The World Cup
Finally the day has arrived.. the opening game of the 2006 World Cup, with teams from all over the world competing for the sport's (or sport's) greatest prize.
After months and even years of anticipation, it all happens within the coming month. A month which will be full of drama and surprises, heartache and joy and the best quality football, a month when everyone, wherever they are can enjoy the spectacle. A month when it doesn't matter how rich or poor you are, how much the players earn per week and so on, a global experience which only sport (the World Cup and the Olympics) can provide.
I will be hoping that England can repeat their 1966 performance and finally win the World Cup again. However, I have a suspicion that England really DOES have a mental block which will probably stop them along the way, such is the weighht of hope, expectations and hype, and, after all, England is only one of 32 deserving teams playing in the tournament, each with their own dreams.
If England are not going to win, then I hope it is the team who plays the most attractive attacking football, and not a defensive team, sneaking through with 1-0 wins, based on counters (thinking old-style Germany and Italy here).
Personal preferences are for the African teams, Angola, Togo, Tunisia, Ghana and Ivory Coast, being an African myself, Iran, as they could do with a break, and, for some strange reason, Serbia and Montenegro (maybe due to their recent Eurovision performances). However, I do not think any of those mentioned are going to come that far and will be lucky to get points, let alone progress to the knockout stages.
Of the favoured teams, I'd like to see Argentina do well and also Italy. I like both countries and they could do with some good news. It also appears that economically speaking, in Europe, the country which would most benefit from winning is Italy, according to ABN-Amro. Maybe the same goes for Argentina as well. Let's just hope the two greats play good clean attacking football.
Otherwise, I think teams to surprise may be Portugal (22-1) and Australia (125-1). I had a strong tip for Sweden (33-1) from a Swede we met in Namibia, but apparently they are not supposed to be as strong this year.
Everyone seems to be tipping Ivory Coast (80-1) as a good outsider, but they are in a very difficult group with Argentina, Holland and Serbia and Montenegro. I think the thought is that if they can come through this 'group of death' they could go on and do very well, maybe making the semis or the final, but that looks doubtful. Holland will be looking to make up for the fact of not qualifying four years ago, and Argentina will not want to be knocked out at the group stage like they were in 2002.
Amsterdam is very orange and some streets are totally orange with streamers and flags spun across the road. Not in our street.... maybe that'll happen if/whenthey reach the final, but the falgs are more to be seen in the poorer parts of the city.
The Dutch have been at the forefront of commercialising football, and for years now (since at least 1988 when they won teh European Championships) shops have been selling orange thingsfor weeks in davance, orange flags are attached to cars and bicycles, all advertisments on TV are football related. It looks like England is catching up, with even ministers and leaders of the Opposition flying the St George's flag (I prefer the Union Jack, myself).
I just think it is a pity that large US-based multi-nationals have decided to muscle-in on the world sport, with Coca Cola and Budweiser being official sponsors and cashing in on the sports popularity. They have all their ethnic sports which are over-commercialised and who are run more for the benefit of the sponsors than the fans. Keep away.
Further, there is the ugly spectre of the world governing body, FIFA oredering the European Leagues to reduce the number of fixtures (and size of the leagues) to create more room for internationals. The FT even talked about a World Cup every two years. No way. No thanks. Once in four years makes the tournament so special. Why change? Couldn't be about money and prestige for FIFA itself, could it? What we have now is good, please do not destroy it.
So.... let the tournament begin. May the most attractive football be rewarded and cheating be punished. Can't wait...