World Cup 2014 kick-off – SotB Writers’ Expectations

So, here we are. Thirty-two previews down, and only the World Cup itself to go. As kick-off approaches, here are the anticipations and expectations of some SotB writers:

 

1 – Who are you following?

As Ireland are nowhere near the World Cup, and as I can’t agree with President Michael D Higgins’s suggestion that Irish fans follow England, I expect I’ll watch France and Belgium closely. On further reflection: teams come and go, but the banter remains a constant.

2 – What are your expectations for the tournament?

The usual meaningless shit on the field. The occasional amazing goal. Debate about whether the aerodynamics of the World Cup ball are different this year. Once the World Cup kicks off, I expect a lot of the pre-tournament media coverage of protest movements will be forgotten – unless something‘dogs on the pitch’ extraordinary happens.

3 – Who will win?

Probably Brazil.

4 – Any surprises?

Chile will be very entertaining, based on their ludicrously cavalier friendly performance against England recently. Barkley will be either hero or scapegoat for England – but this is less surprising.

Karl Whitney

 

1 – Who are you following?

I’m glad you didn’t say “supporting” because that would have been a much more involved answer (shortish-form: I, like many of my peers in the current climate, am conflicted about the idea of unreflectively swearing national alliegances, but at the same time I’m deeply sceptical of the idea that “support” can be carried out at a remote distance, and with nothing social at stake). In 2010 I really bought into Ghana’s underdog story: I had begun investing in them around the time of that year’s Africa Cup of Nations, shortly after reading about the team’s history in Ian Hawkey’s Feet of the Chameleon, and had bought a Black Stars shirt by the time the World Cup rolled around (2010 was a good year for Puma). The Suarez handball in the dying seconds of the quarter-final was a sucker-punch the likes of which I hadn’t felt since…I’m struggling. Preston’s playoff failure at the end of the season just passed scarcely felt more like genuine grief. Weirdly though, I’ve been unable to marshall much sympathy for Ghana in successive tournaments, which says something about how teams can acquire tournament-specific auras which fade when new underdogs (Zambia, Burkina Faso, post-revolution Egypt) emerge. As touched on in my preview, I’ll be curious to see what interest can be sustained in Ghana this time round, and where the story of African participation in the World Cup will go more broadly.

More obviously, I’ll also be following England. In spite of my excitement about what looks like a youthful, talented squad, I’ll be doing so with caution. The reports coming out of Manaus about the quality of the pitch – I have visions of Nelspruit in 2013 – as well as the precedent set by the quarter-final meeting at Euro 2012 suggest that Saturday night could witness the spectre of England 0-0 Algeria rearing its head once more.

2 – What are your expectations for the tournament?

I can’t wait to see what this year’s big transgression is. I suppose Rivaldo’s theatrics against Turkey in 2002 qualify, but this is a precedent that has really been set in the last two tournaments: first Zidane’s headbutt in the 2006 final and then that Suarez handball in 2010. Both events really took us to those hinterlands where football intertwines with, or is forced into contact with, the world at large. Zidane’s headbutt is much more an event in the cultural history of postwar France than it was a professional foul. And Suarez’s handball showed that all the rules in the game are, given the right situation, ultimately powerless to prevent injustice. It would be a shock if we weren’t presented with a hat-trick at this tournament, particularly so given the sentiments that are currently being mobilised in Brazil against FIFA and its golden showpony.

3 – Who will win?

I have a vision of a final between two favourites, with at least one of these teams overcoming a dark horse (Chile? Croatia?) in the semi-final. I fancy Spain to get knocked out early, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. As much as home team success is a vital spur for tournaments, I take pleasure in imagining Brazil beaten in the semis or earlier: there has to be at least one really good tragic narrative in this tournament. In one sense I fancy Argentina, but for some reason I just can’t imagine them winning it. I don’t know, Germany?

4 – Any surprises?

‘I don’t know, there could be a surprise here, someone could come out of nowhere and play well, so that’s a tough one.’ – Andrew Cole

Luke Healey

 

Profundity itself.

1 – Who are you following?

I will still follow England, although more out of habit than anything else. I find I’m less and less interested in the national team, partly because of the way it conjures up a sense of Englishness which is entirely alien to me, but also for more directly footballing reasons: they are infuriatingly slow and plodding, and the players seem to lose all awareness of modern football the minute they leave their clubs behind. Managers aren’t much better; in fact they’re even worse, because they dangle in front of you the possibility that they’ve realised that 4-4-2 is over – usually in friendlies – before reverting to type when it actually matters. Only this week, with everyone raving about how exciting Raheem Sterling is, and off the back of an amazing season, we are being told to expect Danny Welbeck to start, despite the fact that he only scored 10 goals last season and hardly started.

2 – What are your expectations for the tournament?

It’s not an expectation, more a hope, but what I’d really like to see is a team playing exciting, fast, direct attacking football. I will watch England’s plodding, and will maybe be able to conjure some connoisseurial admiration of tiki-taka (whoever’s playing that way now), but what I really love as a football fan is the kind of recklessness you hardly ever see. As a Liverpool fan, I was spoiled last season, but I’d love to see a national team playing like that. People talk about Brazil, but they’re always a bit too fancy, and being on home soil it’ll be all about the pressure for them.

3 – Who will win?
I haven’t given much thought to who might actually win the thing, but I suppose it’s hard to think past a small group of teams. Brazil will be given a boost (as well as more pressure) by playing at home, Spain are still good, but if pushed I’d say Germany are favourites.

4 – Any surprises?

Chile might surprise a few people; they seemed assured when they played England last year, and have a couple of decent players in Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez. Belgium could surprise for any number of reasons – they could be much better than people think, much worse, or their “New Golden Generation” might actually perform pretty averagely given Belgium’s tournament history.

Mark West

 

1 – Who are you following?

I’m following France. I find it tough to say I actually support les Bleus, but I’ve lived here for a few years and I just can’t bring myself to support the Welsh team, which since I’m from Cardiff I probably should do. I’ll also be watching Chile and making subsequent broad-brushed vulgarisations about South American politics for Straight off The Beach as well as keeping a close eye on South Korea too. These last two since Gary Medel and Kim-bo Kyeung were features of our relegation squad and I’m eager to see if they are actually any good, after all.

I’ll also be watching all the England games, hoping they fail, natch. I perversely want them to stay in the competition as long as possible, though, so their inevitable failure will be as spectacular and humiliating as can be.

2 – What are your expectations for the tournament?

I think it can only be good and that any political or administrative discontent will be drowned out by the happy-clapping samba rhythms of World Football™. I also predict Vincent Tan will arrive by helicopter and land on the pitch at the end of the opening ceremony, cracking his leather-gloved knuckles and ruining everything for everyone yet again.

3 – Who will win?

Vincent Tan, or Brazil.

4 – Any surprises?

I’ve been impressed with the team mentality that Deschamps has, unlike Blanc and Domenech, managed to build. I think getting rid of Ribéry from the squad was a bold move that will pay dividends. Semi finals for the French? If only to wind up Nasri.

Russell Williams

 

1 – Who are you following?

Ireland not having qualified, I don’t have a raw emotional attachment to any of the sides but there are a few I will be watching closely – Portugal, for mainly non-footballing reasons, Belgium, because I want to believe the hype and Chile, who I think are Latin America’s greatest candidates for quixotic magic. My heart is mainly with Bosnia and Herzegovina though – a fine, technical side, a country with a sad history, a rich footballing past and the team is one of the few things that brings Bosniaks and Serbs together.

2 – What are your expectations for the tournament?

On the field, I expect a tournament that is less tactically attritional than the last (though I was one of the few who thought that was a good World Cup). If two South American teams meet in the final, it has the potential to be one of the great ones but only Brazil and Argentina look as if they will get that far.
Off the field, the protests will continue and will not, for a change, be ignored by the media. They seem to have sympathy to go with their momentum so, whatever about their effectiveness in securing change within in Brazil, they will cast ever more light on the way FIFA does operations during World Cups, which can only be a good thing.

3 – Who will win?

Argentina. Ignoring the fact that they have as poor a defence as Germany (the reason I think this German generation will never win anything), the fact that even on home soil in the Copa América three years ago they were repeatedly hapless, I think Argentina can do it. They have the hunger, the class, and most importantly, the attacking power to win it outright. They are also high on confidence at the moment and will benefit from the inevitable jitters Brazil experience.

4 – Any surprises?

I think players such as William Carvalho of Portugal, Antoine Griezmann of France and Axel Witsel of Belgium will shine even if none of them can be really said to be unknown or surprising. As far as teams go, I think Algeria are best poised to cause an upset. Effectively a French B-team, they have a lot of talent at their disposal, are playing very cohesively since they qualified, have a good manager in Vahid Halilhodžić and will be ready to swoop if either Belgium or Russia have an off-day.

Oliver Farry

Algeria’s coach caught unexpectedly attempting to defy expectations.

1 – Who are you following?

Uruguay, out of a mixture of misguided childhood obsession and a genuine belief that they have the potential to go a long way. I want to get behind England on the basis of what – with Sterling, Barkley and Sturridge – they could be, but know that this will inevitably be Hodgsoned out of me by the second game.

2 – What are your expectations for the tournament?

On-location journalists will spend the first fortnight furiously griping on Twitter about complications in getting their stadium accreditation before eventually realising not a single human being cares about their plight. This will be the limit of the much-trailed logistical meltdown, leading to the few hundred doomsaying ‘proper’ journalists being called home in a huff by the end of the group stages. At home, David Cameron will make an absolute show of himself, again, presumably by appearing next to Boris Johnson in a Union Jack bowler hat and plastic breasts, chuntering about how it’s important all of Britain gets behind ‘our’ brave boys – thus securing Scottish independence months ahead of schedule.

On the pitch, I have a sneaking inkling that Spain and Brazil will be hit by the weight of expectation and underwhelm. England will scrape through the group on goal difference before an inane Second Round defeat to Colombia. Jack Wilshere will be sent home for glassing a waiter with a Smirnoff Ice bottle before becoming a lifetime ambassador for Help For Heroes after it’s discovered the waiter was an Argentinian Falklands veteran. Algeria and Russia will progress from Group H, leading to a mass discrediting of those who use the phrase “perennial dark horses” on a regular basis. Switzerland and Greece will produce performances so spectacularly dreary I’ll spend all of their matches cartographing imaginary states (also making up a full book of imaginary statute should they make it through to the knock-out stages). Finally – a bold one, this – it will be the best tournament since France 98.

3 – Who will win?

France. There, I said it.

4 – Any surprises?

Croatia’s Frankenstein’s monster of a team – a purring, high-calibre front end welded to a juddering, incongruous back 5 – will click, seeing them top Group A (they’ll take a point off Brazil tonight) before imploding spectacularly in the Round of 16. Algeria will surprise everyone and top Group H on their way to the Quarter Finals. Colombia will make the Semis, even without Falcao.

Ron Hamilton

 

1 – Who are you following?

I’m undergoing my usual agon with England already. They have players I like, generally for personal rather than footballing reasons, and there’s an ideal version of the country – a socialist, republican, completely imaginary version – that I could hypothetically really get behind. I’m also not mad about the ‘lazy players’ narrative that emerges this time every two years, usually accompanied by some braying twat telling the whole pub that the England rugby team would never look so disinterested (the same England rugby team who spent their last World Cup getting completely plastered and jumping off ferries before a whimpering second-round exit). When the Crispins pipe up with that one I realise that one aspect of disinvestment in the national team is, arguably, class-based and taps into a broader anti-football discourse which is really about the consolidation of wealth and power.

But: England are also the God Save the Queen-ing, ‘Gotcha’-ing, friendly at Lansdowne Road-ruining, TFI Friday-ing, you-can-spot-a-real-fan-by-their-knowledge-of-the-offside-rule-ing, fridge full of Carling-ing embodiment of nearly everything I actually do absolutely fucking despise about football once they get to a big tournament, the weirdly loved-up vibe of Italia ’90 aside. ‘Wey-hey LADs, we’ve got a telly in our office so we can watch the quarter-final because real fans watch all the England games AND I’M WORRIED PEOPLE WILL THINK I DON’T HAVE A PENIS IF I DON’T AS WELL!’ I deliberately ignored the Germany and Algeria games at the last World Cup because, you know, fuck it. I’ve been stung by nettles retrieving the ball at an Eastern Counties League game, so I’m not going to have my fandom scrutinised by Richard from Accounts and that ‘pink pass’ he’s been going on about all day. That’s it: England somehow serve as an avatar for everything that frustrates me about the game, even beyond the blindly nationalistic elements.

Beyond wrangling with that one until England do get knocked out, probably in the quarter-finals, I’ll be interested in Bosnia, Croatia, Algeria. Turkey are my usual fall-back team at tournaments but they seem to have regressed of late and won’t be there. I’ll always have weak spots for France and Italy too, and I find Argentina hard to muster any antagonism towards.

2 – What are your expectations for the tournament?

Football-wise, the usual. Some brilliant matches, usually the ones you watched by mistake, maybe one or two memorable classics that will be the subject of the 2170 Jonathan Wilson Memorial Lecture, a lot of so-so stuff. A few players to set off transfer kerfuffles amongst the mid-ranked Premier League teams. At least one hilarious bit of cheating.

Off the pitch, ideology, ideology, ideology. I’m thinking of putting 10p in a box every time a commentator or pundit marginalises the protests because ‘football unites’ or ‘all Brazilians care about football’. Chances are I’d be able to afford a yacht by the end of it all. If the protests do become intrusive as far as the matches themselves are concerned, I’d expect the likes of Cameron to have a script for it. Stop spoiling everyone’s fun and so on. It’s not an expectation so much as a very dimly-lit hope, but what I’d love to see happen would be for football’s full dialectical power to be revealed: for the protests to intervene in the football (which is their necessary precondition) to the extent that everyone everywhere realised that the global kleptocracy can be challenged, interrupted, even cornered. Can Brazil afford to use the full extent of its hard power with the world watching? This is why I think the Guardianistas sharing pictures of anti-football street art in Brazil kind of miss the point: the land-grabbing, evicting part of the process has been done now, and the World Cup arguably makes the consolidation of those neoliberal gains problematic as their mechanics are being exposed. If everyone had just gone ‘oh, sod it, let’s not do the World Cup there, let’s go to Germany’ back in autumn the opportunity for forcing the issue would have been lost.

3 – Who will win?

Assuming that my hypothetical scenario doesn’t occur, I think Argentina this time. I’ve also been susceptible to the funny feeling around France that has been building over the last few weeks, but this feeling seems to exist only because not much has been said about France up to this point.

4 – Any surprises?

I hope so. And I hope they’re good ones.

Joe Kennedy

1 – Who are you following?

England, though I think if I flick through anymore pages of the free England-themed copy of The Sun that came through my letterbox I might instead kill myself. ‘This Is Our England’ proclaims the sub-Sgt. Pepper front page. If so, you’re welcome to it you malicious faux-working class establishment-propping hate criminals. Transpontine Not English sounds ever more tempting. I’d gladly welcome the ensuing Paris Commune style slaughter that Lefebvre warns of.

Shout out for Nigeria and, of course, the Brazilian protest movements. Is this the biggest mobilisation against a megaevent yet? Certainly puts contemporary London to shame. Solidarity with them. Makes me wonder how radical urbanism’s disparate global strands could unify.

2 – What are your expectations for the tournament?

Cagey, highly tactical football that makes the Isthmian League look like free-form free-love debauchery in comparison. Ever-repeated advertisements that make me want to take a screwdriver to my own eyes. A fair garnishing of leftover “Africa is a country” type horseshit. Plenty of chat about football’s unifying powers, quite possibly dribbled out by co-commentators who needed a police escort to get out of their hotel. At least one prominent tactics blogger flatlining halfway through a live webchat. And, last but not least, my indulgent pondering whether the pretentious johnny-come-latelies or the Dawkins-level-smug antifootballistas are more irritating.

3 – Who will win?

The team with the best attacking full backs, as has been the case for the last two decades (apparently). There you go, I’ve sneaked some tactics on here, for a laugh.

4 – Any surprises?

A zeppelin full of just-defrosted Hitler clones will land on the centre circle of the Maracanã at half-time in the final. “We were expecting the Boys from Brazil,” exclaims John Motson, “But this really is something else!” After a tense, nightmarish, epoch-straddling 15 minute stand-off the second half kicks off and the magical unifying power of football makes everything alright. So, no actual surprise then. Did I mention there’s also SS zombies with machine guns? Football!!

Robert Molloy-Vaughan

1 – Who are you following?

In those honeymoon first weeks of three games a day – everyone of course, even dear ol’ This Is Our Englund (ffs). But more specifically the West African bloc, the Islamic world teams (Iran, Algeria), a smattering of old Europe (usually Spain and Portugal hold my attention the most, and Bosnia this time), then quite a few of the Americas’ crowd like Mexico, Chile and the big two. Obviously anyone who’s either played for or is still playing for City. Luis Suarez is someone I’ll be following, in terms of focusing on his play. My purist, nay puritanical, ire is raised with this wrong’un and I reject the idea that I ‘have’ to like him just because he’s good, indeed having quite a heated argument about his merits a few weeks ago. These heated bantz were with people who conduct their football experience 95% through Sky tv and the papers and to them it’s all about performance, the endgame, the stat-attack, leaving little room for passion, bias, avidity, vaulting arguments. Still, Uruguayan progress to the quarters or beyond again will mean he’ll have actually unlocked some decent defences so I’ll be watching with interest, swearing at the TV as he goes. But the leniency showed to Neymar after his elbow last night suggested a desire to protect the tournament’s blockbuster names.

2 – What are your expectations for the tournament?

Football behind the barricades, tourists, the middle classes and the corporate set sheltered from the masses. Clearly we are approaching a point where disgust with Fifa’s colonising and corrupt ways, knowledge of top-level football’s use in the capitalist spectacle and the specific situation in Brazil could catalyse and precipitate major, sustained unrest. Protester deaths are likely. Someone has tried to rearrange Adrian Chiles’ face through pelted rocks already. But don’t be too surprised if this still fails to deliver major change – whether that’s things such as Sao Paulo sorting out its displaced citizens or making public transport affordable or ripping up and starting Fifa again. As the wider neoliberal consolidation that has been taking place for decades has shown, there is a depressing capacity for the system to ignore all reasonable demands, absorb all of the criticism and get on with it, business as usual (what’s bourgeois Brazilian-Portuguese for Keep Calm and Carry On?), maximising the displacement, terror, the loss of rights etc.

Football-wise, hopes of an African breakthrough (what, all of Africa, all at one time?) beyond the quarters look optimistic, but seeing someone like Chile or Belgium or even a relative minnow like Switzerland really perform and progress would be good. Hodgson is likely to only truly ‘have a go’ at teams when it is too late, but I’d like to be corrected and see Barkley, Sterling and Lallana (rather than Wazza, Welbz and Wilshere) all get substantial game time in a system that works for them.

3 – Who will win?

I want Argentina to win and ferry the trophy to a ceremony on the Malvinas but suspect they’ll bottle a late-stage knockout game. I register other SoTB writers’ doffing of the casquette to France, but suspect they don’t have enough quality to last. Brazil or Spain, probably.

4 – Any surprises?

Tabloids and broadsheets to pay more than lip service to the myriad geopolitical, racial, cultural factors underpinning performances and incidents? Don’t be silly. With so many of every country’s cream plying their trade in Europe’s top leagues, at times there may be a wearying familiarity to the Greatest Show on Earth. Standard tropes like Dutch wrangling and love for Germany despite its frequent failure are too embedded now. All this will require the standout moment of intensity, like Zidane’s headbutt or Schumacher’s assault, to take on a new level of unpredictability; the current situation may dictate that regarding any on-pitch moment as key to Brasil2014 rather than an off-field event like Blatter being lynched will look like escapism.

Murray W

You can follow Straight off the Beach on Twitter @S_ot_B and on Facebook.

 

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