On June 14th, the World Cup kicks off in Brazil. The host nation is favored to win the tournament; they have one of the world’s best players in Neymar, they have a coach who has already won the World Cup in Luiz Felipe Scolari, and they have the support of nearly two hundred million passionate fans. The World Cup is arguably the biggest sporting event in the world. Even so, some of us may need to learn some of the history and pick up some tips to be able to join in the bar conversations over the next month of football.
When Ruben Lopez was younger he played in the Spanish Segunda Division, the second highest league in Spain. Now he lives in Dongguan and sits at the end of the bar talking about Spain’s chances. Until they won the Euros in 2008, Spain was the best football team never to have won a major tournament. Since then, they have won the World Cup and retained the Euros. “In 2008, we changed the way we played football. We started to pass the ball.” As Ruben speaks, the others around the table nod approvingly.
The Spanish side is as strong as it has ever been and Ruben believes that Barcelona’s Andres Iniesta will be as influential as he was in the 2010 final where he scored the winner.
Despite this, history books are not on Spain’s side. No team has won back to back World Cups since Brazil in 1962, and no European team has ever won the World Cup in South America. This summer, Spain is determined to tear up the history books.
When Ruben Lopez was younger he played in the Spanish Segunda Division, the second highest league in Spain.
Argentine Federico Pollak sits at the other end of the bar checking the menu while Ruben talks. When asked what Argentina’s weakness is, he answers, “Our only weakness is that bad luck exists.” The others burst out laughing, but Federico has many reasons to be cocky.
They have one of the easiest groups in the tournament. They will play all their games in the cooler climate in the south. If that’s not enough, they also have Lionel Messi; the best player in the world.
This year is a chance for Argentina to win the World Cup in Brazil. As Franco, Federico’s Argentine friend, puts it, “To win the World Cup in Brazil would be like winning ten World Cups!”
Englishman Alain Zurcher grew up playing against a young Emile Heskey, who he would later watch play in the World Cup. For Alain, watching England at the World Cup has been one disappointment after another, beginning with the quarter final against Argentina at the World Cup in 1986.
Alain and Federico were only kids when Argentina beat England 2-1. Federico remembers Diego Maradona’s goal dribbling past five players. Alain remembers the ‘Hand of God,’ a goal scored by Maradona’s hand. Nearly thirty years later, they still talk about it.
Like many England fans, however, Alain is excited by the young squad heading to Brazil, in particular Ross Barkley. The Everton midfielder has scored some sensational goals this season, leading to comparisons to Paul Gascoigne, the great but troubled midfielder of the 1990s.
Alain believes the youngsters will play attacking football. They may not win the World Cup, but it could be the first step towards an exciting future.
As David Muniz drinks a beer, he reminiscences about how his beloved Italy won the World Cup in 2006, just months after the Calciopoli match fixing scandal that rocked their domestic league.
The Italians should never be written off. David believes Italy’s strength is psychological. “The Italians know they can win. They have the history,” he said.
Nicolas pinpoints Franck Ribery as why France could be champions, and as why they could crash out.
When asked about Italy’s key man, David answers without hesitation, “Andrea Pirlo.” Across the table, Ruben nods respectfully and adds, “The Architect.” Pirlo may now be 35, but the midfielder can still control the biggest games. If Italy is to have a good World Cup, Pirlo must have a good World Cup.
Nicolas Clerget sits at the bar wearing a Paris Saint Germain jersey. He is superstitious about France’s chances at the World Cup. “In 1998 we were champions and in 2002 we were terrible. In 2006 we were runners up and in 2010 we were a disaster,” he muses. “So in 2014 we must be champions again.”
Nicolas pinpoints Franck Ribery as why France could be champions, and as why they could crash out. Ribery is the stereotypical French footballer—arrogant, selfish, and brilliant. In a squad of young players, Ribery is a calculated risk.
Ultimately, Nicolas thinks the World Cup has come too soon for the French. He shrugs his shoulders as he explains, “France are like a patient released from hospital. We are no longer sick, but we are still not strong enough.”
In 2010, Sander Bakkum was in a bar in Hong Kong watching the World Cup final between Netherlands and Spain. Four years later he laughs bitterly when he recalls leaving the bar after the match and seeing a car drive past with the Spanish flag waving out the window.
Even though Sander believes new players like Jordy Clasie can make an impact at this tournament, the squad going to Brazil is not as strong as that which went to South Africa. Sander, however, is not worried. “We have Louis Van Gaal,” he answers with a grin.
The Dutch manager is considered a genius by some and compared to Hitler by others. “He sees something in a player that other coaches do not. He finds ways to play that have not been found yet,” says Sander.
Van Gaal will become the Manchester United manager after the tournament, but there is no doubt he will want to start his new job having won the World Cup.