Posts tagged: world cup

Who Really Cares About International Football?

By , September 6, 2011 1:04 pm

The three month long wait over the summer for the Premier League to begin sometimes felt excruciating. Weekend mornings were dulled and it became difficult to fill the empty space. And as much as I enjoyed a very entertaining final few games in the women’s World Cup, as well as the Copa America (despite the commentary being in a language I couldn’t understand), it just wasn’t the same. It was only on August 13 that everything felt right with the world. As the season began with as many plot lines as there are super stars now at Man City, it was once again put on hold for a few international qualifiers coupled with a handful of friendlies. Seriously, is this really necessary?

I love the World Cup and the Euros as much as the next crazed football fan, but I could certainly live a happy life never having to watch the national teams play otherwise. I used to enjoy international football, even friendlies, because it was exciting to see how each country was shaping up, and when Liverpool’s players were playing, it provided even more incentive for interest.

Now I really don’t care. Whenever one of these ridiculous international breaks come up, I pray to the football Gods that none of Liverpool’s players get injured (and perhaps a cheeky prayer that some of the opposition players do). All we ever seem to see after an international break is players limping off the field after the manager promised not to play them too long, accompanied by poor results in the league that following weekend.

I just can’t seem to wrap my head around the placement of these international breaks. Although due to unfortunate circumstances, many English players dodged a bullet not having to play a friendly THREE days before the Premier League began. Who on earth decided that was a good time to send these players away to play international friendlies? And I’d love to know the genius who decided that not only would it be great to have internationals a few days before the season kicks off, but again in three weeks time.

You see, momentum is a strange thing. Games can change in an instant and certain events occur in a split second that swing momentum in a positive direction. I think most Liverpool fans, as well as Manchester United, Manchester City, and even Wolves fans would agree that momentum was building for their clubs after the first three games of the season. To halt that momentum with a two week break where club managers have to entrust national team ones with the health of their best players is far from ideal.

I can’t even count how many times Benitez reluctantly handed over Steven Gerrard and Daniel Agger to England and Denmark respectively, and was in turn handed back a broken midfielder and center back. It’s gotten to the point that managers have started to beg and plead with their players not to play in these games unless it is absolutely crucial.

Steven Gerrard Has Been Injured Countless Times Playing For England

And friendlies? Give me a break (no pun intended). Friendlies need to be played with younger or second string international players, or at least with the first choice players not playing the full ninety minutes.

And more to the point, who exactly is watching these international games? Unless it’s a major tournament, who really cares how well San Marino play against Uzbekistan in a friendly?

That’s not to say there aren’t big national team followings, and there are a lot of football fans who only follow international games. I am in no way discrediting their passion or nationalistic pride.

But at the end of the day, these players are not paid by England, or Argentina, or Denmark. They are paid by and extremely important to their club teams and it has become a shambles how distraught the relationship between club and country has become. Club managers no longer have any faith in the respective national team setups and are constantly forced to make changes when players come back injured.

I have two suggestions to rectify the pestilence that is the international break.

Number One: Qualifying for major tournaments happens over ONE period of a few weeks each season. Qualifying becomes almost a mini-tournament in itself and teams are seeded to allow the teams to play as few games as possible.

Number Two: The qualifying games are to be played during the summer, or during a winter break. Now it’s true that at this moment in time, England does not have a winter break, but perhaps they should. This would give players a much needed rest during the year, and give the opportunity for international games to be played without disrupting the leagues when the season is in full swing. Players and managers in the UK have long advocated for a winter break as it seems pretty successful in other European leagues.

Even if both suggestions were combined and some qualifiers were played during the summer, and the other ones played during the winter, it would help the leagues, help the players, and perhaps even attract more fans to the international games.

I think more than anything that club fans have started to despise these breaks because they come at such awkward times in the year. Maybe the love for international football would return if it wasn’t thrust upon fans at the worst possible times in the football calendar.

And even more to the point, what do fans and players alike value more, international level football or the Champions League? The Champions League has become such a massive tournament every year that many value its importance and difficulty to win as the holy grail as opposed to winning the World Cup. Playing in the Champions League has become the pinnacle for footballers as so many made abundantly clear upon their transfers in the last couple of years. If you’re not in the Champions League, you don’t have a hope in hell of signing top class players. Liverpool have certainly had to learn this lesson the hard way.

Even so, a lot of players still take a lot of pride in playing for their national team, and that’s great to see. Spaniards, Uruguayans, Brazilians, and the Dutch all take enormous pride playing for their national team, whereas English players see it as more of a hinderance. This is evident in how these countries perform on the world stage and the attitude the players bring to the team.

So what is the solution? For better or worse, international football is one side of the game as a whole and the club vs. country row will continue forever. The only way forward is for FIFA and each country’s domestic league to come up with a better system in which to balance both sides of the footballing coin. And no matter what they come up with, it has to be better than what there is now.

Goodbye Old Friend

By , July 12, 2010 1:12 pm

Spain Win The World Cup

The World Cup is an extraordinary 64 games in a four-week span. So much football in what seems like a massive span of time. Yet the competition went in a flash and suddenly a new winner is crowned and the glorious world tournament is over for another four years. There is a feeling of slight depression when saying goodbye to this old friend, that stops by but once every four years. They leave you in a state of awe, sadness, surprise, joy, and most of all, hungry for more. It’s a cruel, cruel way to come and go, but alas, this is what we love about the beautiful game’s most prestigious tournament.

You could say many things about this World Cup, but in the end, it was a tournament of firsts. South Africa became the first African nation to host a World Cup, and they put on a brilliant show. People all over the world were opened up to a new culture and vibrant people who were as enthusiastic about football as any other great footballing nation around. The crowds were full of energy, and supported their home countries, as well as the other African nations all the way to the bitter end when Ghana were overcome by Uruguay.

It was also the first time the host nation went out of the tournament at the group stage. It wasn’t for lack of trying, South Africa had a splendid start against Mexico and earned a well-deserved 1-1 draw, but they capitulated to a very strong Uruguay side. Their win against France was a nice way to go out, but may have been overlooked due to France’s ultimate display of atrociousness.

Spain, the victors, proudly walked away with the World Cup trophy for the first time in its nation’s history. Not only did they win the final, but they made it to the semifinals for the first time as well. And not only that, but they also were the first European team to win the cup outside of Europe. To go on such a run as they did, and beat Germany in the semifinal, you had to think this was their tournament to lose. That being said, if the Dutch had overcome this resilient Spanish side, they would have also been declared winners for the first time in their history as well.

Wesley Sneijder Dejected After Holland Lose The Final

The World Cup 2010 was not just a time for firsts, but also for surprises. Massive footballing nations bowed out of the competition at much earlier stages than anyone had anticipated. And it’s not even to say they were beaten by far better teams. One of the major stories at this year’s World Cup has to be the way many teams performed well below par. You could name a handful of countries including favorites Brazil and Argentina, as well as England, France, Italy, Ivory Coast, and Portugal that crashed out. The stars on these teams all have a lot to answer for as many of them left the tournament embarrassed and disgraced.

It wasn’t all roses, though. France deserves some kind of medal for being the most deplorable side in attendance. Raymond Domenech should be ashamed of himself and his team for putting on such a ridiculous World Cup campaign. You could argue they had no right to be there after Henry’s “Hand of God,” but to play their games with such a poor spirit and lack of respect was a shame. Many other countries would have been happy to take France’s place.

Only A Yellow? Poor Refereeing Calls Made The Headlines In South Africa

There’s no way to talk about this World Cup without mentioning the officiating. The refereeing has got to be one of the most abysmal displays at a World Cup to date. What started off strong in the first few group games slowly turned into a nightmare for the tournament’s referees and FIFA. Too many red cards and important, game-changing plays missed by the officials cost teams dearly when the stakes were incredibly high. Lampard’s well over-the-line goal and Tevez’s clear offside have to be two of the biggest mistakes. And of course, who could forget the perfectly good goal-that-never-was for the USA against Slovenia to win the game 3-2. The USA still topped their group, but it made their last game a must-win in the end. The sad thing is, despite these easily correctable offenses, Sepp Blatter and his gang of misfits don’t seem intent on fixing things anytime soon. Knowing them, we’ll be watching the ball cross the line and waved off at the next World Cup in 3-D, but still with no goal-line technology.

I suppose football wouldn’t be football but for all the ups and downs. When all is said and done, it was an engrossing tournament. Full of shocks, headlines, referring decisions, star names (new and old), and in the end, it exploded with footballing wonder as only the World Cup can produce. It’s a shame we have to wait so long to meet again, but as they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder. Goodbye old friend, until we meet again in Brazil.

Why Holland Could (Should) Go On To Win Their First World Cup

By , July 2, 2010 1:23 pm

Dirk Kuyt and Mark van Bommel Celebrate Their Win

Holland beat Brazil in the World Cup quarterfinals. A masterful display, some might say. Not many people had picked Holland to progress through to the semifinals, but there you have it; the beautiful game at its best, with all kinds of twists and turns. What made the game great was not just that Holland won, but also the way that they won. The Dutch were down 1-0 only ten minutes in against the mighty Brazil, the team ranked number one in the world and favorites to win the competition for a 6th time. Most teams would have capitulated and Brazil would have wiped the floor with them, but Holland never gave up.

Although Wesley Sneijder was rightfully chosen as man of the match, the Dutch keeper Maarten Stekelenburg must be given a huge amount of credit. When Brazil was on the front foot after Robinho’s goal gave them the early lead, Kaká took a wicked curling shot from just outside the box, which Stekelenburg parried. A brilliant, and perhaps game changing save. At 1-0 down, Holland always had a chance to come back. At 2-0, you’d feel that Brazil was on their way to the semis.

Let’s be honest, some amount of luck fell the Netherlands’ way. Sneijder wanted to take credit for the excellent ball he swung in that nestled into the back of the net to make it 1-1, but it was the slight touch off of Felipe Melo’s head that deceived the goalkeeper. The midfielder unwittingly let Holland back into the game, and in the end, they really made their own luck. Suddenly the momentum switched allegiance. Holland attacked with intent and Brazil, for the first time in the tournament, looked afraid.

Wesley Sneijder Scores The Winning Goal For Holland

In the 67th minute, the floodgates opened for Holland. With another good cross and a pristine header by Dutch maestro Sneijder, Holland came back from 1-0 down to take the lead 2-1. Grolsch must have been hitting the roof of every bar in Holland. And within six minutes, Brazil fell apart. Melo fouled Robben, and in his frustration stomped on the winger’s thigh to earn himself a shiny red card and an early shower. After his assist to give Brazil the opening goal, Melo went from hero to villain by first committing the own goal, then getting a red card and leaving his trailing team a man down. He is perhaps the most hated man in Brazil at the moment.

The last 15 minutes of the game were tense, to say the least. But the Dutch kept their cool, and Brazil were the ones to capitulate in the end; tears of joy from Holland, tears of sorrow for Brazil. It has to be said that although they were favorites, they didn’t come up against a team as strong as Holland before the quarterfinals. North Korea put up a noble fight, the Ivory Coast played too cautiously overall, and Portugal, with the exception of their 7-0 thumping of North Korea, looked a dim version of the team they should be. Chile looked bright in the group stages, but Brazil easily wiped them aside. Holland, however, blocked their paved road to the semis by putting on a rugged and heartfelt display.

Brazilian Playmaker Kaka Walks Off The Field Dejected

This is a quarterfinal win that speaks volumes about this Dutch team and the World Cup overall. They are the country that almost every football fan can agree are the best team to have never actually won a World Cup. Winning from a position of being behind against a team like Brazil is brilliant enough, but Holland must see this as their golden opportunity to finally win the prize that has eluded their talented team for decades. Sneijder, who has been a revelation for his country, scored the winner and is probably counting the minutes until he can take the pitch once more next week. Holland have the talent, the tactics, the confidence, and all the momentum going forward. They not only could win this World Cup, they absolutely should win it.

Holland Supporters Celebrate

Beyond The Hand Of God

By , June 23, 2010 6:22 pm

Diego Maradona, Manager of Argentina

I have to say, I like this Argentina team. I’ve never been a particular supporter or proponent of the Argentineans before, but something about this team merits my attention and admiration. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that I happened to be in a bar full of football supporters, from all different countries, when Argentina had their do or die qualifying match against Peru back in October of 2009. The energy was electric and the game was incredible to watch. Astonishingly, Argentina had not done well in qualifying up to this point. They left it late into the rounds before finally securing their, some might say “rightful place” in the World Cup. The game was played under heavy rain and Argentina remained at 1-1 into the dying minutes. Commentators were practically writing obituaries of Argentina manager Diego Maradona as they scrutinized the last few moments of the match. As the rain poured down in injury time, 36 year-old Martin Palermo of Boca Juniors sprang into action and scored the winning goal. While it was not the match that completely clinched qualification, it was a match they could not afford to drop points in and the rest is history.

Nine months later, Argentina arrived in South Africa ready to be taken very seriously. But before they even had a chance to kick a ball in anger, pundits were writing them off. ‘Do so at your peril,’ I thought. The obvious choices of Spain, Brazil, and Germany were on the lips of journalists as favorites to win, but I believed that there was something special brewing in this Argentina side. Despite their somewhat wobbly qualification, they endured and most likely cemented an incredible team spirit through their trials en route to South Africa. And while no one ever completely writes off Argentina, there was less confidence in this team than in previous years.

Many saw Diego Maradona as a liability rather than an asset. Not Argentinean supporters of course, who believe the man is God incarnate, but rather the objective football fan. Understandably, Argentina sees Maradona with rose-colored glasses, but even they can admit the man has not had the most illustrious past. Despite his football acumen, his struggles with drugs and weight have hit the headlines more in the past 15 years than his playing prowess. But all credit to him; in the last few years he cleaned himself up, had an operation to help with his weight gain issues, and re-emerged in Argentina as a respected football pundit. He was handed the illustrious reigns of managing his country in 2008, and no one in Argentina would think to argue the choice.

The man knows glory, and lucky for him, he has a squad brimming with talent. To say, “the next Maradona” is now studying under him wouldn’t be much of a stretch. Lionel Messi, at the young age of 22 (he turns 23 tomorrow) is perhaps the most prolific player in the world since El Diego. His touch is mesmerizing and after a season where he scored 34 goals for Barcelona, no one would dare disagree with his standing as best in the world. And yet, Argentina still has an embarrassment of riches to call on other than the pint sized forward. You could start with the man Maradona famously used when describing his team, “My team is Mascherano and ten others.” The combative midfielder doesn’t posses the grace and skill of some his compatriots, but what he lacks in style, he makes up for in pure aggression. Add to that Gonzalo Higuain, Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero, Maxi Rodriguez, and Martin Dimichelis, and you’ve got one good looking squad. Maradona was so blessed he was even able to leave behind veterans Zanetti and Cambiasso and take instead Juan Veron and Martin Palermo.

Now we come back full circle to Palermo. Some were shocked at the player’s inclusion, even after his extraordinary goal in qualifying. As one of only six players playing their club football in Argentina, Palermo was a man Maradona was not leaving behind. And yesterday, against Greece in their final group match of the World Cup, Maradona was proved right. Rather than sure things up at the back with a 1-0 lead in tact, Maradona put Palermo in at the end of the game to go out and score another. He did just that. Palermo poached a goal and in the celebrations after, his entire team came running over to him. Maradona jumped into the arms of one of his staff on the sidelines, unable to contain his excitement.

This moment epitomized Argentina so far in this World Cup. They are a unit, banded together and there for each other on the pitch. Maradona’s wild enthusiasm and the love he shows for his players go beyond the typical relationship of a manager and his squad. Maradona didn’t pick players based solely on reputation and name, he picked the players he believed in with the conviction that they will return the favor with performances. And not necessarily performances that are only sensational blowouts, but performances with heart. This is the first team in South Africa to look as if they are truly enjoying themselves. And a lot of the credit must be given to Maradona, the man many believed to be the team’s major liability. Before the tournament, I believed Argentina would win the World Cup, or at the very least go far, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. Now I know. It’s not just the talent, but the spirit Maradona and his 23 men have that will see this team reach great heights, in this World Cup and beyond.

Group H And How They’ve Changed The Tournament… For The Better

By , June 16, 2010 1:17 pm

Switzerland Midfielder Gelson Fernandes Scores The Only Goal To Defeat Spain

It’s midday and so ends the final game of the first round of the group stage in the World Cup; a game that has completely turned the competition on its head.  No one expected it, no one predicted it, and I doubt many can even believe it.  Spain, 2nd in the world rankings, a team heavily favored to win the tournament, were humbled 1-0 by Switzerland, a team with no real recognizable players and ranked a lowly 24th coming into this game.  Shock, awe, and bewilderment surrounded this final round one game as Spain now have it all to do in their remaining two group stage matches.

All credit must go to Switzerland in the end.  They defended astonishingly well despite Spain having 74% of the possession.  I’m not one to focus solely on stats, but the results of this game are something to note.  Spain had a walloping 25(5) shots (on goal) to Switzerland’s 9(2), the Swiss committed 19 fouls and collected four yellow cards in their attempts to thwart The Red Fury, and Spain and Real Madrid keeper Iker Casillas had but one save to make.  It’s also worth mentioning how Switzerland have an excellent record of not conceding a goal since the previous World Cup, and once more extended that record today.  Watching the game as a Spain supporter must have been torture as they produced an attacking display to rival the best in the world, but for all their mesmerizing movement, talent on the pitch, and plethora of chances, a goal eluded them in the end.

The kickoff previous to this enthralling match was between the other Group H contenders, Honduras and Chile.  These two Central and South American teams, respectfully, were pretty evenly favored at the start.  And while most viewers who weren’t fans of either team watched the match merely to kill time until Spain kicked off, this ended up being quite the exciting encounter.  Chile took it to Honduras from the first whistle, and never stopped going at them throughout the match.  Chile scored a somewhat lucky goal, not unlike many other countries so far in the tournament, but one thing they did no one else has yet to do was continue to attack and aggressively achieve the win.  I want to say a special thank you to both Honduras and Chile for finally giving this competition what it needed: a desire to win. I’m speaking to you Portugal, Ivory Coast, and England.  These two teams went out onto the pitch accepting nothing less than a victory and they put everything into the game to make sure of it.  This particular World Cup has yet to win over many viewers, casual and die-hard alike, due to the fact that the games have been far too cagey.  Teams are so petrified of losing that they forget why they’re in the finals in the first place: to win.

That being said, every team in Group H proved why the World Cup is such an intense and fascinating tournament.  Just when it looked as though predictability would be the big winner in South Africa, a game or two comes along to smack a little sense into the contest.  And that’s exactly what the competition needed at this point.  Some of the games have been so tepid that they’ve lulled many into ennui already.  Granted, it is still only the group stage, but for football fans and especially for casual viewers of the game, we demand action, as these are supposedly the most dexterous players and teams in the world.  As one door shuts, another one opens.  The first round of the group stage ends, and we can all agree that it held few surprises, but just as we assumed this would be the way forward, four teams made quite sure it wouldn’t be.

A Tale Of Two Countries

By , June 14, 2010 4:28 pm

England Keeper Green Makes A Howler

Team USA Celebrates The Draw

Where to begin when discussing the England vs. USA World Cup match. For a game with few goals and overall little action from each team on the pitch, there could easily be a novella written in response to the game, which enraptured so many from both sides of the pond. That the game induced such a polarized response from each country was astounding. What was seen as a massive disappointment in the English camp for not producing a win they should have easily attained was conversely seen as a monumental triumph to the USA. How can two such disparate opinions be used to reflect the same 1-1 draw? In an attempt to answer this, let’s take a look at both sides.

For England, before the game even began and the team lineups were announced, there were definitely some raised eyebrows. Two things struck me immediately. One, where was David James? I think it’s safe to say that while James has had his “calamitous” moments for England, he’s still the most experienced and trust worthy keeper they have, surely the best bet to be in goal in what was always going to be a cagey match. Instead, Robert Green, a very good keeper despite having a somewhat mixed season at West Ham, was the starter between the posts. An interesting choice by Capello, but not a total shock. And two, young winger James Milner was on the left wing, a position I questioned who would fill before the start of the game. Despite the piqued interest the lineup brought, I decided to have faith in the manager, and especially applauded his choice of Milner over Joe Cole. While Joe Cole is one of England’s most creative players, he’s been injured off and on for almost two seasons and Milner has shown vast improvements in his game over the same period of time.

Even with a strong lineup, there was doubt in the team selection, and trust me, the English don’t need much of a reason to have doubts about their team, so much so that winning the World Cup wouldn’t quell them all. But even with those doubts, you felt a sense of confidence in Capello and his strategy. Conversely, you had the USA team. And, unlike England, the USA doesn’t need much of a reason to get behind their team. They felt confident in their manager, Bob Bradley, who proved that the USA can not only compete in the world of football, they can win, as their infamous win over Spain showed. Nevertheless, England were still highly favored to get the job done and after four minutes, with influential captain Steven Gerrard scoring, you felt it would be a day of vindication for England and a way to silence their own supporters’ ever-present doubts.

Five minutes before half time and once again, it was the England fans who felt vindicated as Green committed a howler to end all howlers. He fumbled what should have been a simple save and the USA went delirious with joy. The game continued for another 50 minutes, with neither team making much of a push to win and it ended in a 1-1 stalemate. England, perhaps as usual, started the game brightly with a lot of cut and thrust, as well as an early goal. They ended it, perhaps as usual, with a whimper rather than a bang. Despite Green’s massive mistake, England made no real effort to win. Golden boy Wayne Rooney was nonexistent, Milner was substituted after 30 minutes for being ineffective, and Ledley King came off injured at the half. A great wave of disappointment certainly washed over the England camp, even though they got what some would see as a respectable result.

On the other side, the USA celebrated as if they had just won the World Cup. They defended well, created some chances, and in the very American tradition of seeing the glass half full, they saw their team’s lucky draw as proof they can come up against the best teams in the world and walk away with a result. In some ways, I can see their point. This is a team who not so long ago were always amongst the lowest rated in the world, yet they recently beat Spain and now have an important draw against England in the World Cup under their belt. All credit to them feeling a great sense of accomplishment, but I’m afraid this really wasn’t much more than England living up to their reputation of bottling it when the pressure is on.

On The Eve Of The World Cup

By , June 11, 2010 6:32 pm

This morning I woke up with a sense of anticipation. I didn’t celebrate Christmas as a child, but I imagine this is the feeling kids have when they awake on that winter holiday. But today, the moment my brain re-entered consciousness, the emotions rushed over me as I realized… tomorrow, the World Cup begins. The day before an event like the World Cup is almost greater than the actual tournament. Everything is before you, clean and hermetically sealed in its pretty pre-tournament package, where dreams can still manifest and anything is possible.

Four years is a long time, and yet if feels as if no time has passed since the last World Cup. Germany 2006 was a grand competition, full of excitement and controversy.  In fact, it probably comprised the most controversial moment in recent sports history as Zinedine Zidane gave new meaning to the phrase “use your head” in a sporting context. The tournament began with a bang as host Germany’s Philipp Lahm scored a blinder to let everyone know how and why this is the biggest event on the planet. That was the moment I woke up and knew just how special this tournament is.

After an immensely heated and controversial final, I took all the pleasure I experienced over the previous four weeks and locked it into my memory. “Until next time” I told myself. Next time is finally here and once again I get to escape my life and enjoy something so visceral that there are no words to describe it. Granted, this is how I feel about football in general. My club team brings fourth a fire from inside me that I didn’t even know existed until I met them. I love, I hate, I cry, I smile, I scream, I cheer, I throw things. Over the years, many an innocent pillow has been hurled violently at the TV. But for every pillow, there’s been ten times as many jubilant wails. The pure elation, as mentioned earlier, is utterly indescribable.

The last World Cup revealed to me that this feverish enthusiasm was not, as I had previously thought, reserved solely for my club team, but for the country I supported as well. Sadly, they met their World Cup maker in the form of Portugal in the quarter-finals. After an intense penalty shoot-out in which I was poised rigidly in front of the television, I fell to my knees and began to cry. I don’t cry often, and I never dreamed I would be the type of person to cry over sports, but there I found myself, alone and shedding tears for a country that I loved and whose dreams I just witnessed shatter to pieces.

Again, fast forward four years. Despite my own life changing dramatically, the love I felt for my team the day they were knocked out is still very prevalent and raring to go. The butterflies in my stomach continue to flap their wings every time I think about the moment the first whistle is blown in South Africa. My team don’t kick off until Saturday, but tomorrow I will be tuned in and shut off to the outside world as soon as the tournament tells me it’s time to begin. I arose this morning with a fraught feeling of anxiety, and continued my day wondering what the next four weeks will bring to my life. Tonight, as I lay my head on a pillow that will more than likely be launched at the TV in the coming weeks, I can rest easy. Rest easy in the knowledge that I am on the precipice of witnessing the greatest sporting event of all time, with the whole of the world watching over my shoulder. This is the feeling that I want to hold on to, and the one I will remember fondly as the next World Cup rears its beautiful head in another mere four years time.

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