How possibly to conceptualise the tactical inevitabilities? The scarcity of individual brilliance, and yet the cavity of previously unfancied victors? How to elevate the ecstatic, the unifying, beyond its globally captivating lone presence? To splice the bane, the binary, the ill-informed bureaucracy, while suffocated by such substandard sources, and make sense of this World Cup, of all World Cups, is a task of unknown caveats.
Russia has indeed reconfigured its international perception during what we have yet witnessed of this month-long global cultural exchange. Its hospitable, strong-willed population has taken in its visitors and shared an enhanced understanding of each life, more aligned than ever imagined possible. Those who entered in trepidation, a minority, have allowed inhibitions to be eroded, and as the Winter Olympics served for earlier this calendar year, the sport assumed early precedence over its context, albeit bound and sharing sympathies and ecstasies. Those host cities selected by organisers have far exceeded their capabilities, and Samara, Nizhny Novgorod and Volgograd seem certain to join their cousins in Sochi as eminent geopolitical authorities of a developing superstate after their slick presentation and heartening humanity.
Elsewhere, few have coasted onto the stage – most, indeed, have stuttered. Even those deemed infallible in the preface now haemorrhage breezy dignity with every act; Julen Lopetegui (remember him?), David De Gea and, based alone on their faults in Kaliningrad Messrs Pique and Ramos reinforcing many a Spaniard’s weakened status on this stage, for every skill Brazil still disjointed, France again uninspiring and Germany – well – Germany…
And so, our rundown begins. From A to H, from VAR to no VAR, and from the wallchart to the pitch, has this tournament yet unfurled as one truly of its age, and of its diverse competitors, rather than a rigid, corporate countdown to conclusion? All that it has delivered, all that it has promised and more, heralded, spurned and grasped from the heights of improbability, assessed. Let’s begin as the tournament itself did an entire fortnight ago…
Not since 2002, in Japan and South Korea, had there been such a lull in international anticipation for a host’s performance permeating, particularly, through an opening round. Russia versus Saudi Arabia was never to be aJu match to set alight the fibres of international football, but emboldened by a curtain-drawing responsibility, it entered into the catalogue of initial ties; a lineage of Cameroonian and Senegalese upsets of defending champions difficult to debase, but again a World Cup ignited by an unexpected feat. The West Africans had endeared themselves to an underdog-adoring public in 1990 and 2002, was it possible that, through the beaming smiles of Aleksandr Golovin and the burly, otherwise unlovable Artem Dzyuba, this isolated state had achieved the same? Perhaps not, but they certainly shirked a morose self-image.
Denis Cheryshev, an unequal outsider to our rhetoric of disdain for Russian domestic affairs, emerged from the bench and dispatched a feeble Saudi challenge in their opener, before contributing from a more stable position against Egypt. Both opponents flattered to deceive, the Saudis receding on their, or rather Bert van Marwijk’s, qualifying principles, perhaps understandably misaligned after the Dutchman, for his abrasiveness, had no option but to eject and Juan Antonio Pizzi stepped into the lucrative breach intending to impose passing principles from Chilean exploits, and Héctor Cúper’s lauded North African outfit sadly lacking Mo Salah’s inspirational force in an ultimately conclusive Uruguayan ousting. While this quartet’s meeting may have facilitated insight into the geopolitically irrational – Saudi qualification – and the reconnect with a tournament that has only extended misfortune (Egypt’s third coming), these stories only intertwined when all was lost, and few bared interest. Most gave notice only to Salah’s tribulations and Arabian incompetence; there was more to both, yet underperformance, misfortune and decisions lacking in foresight were owed to premature departures.
Óscar Tabárez, by contrast, entered as an ailing veteran amongst loyal, harmonious apostles answering to the names of Suarez, Cavani, Godin et al., again producing a highly competent outfit from what is, by relativity, a distant and succinct selection pool. Fixated, being the unbridled beasts they are, on absolute efficiency, they were not to take a beating at the hands of three roadblocks with only four past wins at World Cups, and though experiencing some turbulence on their route to José Giménez’s headed winner, they have executed the stage with absolute serenity since. Edinson was unfortunate, Luis was misfiring at times, but their defensive contribution far outweighs that of all other South American counterparts,as captain Diego, set-piece expert Carlos Sánchez and the midfield pairing of Rodrigo Bentancur and Lucas Torreira, both ominously promoted prior to action, fulfilled all demands behind, safe progress was never once threatened. Worryingly, they are yet to click into full fluency.
Each World Cup recoils, despite its extensive coverage, and purrs for the revelations of lesser states. An irresistible romance, persisting throughout, has allowed this monolith to remain, and the flirtation again reared to the recompense, almost, of an Iberian King and his recently-embellished brother. Moorish kinship saw Morocco’s rivalry blossoming, and Portuguese helmsman Carlos Queiroz completed the set by tying socio-economic survivors Iran to the bonding session. Like all family affairs, the ammunition fired freely, and gunshot lodged itself in the arm of 2010’s world champions and perilously close to the heart of the presiding European saviours; not only internal bleeding but spurting embers of the literal Furia Roja were gorged upon by the onrushing, uncouth empires of Persia and the Atlas.
Morocco had, only days prior, been rejected by FIFA delegates for the opportunity of hosting an expanded 48-team 2026 World Cup – a vote they had been quiet favourites for in early proceedings, chiefly given proximity to the entities whose crowns they prized. Even further from the halls of power, perpetually politically conspicuous Iran would take some elevation, the pundits considered, from previous outings to alter the course of their Mediterranean darlings. Kick a stray dog, if you so dare. It will only return such vengeance.
Restrained at first from their ultimate prey, the cultural aliens of Africa and Asia bruised and grazed for the sake of three coveted points. An unlikely source, of course, handed the more experienced side the spoils, and enabled them to rival the apparently stratospheric talents that played out an enthralling, yet tactically masterful, 3-3 showstopper. Hervé Renard had not taken his squad, youth-centric yet supplemented by a variety of wise heads, this far and personally claimed such plaudits to seize up in their deficit; though allowing Cristiano Ronaldo to evade marking at an early corner was a fatal negligence, they exceeded Portugal for all offensive threat as Fernando Santos made all concessions to defend his lead rather than allow his marksman to further embellish goalscoring records. He knew an even sterner examination of impermeable credentials lay ahead. Iran may have pickpocketed an equally nervous Fernando – new man in, Hierro – as Spain leaned more on defensive fortitude, stunts and the balmy Kazan air than a glamorous midfield to repel pragmatic Eastern advances.
Each trap was set, then. No longer could each Iberian royal aid his twin, but each had to absorb yet another evening’s hostilities. The challenges had altered, and now it was as if a mirror had bisected pitches in both Kaliningrad and Saransk, where international eyes apportioned their gaze accordingly. The counter-attacking Portuguese were being played at their own game, as were the possession-based, centrally intricate Spanish, and neither could initially establish the unbreakable leads so prized by all serial winners. Defensive capitulation, for the second time in a frenetic opening 15 minutes, in fact handed the alert Khalid Boutaib a gilded strike on the target of a goalkeeper many Premier League consumers view as the world’s new benchmark. Naturally, the response arrived from Isco’s quietly industrial right boot, but the North Africans would bar a repeat of such freedom.
Attention turned to what Iran could offer, but Andre Silva did the probing with movement free of talisman Ronaldo and Team Melli swept away attempts, by hook or, indeed, by the Ballon d’Or winner’s moping while goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand squirmed. Ricardo Quaresma – not mellowing in old age at the slightest – defied logic again as half-time approached, Beiranvand intercepted Cristiano’s telegraphed penalty and the pressure now laid entirely with a side who knew their captain, the immovable force, had slumped into another subdued fit. As Queiroz reloaded, the ever-reliable personification of Portuguese affront, Pepe, retorted; we knew the early rounds were surpassed now. Blow followed blow, and soon VAR referral followed VAR referral; what should have amounted to a sending-off for Ronaldo did not, what should not have represented an Iranian penalty did. Gratefully, Karim Ansarifard dispatched. Elsewhere, a late flurry handed Spain top spot, and Iago Aspas had profited from technological involvement. Morocco were angered, so were Portugal, but neither would make official interventions known – the outcome for each was inevitable and imbibed by several cultural factors this group had set an absolute precedent for barbarity, for equality, for the grateful rivalry on which the competition exists. They would not be surpassed.
If the World Cup is a stage to shirk national stereotypes, France did not heed the call. In three outings, seldom did they part from the pose of a pensioned artist sat outside a winery or café, pausing momentarily to offer a smirk to a waiting camera before discharging a casual puff from his cigarette. For all of the skillsets of N’Golo Kante, Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele, Raphael Varane and Paul Pogba, they did not tear off the chain that restricted them two summers ago. Our prophecies foresaw strife against the Danish and Australian backlines, but for the ingenuity and technical ability of raw forwards to rise above. Instead, restrained by inept management, they faced almost immediate embarrassment against the dogged Aussies. Griezmann saved them once, now an ego sufficiently serene to compete for a Ballon d’Or, and his flexibility would save them again as Olivier Giroud, the perennial unimaginative resort, entered for subsequent ties.
If Deschamps’ reaction to tactical surprise – almost impasse – was a conservative one, once again it invited critical examination, more so from L’Équipe than undistinguished Peruvian ambition and amplified Danish realism. 4-3-3 dispatched, 4-2-3-1 was hardly the new vogue, but rather a ploy to eke out the anti-ignominy FFF vision. Rigid, tepid and ponderous; they still qualified top.
Perhaps we were unfortunate that Peru vs Denmark was drawn first from the lots, with the Andean outfit saddled by the long-uncertain presence of Paolo Guerrero looming only from the bench as Christian Cueva blazed a first-half penalty. Their later defensive lapse, the gnarled and redeemed striker could not be faulted for, but CONCACAF’s fifth qualifiers were subdued by the stage and were dampened before they had even relighted their nation.
Yet we commended the interchange of Ricardo Gareca’s side, alongside the industriousness of Bert van Marwijk’s. Neither succeeded, limited tactical scope exposed by the individual mastery of Christian Eriksen and Griezmann and the sufficient com mand of both European vanguards. While both underdogs attempted to break from indecision and from the malpractice of previous entrances, or lack thereof, their efforts were found superfluous. Slight fortune paved safe passage for UEFA’s steeds, but underwhelming as the route was, the rewards could be fantastic. For any motley crew so devoid of imagination to see out their service with a dour stalemate, it would be an injustice of the meet to go further.
Few would have expressed genuine surprise of Croatia and Argentina advancing, nor particularly in their individual manners, prior to the tournament. We all understood La Albiceleste’s tactical imbalance, but for such minimal constraint to have been shown by Eduardo Salvio and Nicolás Tagliafico at full-back, their one-dimensional offensive movement was not aided. Defensively, chaos ensued.
Jorge Sampaoli inconsistent by both apparel and ploys, the diminutive Argentine – formerly of Chile, and another on the rotational roundabout of short-sighted CONCACAF desperation – swooned in seemingly awash with complacency. He had not tinkered his tactics to test Icelandic irritants, and as Javier Mascherano and Lucas Biglia formed a 4-2-4, barring at times on 2-2-6, in their midfield pivots, the width so coveted by Heimir Hallgrímsson became abundant. A famous draw would, paradoxically, prove all the islanders would emerge with.
Representing the extremities of CAF bipolarity, Nigeria had become, to some effects, engrossed in their own hype prior to the tournament. An apathetic surrender to Croatian followed. An ineffective use of prodigious youth in Kenneth Omeruo and Kelechi Iheanacho, himself increasingly accused of complacency in stalling club exploits, and a drastic void of midfield hustle, chiefly a symptom of John Obi Mikel’s role as number 10, deprived Gernot Rohr’s squad of the vivacity its vast public deserved. Remedied, without great dishevelment, against the Icelanders, of all teams, the West Africans unmasked an entirely contrary character; defensively resolute against the marauding Birkir Már Sævarsson and Hörður Björgvin Magnússon and able to outnumber the valiant Strákarnir (Boys) in midfield with their 3-5-2 confidently assumed.
When prying eyes finally accredited Iceland, had they achieved all they set out for? They did not part from their much-beloved 4-4-2, with organisation an irrefutable principle, but eventually the strain weighed heavily on their trawlers net, and their volcanic potential lay dormant. When even Croatian youth belittled them, their persistence in the face of unknown adversity, their life at the tournament had expired. Not their use; they represent the greatest of historic feats in their qualification, let alone their tie with two-time World Cup victors. These mere Icelanders, decades earlier internationally nameless, evoke the guiding ideals of the sport, and, if valued at all today, act entirely with humility while doing so.
Earlier in their own heritage, the very same could have been spoken of the newly independent Croats – well, if asking Laurent Blanc, the sporting morals aside. Seething with an identical upstarting vigour to that summer of ’98, the self-aware squad of Zlatko Dalić may have been eased in by Abuja’s contingent, but have etched immediate mastery onto the rambunctious but technically lacking slate FIFA’s drawing allocation afforded them. Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic may be amulets in the rivalling Spanish kingdoms, but visionaries on the international scene they had not yet established themselves as. Occasionally culpable for the breakdown in communications, Ivan Perisic and Ante Rebić have nonetheless been clinical when most required. Dejan Lovren, Domagoj Vida, and particularly Ivan Strinić, have excelled amidst modest expectations, revelling in the confidence freely circulating through their Roschino base, almost neighbouring England outside of Saint Petersburg. They dismantled the Messi-fronted façade and exposed the deep-rooted cavities of Buenos Aires bounty – professional head-hunters, exercising the cleanest of kills – and maintained focus onto an obligatory final task, a round where all others deemed them exempt. With Iceland forced to make first engagement in their drastic pursuit, they are yet to match up with a truly defensive outfit; Denmark awaits.
Another day, another heiress, another nation’s motivations sold as irrepressible forces collide. Switzerland, topographical kit in check, enticed vulnerability from patchwork (full-strength?) Brazilian pride; landing weight when latching onto a set-piece. Neutrality was the response Philippe Coutinho’s overstated strike anticipated, yet the Swiss were in no mood to emulate errors of old. Supreme athletes, skilful in glimpses, but now robust also, the world’s sixth greatest outfit acquitted themselves as qualifying showed them able – without trepidation or hesitation.
Elsewhere, an Aleksandar Kolarov free-kick sealed Serbian advantage; Costa Rica fruitless, stuttering form in endeavours subsequent to 2014 perpetuating. Mladen Krstajić had the buttress his quickfire revamps required, but not the performance. If Nemanja Matić and Luka Milivojević, Kolarov and Branislav Ivanović, even Sergej Milinković-Savić and Aleksandar Mitrović, had not posed sufficient physical hostility, the withdrawals of Adem Ljajić and Dušan Tadić in the meeting – in their place Filip Kostić, with only two prior international strikes, and right-back Antonio Rukavina – certainly beat the Central Americans into a pulp.
Hitherto insurmountable, Tite’s Brazilian band did not resume their World Cup relationship with absolute ease, either against Switzerland or beyond. Danilo, Marcelo, questions over Neymar; fitness has, to some extent, scuppered momentum. While Roberto Firmino, Douglas Costa and Fred cannot be immediately accommodated, the onus on Gabriel Jesus, Willian and Paulinho to repeat previous glories under the paternal steward was not alleviated at any stage; Coutinho prodding home a desperate injury-time winner in Saint Petersburg before the underemployed Alisson Becker weathered a second-half storm against Serbia and Thiago Silva bailed the oppressed forwards out with a well-taken header. Scarcely could there be greater disconnect with four years earlier, when Luis Felipe Scolari structured his side entirely around the boy wonder, now made a man. Maturity, even as the globe’s heftiest financial asset, in devolving responsibility to his versatile midfield has won Neymar several favours – an unlikely Golden Boot victor now, but a World Cup champion? We can but merely speculate.
The result was formulaic, the permutations limited. Joachim Löw’s Germany drawn against Mexico, Sweden and South Korea – a foregone conclusion. We need not consult the history books; these are perpetual quarter-finalists, if not semi-finalists, if not serial winners, unquestioned in the event of uncertainty. Why quibble over warm-up deadlocks with naturally game-raising Austria and Saudi Arabia?
Then it struck; a cataclysmic knell, 1-0 to Mexico, Hirving Lozano with the lone effort. There was no tactical frailty or naivety – meticulous preparation is a synonym for any clockwork DFB outlays. An injury to Jonas Hector aside – Marvin Plattenhardt a highly competent stand-in – Löw had entered his most formidable XI. Sampaoli’s error repeated, by the defending champions, the prized spoils of a hired assassin, there was no consideration of Mexican intentions. Colombian Juan Carlos Osorio, by contrast, had engineered a ploy specifically prising German vulnerabilities as Toni Kroos, consistently the fulcrum in the post-Schweinsteiger era, was extinguished and Joshua Kimmich exposed. Deprived of the fundamental roles of each, the German supply line was irrevocably weakened, while support was blatantly ignored by Löw.
Uncharacteristically, the outward message of Die Mannschaft was not organic, but as so many defending champions before, excoriatingly defensive and misguided. Rather than allow bemusement to fester with Sebastian Rudy introduced, or Kimmich withdrawn to form a back three or restricted back four, Marco Reus, Mario Gomez and Julian Brandt all entered – the latter the only generally deemed in-form – and desperation ensued, ignominiously without reward. This was now a side, a nation, constructed on unity, and when initially upended by tactical miscalculation, this value did not wholly desert them, but ebbed away at pivotal interchanges.
The selection of Reus over Leroy Sané – overlooked in a slipshod form of nationalist folly to question Brandt’s place by the English media – on sentimental lines as far as we were all aware, did not unravel positively. If he was not to start ahead of Julian Draxler, the victim of enough personal struggles at Paris Saint-Germain who almost certainly would have played second fiddle as a defensively unaccountable pace merchant to the Manchester City assist-maker, perilous questions began to mount. As far as Timo Werner was the first genuine German striker to command a starting berth since Miroslav Klose’s 2010 function, his response to muttering public doubts did not inspire confidence; portraying himself as another false forward, uncertain more so than unable in his role.
From Sweden, something was salvaged. There could scarcely consider quite what, but after 90 minutes recollection is understandably hazy. Their opponents in this instance were not as fine-tuned; with two burly strikers, the handle on Kroos was loosened. When arriving in Kazan, it seemed they imagined an identical eventuality. Evocative of 2002, South Koreans harried and distracted purposefully and successfully – even if eliminated, their pride could not be splintered. They were, of course, aided by the sudden elevation of Leon Goretzka as a winger – hardly supplementary to Kimmich’s defensive strife, nor Werner’s ill-focus. A second deathly chime fell across the global titan; fluency long since lost, exhaustion of imagination evident throughout. Setbacks from the start had caused chaos, little altered afterwards; though their tenure swiftly elapsed, it was the greatest embarrassment at such a stage for generations. Their partners conducted the vanquishing, but they had merely plunged an ailing victim into his grave in this tournament. For Löw, it would be nigh-on inconceivable after all prior successes not to rise again, but in their absence, largely lesser squads progress.
Bedecked in yellow and blue, Sweden emerged from a hovel without monetised propaganda – after Euro 2016 and injury, Zlatan goes to LA. Emil Forsberg took the mantle of heroism, but in truth a wily interchange between touring nous (Andreas Granqvist, Seb Larsson, Ola Toivonen) and expendable youth (Ludwig Augustinsson, Victor Lindelöf, to all intents and purposes Forsberg himself) would maintain respect in the post-Ibrahimović age. That the ponytailed emperor’s service was a falsehood of the Scandinavian spirit did not hold complete conviction; these were formerly pillaging kingdoms themselves, guided by identifiable warlords. Naturally, each warrior cast the national honour forward, and discredit in Zlatan’s time would be undue. They are not reimagined, now, but more balanced in existential norms. Collective action, without a chieftain, is rarely as self-lubricating as in Nordic climes. So progress proved, seizing on seemingly annual Mexican pitfalls and gaining a further opportunity to test their newfound capabilities.
Two relative provincial minnows meet two (generally) upwardly mobile Northern European identities; beyond these configurations, did we ever deem upsets truly possible? Aged and potentially resigned, Hernán Darío Gómez’s Panama were at the peak of their historic powers upon entry but had discovered the fearsome extent of UEFA’s hegemony in prior preparations – in March, a 6-0 slump to Switzerland ensued. Belgian and English offence dismantled all disguise of repentance, with Premier League forward lines cashing in.
Of course, England had not been free of such shackles before. Harry Kane scuppered Tunisian ambitions, hunkered down amidst the buffeting force of Raheem Sterling and Jesse Lingard’s profligacy, as set-pieces proved more punishable than open play in Volgograd – a decisive, but agreeable, upset to the Anglo norm. The trend was not broken in Panamanian demolition.
Concurrent Belgian incision ensured a final group meeting would be much anticipated. Defensive lapses reared against Tunisia – a marvellously liberal affair, with spurned chances again an ode to the acute creativity of an in-form and self-confident entity.
Assurance, however, was not the overwhelming emotion exuded by the Kaliningrad testimonial. Disrupted, inevitably, by the changes forced upon them altered expectations and long-term squad dynamics, both potential superpowers showcased the antipathy of their earlier characters; England retreating to indecisiveness and an inability to stifle psychology, Roberto Martinez’s men tactically unhinged as converted wingers failed to fulfil the balance demanded of a wing-back. While the former opted to refrain from immediate pressure on a mediocre attacking contingent, the latter rebuffed all tired attempts to loop into the outnumbered and overstretched Jamie Vardy. If we needed any comment of how far either is from the true global elite, this was it; inept when attempting anything outside of deep-set predictability, and for all talk of greater cohesion, fractured at key intervals. Oh, and Adnan Januzaj, of all people, scored – mediocrity can astound.
Any stanza starting with the vanquishing of both top seeds, one by an ill-conceived early dismissal and the other by sheer disorder, is a fine entrée to a fortnight’s rewriting. From the Japanese circling on a depleted Colombia and Senegal’s dispatch of the Poles, anything became possible in this, the final of all servings. In isolation to all around, this multicontinental cocktail altered intentions again when the unfancied Asians and untamed West Africans, in just their nation’s second ever qualification, entertained a tie and the haughty South Americans carved through Eastern European ranking myths, overturning the rhetoric posed by Croatian butchery.
And Poland were eliminated. A breed of individually exceptional talents – Robert Lewandowski, Piotr Zieliński, Arkadiusz Milik rolling off the tongue if Messrs Błaszczykowski, Krychowiak, Piszczek and Szczęsny were now discounted – joined those before them in flattering to deceive. Internally, little had changed from the underwhelming outings of, truthfully, every date since 1982, and now the hard-earned accumulation of ranking points in the years prior proved shallow; playing to FIFA’s algorithms will not be a ploy they enact again.
Three into two, meanwhile, did not compute. National pining, in one instance to equal the achievements of their only prior entry, in another to reach the knockout stages for only the third time in their history and the other to avoid an early exit that has in the past resulted, shamefully, in the murder of a preceding representative, would coarse through all remaining action. While tactics largely received indignation for Aliou Cissé and José Pékerman’s steeds, cavorting simply in search of a final necessary spike through the other’s heart. James Rodríguez withdrew, but his impact was only as great as each other destabilised individual in an ungainly meet. Japan stumbled elsewhere, perhaps finally buckling as most had anticipated far in advance of their entry into Russia. No matter if stalemate remained in Saransk – but Senegalese nerve was being tested, the lack of a genuine marksman perhaps finally proving costly as M’Baye Niang and Sadio Mané stumbled without support. Yerry Mina, himself a rising force, provided the totemic blow in decidedly forthright terms; the slightest of errors in Senegalese positioning punished, and with no more to follow, the airlock was sealed.
Aesthetically, some charge the progress of the Blue Samarai as a miscarriage of justice. Edging Cissé’s side merely on discipline and employing defensive tactics in the closing minutes of their Polish defeat, their route was not simple nor valiant, but did have merit. The weakness of their domestic sport was a national embarrassment before the tournament, and successes in the Bundesliga largely disconnected with the image of the team that has rarely deviated since 2002. Akira Nishino, national technical director until April, had only stepped into the breach after Vahid Halilhodžić’s position was finally deemed untenable amidst lacklustre results and widespread aggravation. Facilitating numerous technical attributes throughout the squad, Nishino has finally formed respectability in the old age of many notable names – captain Makoto Hasebe 34, goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima 35, Keisuke Honda and Shinji Okazaki both 32. They will not go much further, but in Belgium they have another opponent whom they could succeed in surprising. After the madness of their group, both alumni will be reluctant to make any comfortable predictions.
AND SO, half way beyond. Russia has fortified itself as an apt host, revelations have sprung, and uncertainty still covets the eventual outcome. Croatia, of all, appear sufficiently at ease the achieve the unthinkable, exceeding the heroism of 1998, while Uruguay have shown few weaknesses as of yet. Iberia’s finest have passed stern examinations, least of all from one another, France and Argentina are fraught with fragility if facing tactical equals (in this event, many potential opponents). Russia, Japan, Denmark and Sweden may not be initially tipped, but none will surrender meekly. Switzerland, England, Belgium, Mexico and Colombia, could all go far, or all crumble at a moment’s notice, making for spectacular viewing. If able to unlock their mastery, Brazil can emerge victorious, but pragmatism will also define their campaign, no matter where. Do svidaniya to all those who now prematurely depart, doing so with some regrets but hopefully a fondness in retrospect to their contribution. All had individual opportunities to celebrate, a rarity in such environments, and many will in future return – not to atone, but to pen fortunes anew. In the meantime, the debate only tightens, the synthesisers dropped – the cacophony of nature is calling, beckoning glimmers of its ultimate prize. We revel in the process again, and we await the inevitable evaluation, each even more sycophantic than the last. Enjoy it while it lasts – you just don’t know your luck.
Author - Will Hugall
Now a BA Journalism student at Nottingham Trent University, I divide my time between my base in Radford and back home in East Sussex while watching as much football as I can!