Without doubt football is the most popular sport in the world and it triggers emotions like no other. For instance, Honduras and El Salvador went to battle over the result of a World Cup encounter. This simple incident proved to the rest of the world the existence of the two nations that nobody knew about till then.
The power of football can also be underscored by the fact that in the US they have gone ahead and named —- despite copyright and commonsense violations — something that is mostly played with the hands as football. But that is America for you, for what is billed as the baseball World Series involves a world comprising Americans and roughly 32 Canadians. (Also, for the record, American football involves fights that are more bloody than the war that Honduras and El Salvador fought).
Getting back to soccer, the first edition of the World Cup was held in 1930 in Uruguay. Even at that time the qualification norm was pretty stringent: ‘Open only to countries that can find their way to Uruguay.’ The first few World Cups were played for the prestigious Jules Rimet Trophy, named after —- this is why sports is deemed so noble — the then FIFA president. And we think Sepp Blatter is venal.
An important trivia surrounding the Jules Rimet Trophy is that it was once stolen during a public exhibition in England in 1966. Since there was no trophy, the rest of the teams returned home, but eventually when the trophy was found, England, which hosted the tournament that year, was the only team left in the fray and was hence declared the winner.
As the soccer World Cup gets underway, we get underway with an inevitable column on soccer World Cup, where we trace the history and analyse the prospects of two preeminent countries of the sport, but without in any way providing a hint whether they will win the trophy this year or not. As a responsible column, we don’t believe in giving out spoilers.
It’s the land of Pele, Garrincha, Tostao, Zico, Socrates, Bebeto all remarkable in the world of soccer for their outstanding ability to play under names that have no connection to their original ones. To this day, more than his goals, it is a bigger surprise as to how anyone managed to cull ‘Pele’ out of a name like Edson Arantes do Nascimento. Probably if we had called someone like Chuni Goswami , I don’t know, Bappi, who knows India might have done better in the world of football.
Anyway, Brazil always travels to every World Cup as one of the favourites, but this time around it is going to be a tad different, mainly because it doesn’t get to travel what with the tournament being held in its own backyard. Otherwise, it’s still a favourite.
Prior to the tournament, there has been widespread unrest and protests in Brazil that the government was wasting a lot of public money in conducting the World Cup. Which is an inescapable fact. But what it also a fact is that, were it not for the World Cup, the Brazilian government would have wasted the same amount in something else. Because governments can’t be expected to any better, in Brazil or elsewhere.
When you talk of Brazil, you have to talk of its passionate fans, both men and women, and one look at them, especially the latter, you will realise why football has found no reason to introduce cheerleaders.
This is another country where football is seen close to religion. But in Italy everything is. And that is because Vatican is practically next door.
The national football team is known to the world as Azurri from the Italian word for ‘blue’ which is the colour that the players wear. Sometimes, the Italian team also turns out in striped whites and on those occasions too they are called Azurri proving that these things are just a matter of pointless fancy but given a romantic mystique by hopeless fans and the even more hopeless media.
Italy didn’t participate in the first edition of the World Cup due to the fact the local gondoliers demanded a huge amount to row all the way to Uruguay. But Italy won the 2nd edition of the World Cup by the simple common sense stratagem of having it held in its own soil. The quarter-finals was competed only by European nations as the South American nations if they had stayed any longer would have had to miss the ship back home.
In terms of playing ability, Italians bring to the field the robustness of Europe, the flair of Latin America, the cunning of Asia, the stamina of Africa and the important ability to rile the opponents, which quality we of course know from cricket, belong to Australia.
And Italy ….peeeeeeeep!
Oh ho, that’s the long whistle for this week’s column, and also the signal for you to go watch some actual football involving possibly Honduras and realise that as a country it’s still around. But we aren’t so sure about El Salvador.