World Cup 2010 is almost upon us with its generous sprinkling of familiar coaches and clichés
The verge of the World Cup, a moment heavily pregnant with those fractious triplets doubt, uncertainty and curiosity. Will altitude be a factor? Will the ball be a factor? Will Ricky Martin be a factor?
Which commentator will be the first to remind us that Gabriel Heinze speaks Welsh? How many sheep-related puns will Gary Lineker manage to get out of Philipp Lahm's surname?
Who will be the first to react to a new FIFA-inspired clampdown on untucked shirts, droopy socks or excessive hair gel, by saying: “You've got to allow the match officials to exercise a bit of common sense?”
How many ‘new Maradonas' will the original Maradona field for Argentina? Will he beat the record of four (Aimar, Saviola, Riquelme and Messi) set by one of his predecessors, the admirably named José Pekerman?
Is it possible for someone to top Togo boss Otto Pfister's Africa-shaped medallion from 2008 as the craziest fashion accessory ever? Who finished off the crisps? Where's the bottle opener? Did you put the remote control somewhere?
One thing we do know is that this World Cup will be different. For starters, it is the first to be held in the winter since 1978.
Aside from robbing England of a ready-made reason to fail (because every country on the planet is more able to adapt to the heat than we are, obviously — the Swedes finished third in the US in temperatures that almost melted Diana Ross's face right off) this will also put a stop to the sort of dugout underarm sweat rings that at times during recent tournaments have threatened a tidal wave of perspiration.
In South Korea / Japan you could have irrigated the Gobi desert just by wringing out one of José Camacho's shirts.
An absent old friend will be Karel Bruckner. The Czech Republic gaffer's distinguished presence on the touchline was a fixture of so many international tournaments that last time around John Motson felt moved to describe him as “the Methuselah of World Cup coaches”.
Despite the fact that there are practically no other international managers who look like they might be equally at home conducting the Berlin Philharmonic, I suppose we will get used to Bruckner's absence.
After all, we managed to get through Germany despite the fact that Bora Milutinovic was missing for the first time in two decades.
I had been hoping the former Mexico, Costa Rica, USA, Nigeria and China honcho might make a last-minute dash to South Africa as stopgap boss of one of the African or East Asian nations, but it seems too late now.
A real pity, since besides his wealth of experience and impressive range of Burt Reynolds-style sunglasses, the Serbian's thatched hairdo surely represented the most elaborate cover-up since Watergate.
Some old favourites are present, of course. Lars Lagerback of Nigeria is coaching at his sixth consecutive major championship without anyone much noticing, while Carlos Alberto Parreira is coach of South Africa.
The Brazilian looks almost as glum as he did when he was in charge of Saudi Arabia back in 1998. Mind you, his preparations for France had been disrupted when his star player was banned for 18 months for attending a drinks party.
Marcelo Bielsa is also back on the scene, this time around with Chile. When Bielsa was in charge of Argentina in 2002 he reputedly took 2,000 football videos with him to the Far East because three games a day is plainly just not enough for a man.
Strangely his nerdy, obsessive-compulsive approach to the game seems to have some attraction to Chileans, whose former-president Michelle Bachelet commented of the national team boss: “He's got the combination of being both good-looking and mysterious, which women find fatal.”
In South Africa we may have to expect the unexpected, then, but at least we know that if female fans want to avoid an early death they should steer clear of matches in Group H. — © Guardian News and Media 2010