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Friday, 6 December 2013

A Load of Balls

World cupping

It’s perhaps one of football’s greater ironies that FIFA spend a great deal of time trying to make the game produce more goals and excitement to the general detriment of draws, only to spend an inordinate amount of other people’s time and money on one that is so pointless and overblown that from an initial level of anticipation at the start, viewers are forced into to a general state of torpor and indifference by the close. A bit like this paragraph.

Like everything else remotely connected to football these days, the draw for the World Cup – or any cup, in fact – is now deemed worthy of televising. But the draw itself is now only an island of actual, tangible somethingness in an ocean of sponsorship, tax breaks, ball launches and the indulgence of Sepp Blatter’s everlasting television presenter/world statesman fantasies.

So the Brazil 2014 draw, like all the others, will largely be the Stoke-Cardiff of television events (possibly even more so than the actual television event of Stoke-Cardiff was). And nothing truly interesting will come to pass until some people unscrew some little balls and pull out a piece of paper on which the names of some countries that are quite good at football (and England) are written. Those countries will then play each other at football in June. Which, when you put it like that, isn’t really a very exciting spectacle at all is it.

Only it is. It IS exciting, because one of football’s most enduring strengths is anticipation. And anticipation is often WAY better than the actual event. I can testify to this because I once made one of my friends nearly have a heart attack when Amir Khan pulled a little ball with a number 12 on it out of a bowl on ITV on a Sunday night in 2006. Why? Because prior to that, Chelsea had been drawn at home in the FA Cup. And after that, it would be Macclesfield who would play them. And THAT is exciting. But then we lost 6-1. That wasn’t as exciting, obviously.

The World Cup is a slightly different bag of balls in that most fans are praying for an easy life through the group stages. England fans, in particular, have a peculiar obsession with squeaking through a mediocre group stage and getting outclassed in a one-off knock-out fixture shortly afterwards, with the nature of the country’s entire philosophy coming up for debate on a four-yearly cycle following 90 minutes of not playing very well against a much better football team.

But with the possibility a very real one that England could be paired with some shit hot teams in the group stage this time round due to being unseeded, coupled with the fact that, finally, the faint embers of the golden generation have almost been extinguished, anticipation levels do seem to be at an agreeable level of one part cynicism/two parts hoping for a group of death. Add in the fact the World Cup is in Brazil, which IS exciting, and even Blatter’s incessant casserole of nonsense won’t ruin this draw.

Rewind to December 4, 2009 to the last World Cup draw. At 19.54, the live timeline on the BBC blog pronounces: “Apparently, the odds on England winning the 2010 World Cup have been cut after the draw in Cape Town earlier today. Fabio Capello's men have moved ahead of Brazil in the list of favourites, and now only Spain are considered more likely to lift the trophy on Sunday 11 July.” And then they went and got shellacked by the Germans in Bloemfontaine and things changed. Not on the pitch – England had always flattered to deceive with the odd upwards blip taking place due to home advantage (1966, 1996) or a genuinely very good squad (1990) – but among even the most rancid of onions in the media. The sound of pennies dropping could be heard all the way back in Wapping.

Because no one with any sense expects England to win the thing next year, it might finally be an enjoyable experience supporting Roy’s boys in Brazil. And what could be more fun than seeing England defend valiantly and ultimately crash out to cries of “well we were up against the [insert Germans/Argies/Spanish/Brazilians]”. Actually, squeezing out of the group on goal difference would be pretty fun too. As would being spanked in all three games now we think about it. Win win, then.

But back to the draw itself. Right now, the draw IS the draw. Insomuch as staring at a freshly minted fixture list never fails to get the juices flowing (even when you support perennially though not exclusively shit teams, such as York City and Macclesfield Town as these two writers do), the outcome of today’s unscrewing of balls is going to be bloody brilliant no matter how the groups may fall because it’s a World Cup. In Brazil. And England aren’t among the favourites.

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