Surely, somewhere out there in the Mato Grosso, must be a tribe of undiscovered Indians who could do a better job?
‘An expert’ was unavailable for comment…
So, I played football at school and more-or-less know the rules.
The first rule is, of course, play the man, not the ball.
That rule led to the dreary, predictable farce of the Brazil-Colombia game, a World Cup quarter-final match in which twenty excitable foreigners spent 90 minutes running around tirelessly kicking each other in the ankle, or pretending they had been kicked in the ankle and falling over, clutching their ankle with phoney expressions of pained outrage, hoping for a free kick they could hoof ineptly over their opponents’ goal into the crowd. The ball meanwhile bounced around as if in a pinball machine, where the player only thinks he is in control.
Growing bored with this childish game, the Italian referee soon gave up whistling and pointing and arguing, and just let the children get on with it, with dire consequences to follow.
That of course was when players weren’t standing at the back of the pitch, kicking the ball meditatively to one another, and then back to the goalkeeper, as if they were having a game on the beach before opening time, texting their mates – while their opponents circled around hungrily in their own half, waiting for the long pass down the wing, that the defenders could easily intercept before they had their ankles kicked, and play back to their own goalkeeper, who had had plenty of time standing around wondering what he would do with the ball if someone kicked it at him, and so possibly had formulated a plan for how to win this stupid game.
For the second rule is, don’t play at all, if you can help it. If you play, you might lose (see also Argentina v. Holland).
It was, in short, typical negative South American World Cup football fare, which thousands of impoverished fans had paid good money to see. But that did not matter, because, as the commentators never tired of pointing out, in their day jobs all twenty-two of the players played for European clubs, whence they had been transferred by cunning agents and shaggy-headed management boobies for sums approaching the national debt of Uruguay. So they were alright, Jack, in their Ferraris and their blond highlights, the big fairies.
Until, that is, the ‘play the man’ idea went a little too far.
You would think, wouldn’t you, that a nation of 200 million crazed football enthusiasts (now that Catholicism is dead, football is all that unites the vast and sprawling Brazilian nation) could produce more than eleven players whom Felipe ‘Big Phil’ Scolari, the manager, could call on to defend the national honour.
But this appeared not to be the case when, a few days later, the semi-final came round and produced the hitherto unexpected consequence of a 7-1 victory for Germany; a national disaster on a par with the sudden eruption of a supervolcano or the arrival of a new ice-age.
The reason given was that Brazil (with 23 spare hopefuls on the subs’ bench) were without their two ‘key players’, whose temporary retirements had left the rest of the gang only with their thumbs to suck. The captain, Thiago Silva, an unremarkable fellow with a strange overbite, ticked-off (once too often) for over-enthusiasm on the ankle-kicking front; and Neymar, the leading goal scorer (4), 22, by now in hospital with a broken back following a reckless assault by the Colombian defender, Zuniga, three minutes from time.
That one egregious and totally unnecessary charge seemed to render the rest of the team fatally incompetent for the next several days. Perhaps, they realised, all that silly running-about the playground kicking one another in the ankles while teacher looked on fondly could have consequences after all? Especially if there were no other footballer in the entire Amazon basin who could be called on to hack the ball usefully into the net a couple of times.
The incompetence with which they defended their territory, Germany scoring four times in six minutes, five goals in the first 27 minutes, left Brazilians visibly shocked and in tears. And that was only the players…. In the second half, indeed, the Germans too seemed bewildered, having seemingly run out of inventive ways in which to score goals, they managed only two more. Extra time seemed a distant dream.
But what had the fans imagined, after watching their heroes perform throughout the tournament? The latest incarnations of the five-times former champions were barely playing together at any time.
South America is, of course, the home of magical realism, in which not all is as it seems and it is possible to believe many impossible things before breakfast, but the fans surely were not so deluded as to genuinely believe one player with blond highlights was going to win the World Cup on his own?
The semi- was said to be the worst Brazilian performance ever in a World Cup, so who to blame? I have plucked most of the following from the interweb thing:
- The ref, for abandoning his responsibility to maintain discipline until the ankle-kicking game went too far?
- The over-enthusiastic Zuniga, who charged Neymar (who did not have the ball at the time) from behind, with his knee raised?
- The ‘medical’ team, who simply picked Neymar’s remains up and slung him into a long bucket (you never move someone with a back injury until you have immobilised them – see Rugby matches, various. Now that’s proper football…).
- England, for failing to make it through to the semi-finals, where even Brazil might have looked good?
- The commentators, the less sentient of whom kept laughing-off the most blatant of the ankle-kicking fouls and furtive shirt-pulling and thespian diving as ‘Maybe just a little touch there’, helping to perpetuate the professional cynicism that ruins the game?
- The manager, for sticking with a team that was barely winning matches – including the hapless ‘Fred’, the Terry-Thomas lookalike centre-forward who seemed to have an allergy to spherical objects – even after losing his two ‘key players’?
- Or the players on both sides, who carried the whole childish business of ankle-kicking and pretending their ankles had been kicked, and fibbing about it, wide-eyed and innocent and disgusting, to the point of tragedy?
Surely, somewhere out there in the Mato Grosso, must be a tribe of undiscovered Indians who could do a better job for a lot less money and grief than these wankers?
That’s what oi think, anywoi.
But funnily enough, the calmest person on the field, as he watched his remaining career prospects sink with the evening sun, and the German goal tally rose like a basketball score, Big Phil seemed Bigly Philosophical about the whole sorry affair.
What did he know, that we don’t? Oh yes, how to lose with dignity.
A Scolari, and a gentleman.*
*Or, if Neymar’s agent’s public assessment is to be preferred, an ‘arrogant, repulsive, big-headed old douchebag’… I guess the jury’s out.
I know, I am being jolly unkind. I too tweeted myself to say OMG, in tears as the young Brazilian defence without Silva, its back-row mastermind, unravelled in the face of a well-coordinated and forensic German offensive led by the pitiless Oberleutnant Muller.
I understand the chilling panic that comes over you when you realise you are utterly powerless in the face of a superior entity. I too have been pointed at by the Chairman in meetings that weren’t going well, and asked, ‘So, what do YOU think?’
I read, too, that at least one Brazilian fan’s suicide is being put down to their team’s performance.
However, the match stats make odd reading. The Germans actually seem to have had less possession, made fewer and less accurate shots at goal, and committed more fouls than the Brazilians! It was the German keeper, Manuel Neur, who seems to have won the match by keeping the ball out, rather than the aptly-named Klose, the chief goalscorer, by putting it in.
Here’s a modest proposal.
Instead of the tedious and embarrassing national-anthem-chewing ceremony, why not start every knockout-round game in the World Cup with a penalty shootout?
The result can only be changed by scoring goals in the ensuing match.
That way, teams will be forced to play football – and the fans won’t have to sit for two bum-numbing hours through another showcase display of fruitless precision passing exercises from risk-averse teams like Argentina and Holland, until one side or other scrapes through to the final by chance, which they could have done just by tossing a coin in the first place.
Which, indeed, they do…
– Uncle Bogler. You heard it here first.