The World Cup
They think it’s all over? It is now, thank God. I’ve waited for others to vent their spleen over my unfortunate country’s performance on Sunday. At least it was no surprise, and no one said we wuz robbed, because we wuzn’t. Truth to tell, England have never won a European championship or a World Cup except once and then they didn’t deserve to. Nobody who can remember 1966 (as I fear I can) and who has any feeling at all for the game would deny that Brazil were the best team that year.
According to Sellar and Yeatman, authors of the alternative history of England “1066 and All That,” every time the English came close to solving the Irish Question the Irish bamboozled their colonial overlords by, cunningly, changing the Question. This neatly reflects the way England’s neighbors confound her. As in history so in soccer. The Scots and Irish and Welsh are quick to catalogue any example of overbearing English arrogance.
It is hard to think of the two more cynical and destructive players than the Netherlands’ Van Bommel and De Jong, who acquired dubious eternal fame for the karate kick into the chest of Xabi Alonso. Apart from their brutality, they’ve played as two holding midfielders, which slowed down transition and isolated Van Persie. That is why Sneijder was their top scorer in the World Cup. Both of them are playing today, which is to say that we can expect the same ugliness as in the World Cup. It will be interesting to see how Germany will respond to the Dutch bullying.
Frank Foer: Luke, I'm putting together a Euros blog. Are you in? Luke Dempsey: Couldn’t care less, Frank. FF: The phrase is “could care less,” Mr. Dempsey. LD: Not in England it’s not. FF: You’re not IN England. You haven’t lived there for 17 years. I know for a fact that you missed the whole Jubilee thing . . .
It is sometimes said that the European Championships are the World Cup without Brazil and Argentina. Though this might be more or less true on the field, it misses the obvious truth that the World Cup is not just a matter of determining the best team on the planet. That's one reason why it includes teams who are not among the top 32 sides in the world. The Euros are a different matter. The best 16 teams in Europe are involved. It is a meritocracy that should be enjoyed while we can savour it before it expands—like a New Yorker binging on too many Big Gulps—to 24 teams in four years time.
Some years, the calendar unfolds beneficently. The summer comes wide and open, leaving many hours to peel away from work to watch the World Cup or the Euros. Then, there are other summers, like this one, when you have a new job that chews away all possibility for furtive ventures to the Lucky Bar to watch Poland play Greece. Since I’ve only been back at The New Republic for a few weeks now, I’d be committing professional malpractice to fully cave to the implacable desire to watch every minute of this coming tournament.
I know that soccer can engage and enrage the senses. And doubtless there have been other occasions when sports fans have killed and been killed in the frenzy of a game … or after. In Boston seven years ago, after a Red Sox win over the Yankees that clinched the American League pennant and was being celebrated in the streets, a 21-year old college student was killed and 16 others were wounded by police trying to control the crowds.
It seems eccentric, to say the least, that the FIFA selection committee chose Russia as the World Cup’s home in 2018, and all the more so as it meant overlooking perfectly serviceable countries such as Britain. (They also chose Qatar over the U.S. for 2022, but that's another counterintuitive story altogether.) Why not Russia, you might ask. After all, the country is home to numerous top-drawer soccer teams and has a solid pedigree for hosting international club games at their stadiums.
How shrewd is Vladimir Putin? In his bid to host a World Cup—an event that would inevitably turn into a grotesque advertisement for his regime, if one reasonably assumes that he’ll still be repressing Russia in 2018—Putin feigned contempt. He called the whole process of bidding for a World Cup an “unfair competition,” suggesting it had been rigged to favor his western European competitors. Then, of course, he turned around and entered the unfair competition in the ruthless manner it was meant to be played.
[Guest post by James Downie] Today, the talk of the soccer world is Barcelona’s sublime 5-0 destruction of Real Madrid. Come Thursday, though, for a brief moment at least, international soccer will grab the spotlight once again, as FIFA announces the hosts for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.