Documents have revealed that Russia’s bid to host the World Cup finals in 2018 was ‘rated worst for “threat and risk” out of the nations vying to host the tournament’ according to reports in the Telegraph last week. This might seem screamingly obvious now but back in the halcyon days of 2010, when Spain were completing football and Luis Suarez was still using his hands to commit baffling offences in the penalty area, the full gamut of FIFA’s ‘transparency issues’ had yet to be revealed and we were able to maintain a thin veneer of hope that our beloved game wasn’t as corrupt as it looked.
Events at Hotel Baur au Lac in Zürich in May 2015 and beyond disposed us of that notion for good. Quite honestly I’d prefer not to have to have an existential crisis over football, mainly because I’ve usually got five on the go at any given moment and another one will just be decoration. Watching 22 pairs of headphones running around a field chasing a bag of wind is the purest form of escapism for me and to see it adulterated by greed, politics, human rights abuses is heartbreaking. I had no idea how I would feel to see it unfold under Vladimir Putin’s supercilious smirk.
Turns out that’s what the opening ceremony is for. A palette cleanser if you will; the ceremonial equivalent of having to shower before hitting the water park. Get all the pompous dignitaries in a glass box, stuff ’em full of foie gras until they have to surreptitiously undo their belts, dress a bunch of people up in hugely flammable costumes and let Robbie Williams sing a song. His still gyrating, leopardskin clad frame being hauled off the pitch is the bat signal for football fans across the globe to turn on their TVs and set about the business of enjoying ourselves.
Unless you’re Saudi Arabia, obviously.
Russia’s poor form ahead of the tournament pushed pundits towards an optimistic outcome for The Falcons, who qualified ahead of Australia in their group, but Yuri Gazinsky put the hosts ahead after twelve minutes and never looked back. Saudi Arabia’s defence were rarely convincing and were ripped apart in the last twenty minutes, goals from Cheryshev, Dzyuba & Golovin rounding off a goal difference busting 5-0 victory that no one saw coming.
Group A’s other first round fixture, Egypt vs. Uruguay, promised much but was only a mildly diverting 0-1 with the two most notable faces largely absent from play. Those form fitting shirts are unforgiving at best and Luis Suarez’s waistline prompted more social media conversation than his contribution on the pitch. Surprising anyone noticed given that the cameras appeared to spend more time trained on Mo Salah’s sad bench face. His agent is reportedly agitating to get him in the side for Egypt’s crucial game vs. Russia, which our sources confirm has absolutely definitely nothing to do with the news that he might be going to Real Madrid in the summer.
Iran are currently sitting atop a Group B boasting Portugal, Spain and Morocco after a 1-0 win vs. the latter, which must be quite disappointing for Nike. The sportswear brand’s decision to comply with US sanctions against Iran by refusing to supply boots to their athletes means they have missed out on an excellent branding opportunity involving a song by an early eighties new wave band with phenomenal hair.
Still, they should be ok while they’ve got Cristiano on their books. The Portuguese has looked imperious in the build up to this tournament and if things continue to go this well for him, he may well end up being the only man capable of convincing esteemed Guardian writer Barney Ronay that fate plays a part in football. A 3-3 draw against Spain might not sound definitive but the apparent ease with which Ronaldo collected the man of the match award (not to mention his regular dealings with doctors of the dark arts) suggest a personal narrative is waiting to be fulfilled. I don’t know if Barry Glendenning was wearing a witch’s hat when Lionel Messi missed a penalty during Argentina’s 1-1 draw with Iceland, but if he wasn’t it was a missed opportunity.
Even my inexplicable feels for Antoine Griezmann & Paul Pogba’s bromance couldn’t compel me to support France in their early doors opener vs. Australia. But the Gallic contingent of the Hair Bear Bunch secured a 2-1 victory and the first proper row over Video Assistant Refereeing system, when it overturned the referee’s decision to allow play to continue after a foul on Griezmann by Australia’s Josh Risdon.
Denmark are joint leaders of Group D after their 1-0 victory against Peru while Argentina’s draw with Iceland sees them third in Group C and Croatia’s 2-0 defeat of Nigeria.
A big scalp is always collected in the group games and there’s bald mammoth wandering about the Germany camp this morning looking for its winter jacket. The world champions looked a shadow of their ruthlessly organised 2014 selves, repeatedly allowing Mexico to slice through their back line until the inevitable happened. At one point my co-watcher suggested Germany build a wall to prevent persistent forays into their section of the pitch and while I was inclined to admonish her for being facetious, having watched the game in full I fear she may have been right. Germany lost 1-0, Mexico are on top of the world (or at least the group, at time of writing) and I really, really hope Donald Trump was pissed off about it.
Also suffering from a mild case of vertigo are Serbia, who beat 1-0 Costa Rica on Sunday. Of course, no one* would care if a freshly coiffed Neymar and the Seleção (the name of my new band) hadn’t dropped points against Switzerland, but in football you have to grab the glory when you can.
Like the pundit, who, having cast an eye over the results of this first round of games, will inevitably warm up for England’s opener vs. Tunisia tonight by issuing the following remark:
“Well, the big boys are rocking, I think England have a chance of going all the way here.”
You read it here first, Effortistas.
*Editor’s note: someone would care.