It comes around every four years. It lasts for a month, and in that time we become almost offensively patriotic and xenophobic, blurting out a rich array of mindless slurs and insults against opposing nations, ghetto-blasted even louder by sections of the media. It builds the tension and hype before games, while also giving fans a nervous complex, with finger nails gnawed to the bone.
Funnily enough, it’s a tournament that is supposed to bring the world together; in a period when it really needs it with political tensions vibrating around the globe. I remember an old drinking friend from Birmingham once suggesting “we could settle wars with a game of footy”. If that were the case, the world might be ruled by Brazil, or dare I say it, Germany.
This year it takes place in Russia, after winning an alleged rigged bidding process back in 2010. There is a lot negativity said about the country, whether it be the widespread homophobia, hooliganism, slaying of political dissidents and journalists (or attempted poisoning of former spies), military aggression against neighbouring countries or trying to influence elections. I’ve never been there; it’s knowing what to believe. We live in a period where truth and real journalism is under attack by fake news and propaganda; it’s very hard to believe much in the Western media or the Russian media, especially where politics plays a hand. However, I don’t think there’s another country quite as controversial to hold a major global sporting event right now. Let’s hope it runs smoothly.
For the last two world cups, I have followed two teams; my country of birth, England, and my country of residence, Honduras. Unfortunately only former made it this year. Honduras missed out, not only due to playing terribly against Australia in the playoffs, but also the ghost goal Panama (who England face a week Saturday in the group stage) scored against Costa Rica affectively taking Honduras out of a direct qualifying position and knocking USA out all together, not forgetting conceding late in at least three games while in winning positions during the qualifiers, costing six points in the process.
I’ve not been in England since 2014. I can only gauge the mood about the team’s chances through the media, but there is a distinct lack of hype about this team, especially compared to the 2006 and 2010 world cups, when on paper England had arguably one of best teams on paper (apart from the goalkeeper), yet they all failed to show up apart from the Canadian born Owen Hargreaves in 2006.
Can England win it?
In short, I doubt it, and I’m guessing much of the world feels the same. There’s less hype, with good reason; it’s an inexperienced squad with a distinct lack of depth of top quality players. Don’t get me wrong; there is talent, yet I’m not sure they possess the character to change games when things are going wrong, nor the wisdom and aggression needed to win ugly. There is less scandal and interruptions like in previous years, with Alex Chamberlain being the only noticeable absentee through injury. The England camp has highlighted the team’s new identity, which I’m not sold on just yet. We have to wait and see when the competition kicks off against Tunisia on Monday.
Of course, it’s not impossible. You need a winning mentality, and with the young lads coming through, I’m sure they want to win it, and of course I hope they do. They seem more hungry and prepared than previous generations.
Some have said that they hope England just play well. Yes. That’s how low expectations are. It’d be nice to make the quarter finals, but if we exit sooner, it wouldn’t be a surprise. To be an England fan is to be eternally disappointed. Don’t feel sorry for us. We’re used to it.
At the same time, there is the returning stink of arrogance brewing up in our naive mentality. Fans are saying England’s group of Belgium, Tunisia and Panama is easy, yet I see plenty of banana skins. Then in the second round, if England make it through the group, we could face Colombia or Poland, which sections of the media have labelled “favourable”; a dangerous mentality to possess, in my opinion. Just at Euro 2016, when England finished second in another relatively easy group, only for England fans to celebrate getting Iceland in the next round and then losing 2-1. It’s a scar on English football, yet we don’t seem to learn from this precariously weak mentality. Opposing teams are watching and listening. When you call a team easy, you know you’ve an even greater battle on your hands; they’re out to prove themselves, especially Panama and Tunisia. The England team is often seen as a representation of the UK government in such events, which has hardly coated itself in glory in recent years; yet another incentive for many. England cannot just raise their game against Belgium. They need to be careful throughout. Under-estimating teams wins you nothing, yet nor does fear. Respect is right mentality.
It might be time England to adopt a Leicester City mentality, rather than believing we’re a global superpower.
Who will win?
One of the usual suspects. Germany has the mentality, while Brazil and Spain have an abundance of skillful talent. France has a wonderful squad, while Argentina have Messi and Aguero. After that, I doubt any other team is strong enough.
After England, I hope for a Latin American team to do well. Not just because I live in a Latin American country; moreso that the World Cup has been dominated by European teams. It’s time for a change.