I won't be the best blogger you'll have in this run of the World Cup, but I've got to be the oldest. And besides, I once taught at a university where "Modern History" was defined as beginning with the Emperor Diocletian. So is there anyone else, fellow-bloggers, who remembers 1954? I'll never forget it. Played in Switzerland, the final in a stadium known as Wankdorf (some things a nine-year-old commits to permanent memory); seen by us lot on nine-inch TV screens, helped only slightly by magnifiers attached to the screens with giant elastic bands. Churchill was still prime minister, there had been a coronation the year before, Everest "conquered" (by a Sherpa and a New Zealander), but the sun had set on the Empire in Budapest when England had got beaten by Hungary 7-1—that after being thrashed at Wembley 6-3. No one who's not Dutch can possibly have loved Rinus Michel's great side of Kruyff and Neeskens more than me, but Total Football had already happened, invented by that Hungarian team of Puskas, Czibor, and Bozik. All the stuff about "creating space" we heard in 1974, we actually saw on those teeny tiny screens, with cameras mounted way on high so the long-shorted, utterly unglamorous footballers sped around, coming from nowehere, going we knew not where; finding space, filling it then emptying it, like beads of mercury.
The South Americans weren't really part of the drama: This was about the fate of Europe, too, as it was the first time a German team had appeared since the war, the first time their national anthem (you know how that goes) sounded round the stadium, and the Hungarians, in Soviet satellite captivity, were two years away from their doomed insurrection. They were the ones that needed space. So the final was, as it so often is, unbearable for all of us cheering the "Mighty Magyars" on. They had beaten the Germans 8-3 in an early round, though the Germans had fielded a reserve team as a spying mission, and though they managed to bring Puskas down hard. He took the hairline fracture into the final and actually opened the scoring. After the second goal, we were all reaching for the Balaton Bull's Blood, but by half time it was 2-2 and the Germans won it. They won it again against Total Football in its sublime incarnation in Michels's side in 1974; not sublime enough to deal with Beckenbauer, Muller, and Voigts: an unbeautifully great team in its own right.
Puskas versus Pele? Puskas himself gave that verdict when he said the best player ever was di Stefano. Why? Because Pele couldnt even be classified as a mortal "player"; in a different one person league of his own. That's how it seemed when he first appeared, that astounding loping long stride-run; the combination of total ball control and turbo-charged acceleration. Maradona was good, but he wasn't that good. Messi is good, but he is definitely not that good. Gareth Bale might get to be that good, but he'll never play in World Cup unless he changes nationality. And Neymar? Great as a pop star.
A low note. Neologism: to Blatter (verb): to emit statements of such nonsensical disingenuousness that they fall between comedy and crime.
2014 surprises? Belgium? Ghana?
England? Draw with Italy; lose to Uruguay; young talent not ready, old talent over the hill. I'd love to be proved wrong. At least this year England Doesnt Expect.