WORLD CUP JUNE 7, 2010
Hello everyone. It's nice to be back and thank you, Frank, for the invitation to join this merry throng once again. You ask: Who will win this thing?
The sensible answer, I suppose, is to say that either Spain or Brazil will carry the trophy home. On paper they are comfortably the two most accomplished squads in the tournament. But, as the television pundits always remind us, soccer ain’t played on paper.
Nevertheless, should it be a Brazil-Spain final, I very much hope that Spain will prevail.
I am, you see and I am afraid, bored of Brazil. Bored too of the requirement that we all tug a forelock when confronted by their genius even when, actually, there's been little evidence of any real genius on the actual playing field. This, of course, is linked to the tedious rhapsodies about joga bonito and samba football and all the rest of it that all are compelled to endure every time the men in yellow stroll onto the pitch.
If this ever used to be true—and, to be fair, it did—then it ceased to be some time ago. The sneaky reality is that this Brazilian football team—highly accomplished though they may be—are boring. They're like a German car, which is fine if you're looking for a German car but not if you're searching for football worthy of the praise that's lavished on Brazil.
Then again, with Dunga as manager none of this should be a surprise. I remember the 2007 Copa America in which Brazil were mostly drably, grindingly efficient while Argentina sparkled all the way to the final before being crushed, physically and mentally, by Brazil's power, resilience and, yes, efficiency.
The bottom line is simple: I like Brazil to play the way that Brazil are, at least in our imaginations, supposed to play and not as some kind of terrifying German-Italian hybrid. There are many things I like and admire about German and Italian football but that doesn't require one to support their export to Brazil.
Brazilians may reasonably object that their task is to win the tournament and that style must necessarily be subordinated to that primary goal. And they would have a point. But we are not all Brazilians even if we would all like to love Brazilian football.
So my hope, which should not be confused with any expectation, is that anyone but Brazil will win the tournament. The most likely, or at least the best and most settled, side to topple Dunga's crew is Spain—assuming that Torres, Fabregas and co are fit.
It may just be a small sample, but the fact remains that only once has the European Champion won the next World Cup and even then Germany had the advantage of playing at home. (France also did the WC-EC double the other way round but also, of course, won the mundial on home turf.)
That does not augur especially well for Spain; nor does the fact that no European side has won the World Cup outside Europe (though an African World Cup could be considered a neutral venue).
Nevertheless, while other sides have claims to the romantic’s affection, Spain, with Torres, Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas and Villa, have the ability to produce the kind of properly memorable football one always hopes might prevail at these gatherings of the worlds’ best but that, alas, does so only infrequently.
Which explains Dunga’s rational approach. As supporters, however, we are not required to indulge reason, nor to pretend that mutton can really be dressed as lamb. In that spirit, we may impose irrational demands upon the protagonists while also recognizing that this ain’t your daddy’s Brazil.
So, Spain to win it? Well why not?