A zillion stories have been written about the 2006 World Cup. What’s one more?
The conditions are right for an exciting World Cup and what’s more exciting than Brazil, whose attacking resources stand comparison with anything it has produced in its glorious history? With the unparalleled individual ability of their stars, led by the magical, dentally-challenged Ronaldinho, two-time World Player of the Year, even losing in the final will be seen as failure. Living up to such expectations could be the greatest burden.
Don’t let logic fool you. Brazil was miles ahead of the planet in 1982 and contrived to lose. It squeaked into 2002 but managed to win.
As hosts and with their World Cup pedigree, Germany would have been – here’s that word again – the logical spoilers of Brazilian ambitions but its recent form suggests otherwise. With no qualification route to negotiate, Californian-based Jergen Klinsmann suffers from very little competitive experience and has yet to win over his critics who deride his remote control coaching from California. Having reached the final six times in the last 10 tournaments, only a fool would write Germany off.
England, another European with lofty expectations and many question marks, invariably qualifies but also invariably flatters to deceive. The Wayne Rooney injury was a real bummer, forcing outgoing coach Sven-Goran Eriksson to experiment at too late a stage.
Argentina has yet to get past the quarter-finals in the post-Maradona era, and couldn’t even get out of the group stage four years ago. It is hard to see Argentina adding to its two trophies.
Holland, with two finals, semi-finals and quarter-finals but never the grand prize, is the best team never to lift the World Cup. A close second in notoriety is Spain which, like England, is always tipped to finally end years of disappointment and fulfill its undoubted potential, only to fall flat when it counts most.
Italy boasts a far superior history, having won three World Cups. But the Azzurri are rocking from a match-fixing league scandal which is bound to take its toll on the team s performance.
France will not replicate its 1998 triumph but neither should it duplicate its dismal exit at the 2002 World Cup, when Les Bleus entered the tournament as favorite only to be eliminated without scoring a goal.
We empathize with the Ivory Coast, not only because of our natural affinity for Africa, but had Egypt qualified, we would have been playing Argentina and Holland. Instead, we leave that heavy chore to the Ivory Coast, which is making its World Cup debut. The best of the five African entrants, Cote d’Ivoire stands a good chance of reaching the last eight if it can get out of an exceptionally tough group.
Ghana, Angola and Togo are also first-time participants and it will probably show. Just going to Germany was an achievement in itself and only the non-realist should want or expect more.
Of the African contingent, only Tunisia has been there before. They carry the distinction of being the first African country to win a World Cup game, beating Mexico 3-1 in 1978. As it enters its fourth World Cup, Tunisia is still looking for win number two.
The only other Arab country in Germany is Saudi Arabia and, by a quirk, it is paired with brethren Tunisia. The Saudis are in their fourth consecutive World Cup but their best was their first, reaching the second round in 1994.
So, who will be around to hoist the silverware on July 9? (Hint: only six times out of 17 did the host country win the World Cup).
Several million in attendance and a cumulative TV audience of 30 billion are about to find out.