The World Cup, the moveable feast is upon us. I can’t remember JFK in Dallas, though I do recall the newsflash about Bobby in California in 1968. And I certainly remember Mexico 1970. This was football as art, and no other World Cup has lived up to its splendor. Brazil, the winners, were majestic, imperious, they passed the ball with their heels, dummied, chested and stroked it with finesse. Heavens, they smiled as if they were enjoying themselves. They even passed the ball with the outside of their foot, instead of the instep, ensuring it didn’t rise and stayed on the grass. This was not for cosmetics. Mexico City is situated at an altitude of a lung-testing 7,200 feet. An in-stepped-hit ball will rise quicker as there is less atmospheric pressure bearing down on it. A ball hit with the outside of the foot tends to stay down. They even looked the part, effervescent in their yellow shirts and blue shorts that seemed to sum up their colorful give-it-a-go-attitude. This was a banquet. Other World Cups have been a hurried sandwich or bowl of noodles. Mexico in the summer of 1970 was a gourmet feast.
Four years later in West Germany, it was vorsprung durch technik, as German organization stifled Dutch flair. In 1978, Argentina, with their high-octane, penalty-box passing, again accounted for the men in orange. The Italians won in 1982, against the West Germans. However, the Brazilians captured our hearts and evoked memories of ’70 but were unable to seal the deal. A Maradona-inspired Argentina did it again in 1986 but then 1990. Oh dear! The West Germans, about to be united, won a drab final against the land of the gauchos. The match should have been essential viewing for those suffering from insomnia. A missed penalty by the Italians ensured the Brazilians won in the United States in 1994 but they were not a patch on the 70 or even 82 sides.
France in 1998 surprised everyone, including themselves, and Brazil crumbled in the final. And so to Japan and South Korea in 2002, the first co-hosted tournament. Brazil beat the now united Germans but the final was a drab affair. Four years later the Italians won the tournament with the final being remembered more for a Zinedine Zidane head-butt than the actual football.
South Africa in 2010 saw the Spanish finally win the tournament but there was little on show to fire up the imagination. In 2014, Germany became the first European team to win the World Cup in the Americas. The main talking point was the implosion of host country Brazil in the semi-final when they let in seven goals against the Germans.
What surprises are in store over the next month? Arguments over disallowed goals, penalty appeals turned down and unpunished fouls will no doubt be a feature of everyday conversation among those who normally don’t let such matters intrude on their daily lives. The World Cup unites the globe like no other sporting event. It allows a man who has seen more World Cups than he will, reminisce about a glorious summer in 1970 when players like Pele, Gerson, Jairzinho, Carlos Alberto and a goalkeeper called Felix became immortal in the memories of those privileged to see them