Saturday, July 01, 2006

FIFA World Cup 2006 – The Roller Coaster Ride

(Today’s essay is more of a personal take than any objective analysis of events happening.)

I am ecstatic even though only half of my quarter final predications are true. I was wrong about England and Brazil but no regrets. I am over moon for the scintillating play by the French team.

I do not feel bad about England. I mean here is Beckham – the guy cannot play full 90 minutes, what is the use? Probably he is just too ‘delicate’ for the rough and tumble of World Cup football. England missed so many plum chances. Rooney was too silly – hitting the player in groins! When it came to penalty kicks, one could tell these English players did not have any confidence, like lambs to butcher post! Their play was superior but the body language and the mental game was too poor. As usual it is the English fan who makes the hype and then they pay for that.

The real pleasure was to watch Brazil truly outplayed by France. This time around Europeans have nailed it down the so called ‘samba’ football (after 1982, the same quartet in semis except Portugal in place of Poland). What is not so attractive in European football? French passes were some times long and other times short; generally the attack was from flanks (as compared to the samba style of box facing ‘wave’ attack); footwork was excellent and by and large the game was clean. It was very impressive how Zidane and Henry were playing ‘clean’ football; with so less fouls.

My basic argument is about the way the whole Brazilian team was hyped. It is always hyped and this time was no exception. I mean they were more in their ‘past glory’ (should we say hubris?) and the world wide ‘samba’ enamored fan club did not help to bring that team to the earth. Too much hype, too much pride and really ‘too puffed up’ for their own good and in the end for the game. The inability of Ronaldo to cope up with the exigencies of this match summed up the whole situation. Did you notice the ‘booing’ of these stars in the final stages of the game? That is how bad it went for Brazilians.

I say not good for the game because as the Brazilian coach said after the match ‘it is shame that there is no South American team left in the world cup’. Imagine final World Cup is played among California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Or imagine Cricket World Cup is played among Mumbai, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Karnataka teams. That is how the current situation is - 3 small neighboring countries sharing borders (Germany, France and Italy) and the fourth one slightly at distance - is all left from around 120 plus countries playing football all over the world. Combined population of these 4 countries is 210 million and we have billions of people in rest of the world playing soccer. That is why it is shame that we have no other representation left in the World Cup. True, I am not under the illusion that FIFA system is full proof, but it is best what we have at the global scale. Hence it is reasonable to assume FIFA World Cup represents some approximate state of the game at a particular time point.

But I am glad because these 4 teams are there as a result their of good quality game. It has been very absorbing football and by and large it is a reasonable feeling that no one has reached this stage without being worthy. So shame or no shame, Europeans are bringing forth solid, entertaining football.

It will be interesting to watch what will be political fall outs of this World Cup. Generally it is not a good idea to read a political script in sports drama, but World Cup is gigantic affair, almost unrivalled by any other phenomenon. So I will hazard some political head winds while the Cup party is coming to the climax. Some of these come to mind are:

- This World Cup is good for Germany and really good for Angela Merkel. The sight of lady chancellor with both her hands up in the air due to excitement of Germany win is politically positive. The Beckenbaure led management of cup matches seems to be good so far.

- France had lousy 2005 year politically. Will this impressive performance by the French team help the country to bring some badly needed self assurance? It is noteworthy that the French Team full of immigrant roots putting a solid performance while French National Assembly passing a pro immigration bill. May be the French Football team would help the French society as a whole to loosen up little bit more about the perennial doubts about immigration.

- Since European domination clearly established at this World Cup; will it give fillip to the faltering ‘European’ project? Chances clearly look little better than start of the World Cup. This Cup is bound to generate the feeling of Europeans among those countries. So what has been hard for the politicians to achieve, the Cup seems have attained – fundamental sense of European belongingness.

- Third French victory over Brazil in World Cup matches may create potentially a new rivalry. Falkland wars sustained some high drama between England and Argentina for a while. Now it looks like a new rivalry is born. For a tactical reason Brazilian team might have gone into the match saying publicly that they were not looking for any revenge over France. But going forward is it possible for any Brazilian kid to get raised without the burning desire to defeat France? Doubtful.

- So what does it mean then Developing countries lead by Brazil threaten EU and USA about agriculture subsidies in WTO meeting in Geneva? France is the country with one of the highest agriculture subsidies. I am speculating whether football drama would have any impact in the attitudes of these delegates at WTO disputes.

- As FIFA gets more powerful in years to come, it is inevitable that it becomes part of global diplomacy tool for many world powers. FIFA is drawing so many countries together and with the successful marketing machine is able to generate the feeling of ‘unity’ among the entire human race – the basic job of politicians.

- Finally, only if Europe realizes how even FIFA is more effective that UN. Can UN learn something from FIFA? Of course at present it is FIFA’s moment to be under sun and so comparing it with UN at this time may be like apples to oranges. But still a thought comes to mind, are the ways UN can learn from FIFA to achieve its fundamental charter of brining humans together?

Umesh Patil
San Jose, CA 95111
July 1, 2006.

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