German engineer. I loved the French team of Zidanne, Blanc, Deschamps and Desailly. They might have got better in the Euros after their world cup win.

It’s great to be enjoying football again. Whatever Bill Shankly said, football is not a Matter of Life and Death, but like the great Powell and Pressberger film, its great when a lot of nations come together and gives of their best.