Tuesday, 24 June 2014
EXCITING - BUT THIS WORLD CUP HAS NOT YET ACQUIRED EPIC STATUS
BY JIM BLACK
FORGIVE me but isn’t it about time a little more realism was introduced into the World Cup.
Include me among the multitude of television watchers who are savouring the excitement and drama of Brazil 2014.
There has been goals aplenty, no shortage of memorable moments and occasional sheer brilliance. But while the finals have been compulsive viewing for those of us who worship “the beautiful game,” it also has to be said that some who earn their livelihood commentating and reporting on such events have gone slightly over the top.
The finals have already been hailed as great, but those who use the word epic are being a little less than circumspect, in my humble opinion.
Being of an age to remember 13 past World Cups – albeit I have only a hazy recollection of the grainy black and white television pictures of 1962 finals in Chile when the game was disgraced by the so-called “Battle of Santiago” featuring the host nation and Italy – I can think of others, notably Mexico 1970, that were more exhilarating.
Perhaps it is simply a case of the passing of time appearing to make what has gone before a little more appealing than it truly was, or have we have come to expect too much?
We were assured in advance of the opening match by those TV “experts” who salivate at their own self-importance that the world’s very best players would elevate us to heights never previously reached.
I refer to Neymar of the hosts, Argentina’s Lionel Messi, Portugal’s solitary man o’ war Christiano Ronaldo, Italy’s Andrea Pirlo and Uruguayan Luis Suarez, in particular.
But at this point in time only one of the five has truly delivered. Let me declare straightaway that I consider Suarez to be an odious individual, given that he is prone to “cheating” and sinking his teeth into opponents. But my dislike of the man cannot be allowed to disguise the brilliance of his ruthless destruction of an England team that chose to convince itself that injury would negate Suarez’s threat.
Scorer of both his side’s goals, Suarez delivered on the hype. Messi has still to do so fully while Ronaldo will not have the chance beyond the initial group stages and Pirlo may also make an earlier than expected exit from the tournament.
Pirlo, peerless against England was largely anonymous in the next match against Costa Rica. True, Messi scored two wonderful goals to drag Argentina to victories over Bosnia and Iran but for much of the time he failed to dominate the play in the way that his predecessor Maradona did.
Ronaldo, recently voted the best player in the world, produced one flash of spellbinding trickery against the USA, but he too failed to light up our television screens in the manner that had been predicted, albeit injury may have been a factor in his and Portugal’s failure to cope with the Germans’ ruthless efficiency and the Americans’ work-rate and enthusiasm.
Neymar, meanwhile, has been compared to Pele in almost hushed tones. On the evidence of his and Brazil’s performances against Croatia and Mexico it must be hoped that the volume remains turned down for the time being at least.
Few such claims of greatness were bestowed on the Dutch in the run-up to the finals. Yet in their opening match against the holders Spain the likes of Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder were a joy to behold – true masters of their craft.
There was an immediate temptation to tip Holland as probably winners at last after the heartache of being beaten finalists on three occasions. But what might have happened had Spain scored to go two-up? Holland’s subsequent displays against Australia and Chile also leave question marks as to their staying power and mindset to play as a team.
So, which country will emerge triumphant at the magnificent Maracana Stadium in Rio on July 13?
The Germans, ruthless against Portugal and decidedly unimpressive against Ghana, will no doubt be there or thereabouts, given their World Cup record, tenacity and military-like discipline and organisation.
Will Brazil overcome the frightening level of expectancy that has reduced some of their players to emotional wrecks and deliver a fifth world cup triumph?
Can Belgium’s hugely talented squad, strongly fancied as dark horses, gel as a unit? Will the French stay focussed and build on their impressive wins over Honduras and Switzerland?
Are Argentina more than just a one-man team? Do Italy and Uruguay have the necessary strength-in-depth to prevail whichever one of them survives in the wake of their unexpected defeats by Costa Rica?
With a raft of matches to be played there is still time for Brazil to host a truly epic Wold Cup. But for the time being the 2014 finals have been hugely exciting, thanks largely to a high rate of scoring. Its right to be acclaimed as more must be judged in relation to the performances that led to these goals.
One thing is certain though, come the winter chill on a Saturday afternoon spent watching Scottish Premiership football and we’ll all be reminiscing about the Boys who were at Brazil.
Still, there’s a chance that Ronny Deila may bring a smile to our faces by baring his backside when Celtic complete their stroll to the SPFL championship title around the middle of January.
We can also eagerly anticipate having a laugh or two at the annual Hibs manager crisis when Scottish football’s Frank Gallagher, the utterly shameless and blameless Rod Petrie sacks the latest incumbent and blames chief executive Madame Defarge, aka Leeann Dempster!