There’s a lot to like about the World Cup, but what I enjoy most is the way it turns so many allegiances and friendships on their head. Players I spend the other three years and 10 months out of each four year cycle despising with every fibre of my being, suddenly become my heroes. Players I adore week in week out mysteriously morph into the bitter enemy. The strange bedfellows on Twitter amongst fans that form around national teams are also a joy to behold. Enemies become friends and friends become enemies. Juventus fans who spend most of their lives slagging Roma off are suddenly my favourite people. Romanisti who support other national teams can wound me with their anti Azzurri vitriol in ways that other fans can’t. I feel like screaming “I THOUGHT I KNEW YOU MAN!!!”
Apart from that, the World Cup is such a refreshing change to club football. It’s part of what makes following the game work for me long term. Without that change-up every once and a while, things would get stale and repetitive.
I have written about my relationship with this tournament many times before, so I don’t need to go back through the sordid history of Azzurri triumphs and disappointments that have shaped me as a football fan. All I’ll say is that what I have learned in my time as a dyed in the wool Italy supporter are the following World Cup truths: Things work in cycles – as the famous saying goes – one day you’re a rooster, the next you’re a feather duster – and above all, the world cup is about two things: tradition and luck. Tradition in the sense that this is not a tournament that a minnow can fluke their way into the winner’s circle of. Teams win finals because they are class acts and that’s why only eight different countries have ever won it – and the overwhelming chances are that this year’s winner will come from amongst that gang of eight (actually, probably seven because Uruguay haven’t won since 1950 and are sadly unlikely to ever do so again). Luck also plays its part because amongst those seven teams with the pedigree to win, which one emerges usually depends on large dollops of luck.
Having said all of that however, I would actually narrow that field of seven down even further – to three serious contenders in 2014, those being Brazil, Spain and Germany.
I rate Brazil’s chances for the simple fact that no European team has ever won a World Cup on American soil. They are the hosts, and despite the hype around Argentina I believe they are the only South American team capable of doing the business when it counts. Even though their squad is not the best they have ever put out, there’s no such thing as a bad Brazilian team and, playing in their home stadia, you would have to be a fool to rule them out.
Spain are obviously contenders because they have proven time and time again over the past six years, by winning every major tournament going, that they are an absolute machine and without a shadow of a doubt for me the best team in the world right now. If anybody can break the hoodoo of a European team winning in Brazil it’s them. As another saying goes, there’s a first time for everything, and they have already smashed the hoodoo that used to say Spanish teams always choke to pieces and then some.
With Germany, it’s a case of slow and steady wins the race. They have been a developing side for what seems like decades now, and it’s surely time for them to turn promise into delivery. They have the squad to do it and they play a lovely brand of football you never used to associate with German teams, mixing their traditional precision with lashings of creativity and flair. Dangerous combination! Make no mistake, Germany are very, very good. They’ll just be hoping they don’t come up against Italy, given they have never beaten us in a major tournament. We are their bogey team big-time. I’ll never, ever get tired of mentioning it either…
As for Italy’s chances, coach Cesare Prandelli said after the draw “When the media tell you it’s an easy group, that’s when you have to worry.” I can’t recall ever really seeing them in a group of death before, so that novelty in itself will be interesting. Is our problem really that we struggle with easy groups, or is it that we are just always slow starters? I suspect it’s more the latter. It’s part of the Italian mentality that we don’t win until we need to. When games don’t seem to matter we don’t seem to turn up. Then it turns out later that, “oops, it did matter – *shrug*”. I think Prandelli is doing a good job of trying to stamp that out of the team but time will tell.
I’m not overly confident that my beloved Azzurri will make it out of Group D, but one thing I do know, because it has been proven time and time again, is that it’s not the team playing well at the start of the tournament that wins, it’s the one playing well at the end. Italy’s squad is decent. If they do manage to get out of their group, expect them to kick on and be there or thereabouts… and maybe, just maybe, three contenders could become four… and four gold stars could become five…
There’s always hope. 🙂
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.