A World Cup with soul

The FIFA World Cup has long had the ability to hold nearly everyone in thrall — a month of collective amnesia during which everything else seems diminished. But even by those addictive standards, the current edition has been particularly transfixing. This has been a World Cup committed to attacking. The group stages saw an average of 2.8 goals per game; the corresponding figure for the previous edition was 2.3. But it is not merely the number of goals. The tournament has had soul — players from the participating nations have spoken of their reverence for Brazil, a country whose very being is football, and many of the passages of play have appeared inspired by this. The tournament has also had a wealth of storylines. Spain’s poignant exit marked the end of an era, its style of possession football undone by intense pressing and ruthless counter-attacking. Four-time champion Italy has traditionally found a way of advancing, but its run ended against Uruguay. Luis Suarez’s actions might not have materially affected the result, but it was the lowest point of a contest that had turned condemnably dark. England, the third former champion in the group, reprised an old theme: arrive to great fanfare, depart with no one surprised. So Costa Rica topped the Group of Death, its vibrant, tactically organised football catching the eye.

Costa Rica’s progress seemed to confirm the collective wisdom that teams from the region, accustomed to the climate, will prosper. Three of the four sides from Central and North America made the cut, earning on average 1.5 points per match. The statistics for South America are more dramatic. Five of six qualified, with a vastly impressive average of 2.28 points per game. No team from Europe has won a World Cup in South America; only six of 13 made it past the first hurdle this time, with an average of 1.56 points per match. It must be added, however, that of the European teams, Bosnia-Herzegovina will feel hard done-by. Inept refereeing contributed directly to its exit — Ivory Coast suffered similarly. The standard of officiating has to improve; it must not mar the business end, which promises so much. Brazil, Argentina, and Chile appear the front-runners from South America. Neymar and Lionel Messi have proven equal to shouldering their nations’ hopes while Chile’s fast transitions make it a team no one fancies facing. Colombia merits close watching, and in James Rodriguez, has a player who can create something from nothing. The Netherlands (so impressive in its demolition of Spain), France, and Germany lead the European charge. Belgium is the dark horse. Picking a winner though is best left to others — football often makes fools of the very intelligent, and occasionally, millionaires of the very foolish.

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Printable version | Mar 30, 2020 12:41:53 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/a-world-cup-with-soul/article6155879.ece

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