Peter Goldstein is a professor at Juniata College in Pennsylvania in the USA. He has been
World Cup crazy since 1966. He will share his views about the past, present and future of
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I love the World Cup
Korea/Japan 2002 is going to be a disappointment. How do I know? Because all
World Cups are disappointments. I'm a football fan, which means I live in a
world of ideals, where every game is an incomparable display of skill and
artistry, where every player is committed to the highest ideals of
sportsmanship, where every referee is letter-perfect, where every team is
Brazil 1970. Moments before the kickoff of France-Senegal, I'll know,
absolutely KNOW deep in my heart that I'm about to witness a month of the
most magnificent sport ever seen on the planet, culminating in a Final of
such transcendent beauty that the world -- every single person in the world
-- will be left breathless with joy.
And I'll be disappointed. But you know what? I won't care. Because I love
the World Cup. I love it despite all its shortcomings, despite the cynical
coaches, the cheating players, the incompetent referees, the ridiculous
tournament structures, the incredible stretches of dull or violent play, the
endless lurch from one desultory performance to the next. When the
completely exhausted champions raise the trophy after yet another dour,
dreadful, noncompetitive Final, I will smile in supreme bliss, having passed
through one of the greatest experiences of my life.
How do I love the World Cup? Let me count the ways:
I love the opening game. Oh, yes, most of the time it's pretty awful
(although Brazil-Scotland four years ago was a cracker), but you can't beat
the script: the defending champion against a lesser team, all the pressure
on the big boys, the other guys with absolutely nothing to lose. Show your
stuff, champs. This year's opener is perfect: mighty France, better than
ever, against little Senegal, probably the most unlikely qualifier of the
32. Sure, Senegal can beat them; that's football! And you know what? I even
love the tiresome preliminary speeches by all those fat, rich, and very very
corrupt bureaucrats -- because I know once they're over the tournament will
start. Who'll get the first touch? Trezeguet? Diouf?
I love the colors. When France plays Senegal, each team will play in a
distinctive strip. What will it be? France is usually blue shirt, white
shorts, and red socks. Senegal -- well, I've only seen them in their
all-whites, but if France wears white shorts Senegal will have to wear some
other color. I know they've worn strips with yellow and red; we'll just have
to wait and see. And there are 30 more teams to look at, all of whom have
brought two full strips to the competition. The USA has changed their second
strip from red to blue. Nigeria has changed their traditional green to a
much lighter, almost yellow green. (And speaking of green, why is Germany's
second strip green?) Important: how many times will I get to see my very
favorite strip, the classic blue-white-blue of the azzurri? Well, let's
figure it out: Croatia has that checkerboard pattern, Mexico the green,
Ecuador yellow -- maybe all three group games?
I love the tactics. Before the tournament starts, it is absolutely essential
for me to know how all 32 teams will line up. 4-4-2 (Belgium, Sweden,
Ecuador, England, China, Poland, USA, Saudi Arabia, etc.)? 3-5-2 (South
Africa, Mexico, Cameroon, Italy, Costa Rica, etc.)? 4-5-1 (Russia)? 3-3-1-3
(Argentina)? 3-1-2-1-3 (I've never seen it, but hey, it could happen)? Plus
I have to know exactly who's going to play where. Davor Suker has been
switched from the front line to attacking midfielder. Nwankwo Kanu probably
too. Bill Tchato of Cameroon has been listed on the roster as a midfielder
-- but doesn't he usually play on the left side of the back line? Fan Zhiyi
has been a central defender for China, but Bora's been experimenting with
him at defensive midfield. Will Luis Marin play at libero or stopper for
I love the lineup speculations. Batosz Karwan of Poland is out -- who will
replace him on the right side of midfield? Jacek Krzynowek is probably
better on the left, but maybe Marek Kozminski can switch to the right. Can
Joe Cole somehow dribble his way into England's starting 11? Owen Hargreaves
seems likelier. Is it Kais Ghodbane or Riadh Bouazizi at defensive
midfielder for Tunisia? Ariel Ortega, Marcelo Gallardo, Pablo Aimar; there's
no way Bielsa can find a way for all of them in the same side. (Not to
mention the whole Batistuta-Crespo business.) A shame about Talal Al-Meshal,
the injured striker for Saudi Arabia, but maybe Abdullah Bin Shehan's pace
can make a difference. The call is going out for Zlatan Ibrahimovic to start
for Sweden, because they need the inspiration in attack. And of course
there's the it-started-in-the-Stone-Age battle between Brad Friedel and
Kasey Keller to be the #1 American keeper.
I love the statistics. Let's see, through 24 games, the teams are averaging
2.87 goals a game, higher than usual, good. Italy are up to their old
tricks, averaging less than a goal per game but somehow getting away with
it; in fact, could Group G break the all time record for fewest goals?
Germany just came from two goals down to draw with Ireland; gotta check how
many times they've done that. Eight penalties so far, all of them converted;
six red cards (didn't that same referee hand out two reds at France '98?);
two goals directly off free kicks, six off corner kicks. Brazil wins the
group stage for the 9th time in 12 tries; if Cameroon can beat Germany
that'll be 5 tournaments in a row with an African group winner. No goalless
draws yet; this might be the first tournament since 1954 without one!
I love the upsets. China over Turkey? OK, so they played 11 men in their
half of the field and won on their only counterattack of the game, but
still! Tunisia over Russia -- well, sure, a surprise, but when was the last
time the Russians looked good at the World Cup? South Korea over Portugal,
home advantage does it again. Slovenia over Spain, well, that's not really
an upset anymore.
I love the outrage. Brazil is dull, dull, dull, oh, Scolari's really in for
it now. "Disgrace!" as Uruguay go down 0-3 to Denmark. "Romantsev must go!"
"Where is Baggio?" "Troussier has deceived us!" They're out to get Maldini,
he'll never last the tournament, and I wouldn't bet on Jomo Sono either.
I love the goals. My God, I love the goals. Vieri muscling the left-footer
from 8 yards out, Bierhoff crashing in a header, Beckham with a
spectacularly curving free kick, Hong Myung-bo from 35 yards (shades of Arie
Haan)! Batistuta with style, Owen with speed, Inzaghi with sheer luck (or is
it positioning?), El Hadji Diouf with a two-and-a-half somersault in the
pike position off the high board. The toe-poke, the half-volley, the
downward header, the chip, the deflection, the blast, the bicycle kick
(please, just one!). And the celebrations: Julius Aghahowa, 4, 5, 6, 7
backflips, breaking his own record! (Too bad Finidi George isn't around to
do his doggy bit.)
I love the crowd shots. How many Danes have painted their faces red and
white this time? There's Manolo with the big drum again. Are those guys from
England watching the game, or just singing and swaying? Lennart Johanssen
looks like he just ate all the meatballs in Stockholm, and Platini's asleep.
There's the obligatory shot of Pele in the press box. Hey, it's that same
crazy Nigerian from 4 years ago! And does anyone, anywhere, have more fun
than the Brazilians?
I love planning my schedule. Of course I'm going to have to watch EVERY
game, are you crazy or something? Let's see, the games tomorrow are on at 2
AM, 4 AM, and 7:30 AM. I'll set the VCR to tape the first two games, then
I'll wake up, watch the third game live, and...but wait a minute. If I watch
the third game before the first two, they'll show the scores of the earlier
games and I'll know the results. OK, maybe I can stay up and watch the first
game live, then sleep until 10, and watch the other two on tape in the
proper order. But my sister-in-law (can you believe this?) is coming for
lunch, and I have to help my wife with the cooking (I mean, can you
absolutely believe this?). OK, here we go: I watch the 2 AM game, sleep from
4 until 8, get up, walk the dogs, help Louise until 10 while the other games
are taping, watch the first half of the 4 AM game, eat lunch, watch the
second half, wash the dishes, spend an hour talking with my totally useless
in-laws who know absolutely nothing about football, walk the dogs again,
watch the last game, collapse. Then the next day...
I love the mathematical permutations. OK, if Paraguay can beat Slovenia by
more than 3 goals, and Spain gets only a draw with South Africa, then
Paraguay wins the group and Spain has to play Cameroon next. If Brazil beats
China, then they've clinched first place in the group and can rest their
stars against Costa Rica, but if it's only a draw, then Rivaldo has to risk
the knee again. If Japan beats Tunisia 2-1 and Russia and Belgium play a 0-0
draw -- oh no, we have to go to lots! And England absolutely has to win by
at least two goals against Nigeria, because otherwise they'll finish second
in the group and have to play France in the Round of 16, whereas if they
finish first, they'll get maybe Denmark, and then an easy game with maybe
I love penalty shootouts. No, really, I do. Oh yes, of course I hate them,
and of course there are better ways to decide a game (just ask me, Sepp, you
too, Issa, I've got about fifteen good ideas), but there is nothing,
absolutely nothing in sport that compares to the drama of penalties. The
desperate/hopeful/scared/tranced faces of the men in the center circle; the
agonizingly slow walk to the area (watch the body language); the soft,
careful, placing of the ball, like a priceless vase that might shatter; the
let-it-all-hang-out preparatory gymnastics of the keeper vs. the tight, taut
(terrified?) expression of the shooter; the absolute total uncertainty of
what will come next -- soft shot? hard shot? left, right, middle, high, low?
And the catharsis, every shot an explosion: a hammer buried in the right
corner, a spectacular leap to the left to fist it away, the woodwork denying
yet another nation's hope. The grateful looks to the sky, the heaving gulps
of relief, the sinking to the ground, the faces covered in shame and horror.
Admit it: you love it too. You know you do.
I love the third-place game. Yes, it's meaningless, but that's why it's so
wonderful. No pressure, no fear, no caution. Just football. Just pure,
And I love the Final. No, wait a minute, maybe I don't, because it's the
last game, and after that there won't be any more. Not for four years, four
impossibly long years. But -- in two years the qualifiers start. Well, I can
last until then, sure, there's the Euro Championship to tide me over, and
Copa America. And I've got my tapes of all 64 games (although the
electricity went out during Tunisia-Japan, so I'll have to buy that one from
someone online). Think of all the free moments I'll have when I'm not mowing
the lawn or trying to fix the air conditioner or working at the office or
sleeping or eating. Think of that unmistakable whirr and click as the tape
slides in, and I get ready to watch...oh, it doesn't matter. Any one of 64.
So there it is. The World Cup will be a disappointment. The Argentines will
dive, the Italians will bore, the Brazilians will yet again fall miles short
of greatness, the strikers will put half their shots into row G, no one will
even try to score in the first half and most of the goals will come off set
pieces anyway, the referees will call at least five bogus penalties and miss
who knows how many more, the most exciting team will lose early in the
knockouts, the team I really want to win will lose in the semis, a couple of
plodders will contest the Final and someone will win, accidentally, on a
dubious goal. And I'll be in heaven -- no, not in heaven, someplace better.
I'll be watching the World Cup. I love the World Cup. I LOVE the World Cup.
I LOVE THE WORLD CUP!
Which makes me one of, say, two billion...?
Info on how
the World Cup was founded and about the trophy as well.
on every match in every tournament.
Interesting columns about the past, present and future of the World Cup.
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