The World Cup is nigh!

June 10, 2014 • 1:53 pm

The World Cup starts in two days! If you’ve either been in Mongolia or are an American, you might not know that it’s being played in Brazil, and that the first match is between Brazil and Croatia on Thursday.  I don’t know how I’ll be able to watch it (though I fully intend to) and revise my book at the same time, but perhaps Ceiling Cat will give me both the leisure and the fortitude.

It seems like only yesterday that I was watching the last Cup. Now, as then, some foreign and football-crazed graduate students will install a full-screen display in the seminar room downstairs, and we’ll be able to relax in comfort, watching two matches per day.

I’m rooting for Brazil. How can you not? They’re the home team, they failed to win the World Cup in the last tournament played in their country (1950, when they lost 2-1 to Uruguay), and the country is in a state of malaise (see yesterday’s New York Times article on the team and the nation).  Their lackluster performance against Serbia in a warm-up match last Friday (Brazil won 1-0) has also dampened expectations.

Here’s the official FIFA video previewing Brazil’s team and football history before the tournament begins:

And here are 32 trick shots by comic Rémi Gaillard, each one conducted wearing a different jersey from the participating teams. Given that Gaillard is a comedian, I wonder if he really is this talented, or that somehow these are faked (I don’t know how). The YouTube caption:

To celebrate the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Rémi wears all the finalists official football jerseys whilst executing 32 incredible trick shots.

Finally, reader Marella reports some football madness in Australia, as reported in the Herald Sun’s piece, “Outrage over giant Jesus air-balloon floating over Melbourne.” Marella notes:

This made me laugh! The Sportsbet people have floated a giant inflatable Jesus over Melbourne to advertise the World Cup. The gist being that it would take Divine intervention for Australia to get anywhere since we got the worst possible draw in the current competition. The religious of course are not too happy about it, but I think it’s more offensive to our poor soccer players,for it’s hardly a vote of confidence is it?

I wonder if Russell Blackford can see this from his house:



Go Verde-Amarela!

66 thoughts on “The World Cup is nigh!

  1. FIFA is coming across as a deeply corrupt organisation that should have no responsibility for organising a children’s kickaround in the park let alone one of the biggest sporting events in the world. The allegations of bribery that are swirling around it, and the evidence seems to be overwhelming, concerning the awarding of the 2022 competition to of all the gawd-forsaken places, Qatar has completely debased the organisation and the competition in my eyes at least.

    1. Did it take that to debase the organisation? They have been like this for decades, mainly run by corrupt old men who have little knowledge of footbal from the inside – in a similar way to the IOC in the 70s-90s.

    2. 2014 and 2016 will be (IIRC) the first time that the World Cup and the Olympics have been in the same place consecutively, so Brazilians will be able to tell us once and for all who is more corrupt out of FIFA and the IOC.

  2. The late game starts at 8am here, so somehow I have to navigate the day at work without knowing the result.

    1. Exactly!! I was just about to post that. It’s not just any Jesus statue, but the one overlooking Rio on top of the Corcovado.

      Oh, and … GERMANY!!!!

    2. Yup (on the balloon). Seems pretty clearly a reference to the monument, not really a religious invocation. Or perhaps a double entendre, implying both “good luck in Brazil” and “it’ll take divine intervention for us to win.”

  3. It is really an honor to have you cheering for our national team. But, are you aware US national team is also participating on the World Cup:)? Anyway, we Brazilians are really disappointed with the corruption and the many infra-structure projects that either were not finished (e.g., transportation) or did not even get started. The demonstrations will and should go on, however people will be cheering for the national team since these are two separate issues.

    1. But they are not really separate, are they? Without the football none of the other stuff would be an issue as it would not have happened… apart from for the olympics!?

  4. Gaillard’s trick shots faked? Surely not — there must be an evolutionary process where the missed shots don’t survive to appear in the fossil record, um, I mean the video. Only the successful ones survive.

  5. Sorry, I’m from Uruguay. And Brazil is still scared of us. 200 million Brazilians, 3 millon Uruguayans, and they prefer to play Messi’s Argentina in a final. They know they can’t beat us at determination and heart, and up front we have Forlán, Cavani, and Suárez (yes, he’ll be ready to play).
    Vamos la Celeste!

    1. That’s cute.

      Uruguay is likely to either meet Brazil in the quarters (Uruguay finishes second in D, Brazil first in A) or not at all (Uruguay finishes in first in D and has to play through Spain and Argentina to reach the final).

      Brazil has beaten Uruguay countless times since 1950, including at the Maracanã (Copa America 1989). While the press loves the Maracanazo because rivalry helps generate hype, the draw did not favor the rematch.

      1. <>
        And only 6 years before that they lost to us again a Copa América final in Brazil (1983), and we also beat them the following time we faced them in a Copa América final: 1995. The legend will continue.

        1. Surreal, two of my great passions somehow united on this blog: evolutionary biology and fútbol. My head explodes…

    2. “…Suárez (yes, he’ll be ready to play)”.

      Let’s just hope he doesn’t get banned for biting someone!

  6. Gaillard is a former soccer player who did not make it. He has a lot of training in soccer and, to my knowledge, no training in comedy.

  7. Jesus loves futbol thiiiiis much!

    I don’t know who he’s rooting for since Israel didn’t qualify.

  8. as re “It seems like only yesterday that I was watching the last Cup.” It so does.

    On 15 June 2010, I arrived on the airstrip of Baltra, that year’s fourth day of the men’s national association football teams’ play occurring a bit away in South Africa’s same southern hemisphere.

    Over all of the Galápagan Archipelago islas I explored, every electronic screen during my entire pilgrimage throughout them was powered on and tuned in for any and every hour to only thus.


    1. I wish England well(ish). An honorable last 8 or the semis would be fine. But please don’t win it. That could swing a few percent to the YES vote in September.

    2. I’d like to see England take advantage of the low expectations this time around and unlease the young attacking guns. Don’t be afraid to bench Rooney if he is ineffective yet again on this stage. Let’s see Ox (hopefully fit), Sterling, Barkley, even Lallana. Score plenty of goals because you aren’t going to prevent many with Old Man Gerrard and that back four behind him.

  9. This Jesus is a direct reference to a huge Jesus statue, named Christ Redeemer, we have on top of a mountain (Corcovado) in Rio de Janeiro city. It’s a landmark obligatory spot for tourists. Offer a great view of the town.

    1. And if Uruguay wins the cup, you will hear no mention from coach Tabárez about god. He’s has said he’s an atheist. Now will the president of the country mention god, “Pepe” Mujica is also an atheist.

      1. You are right. And those facts don’t surprise me being Uruguay the most secular country in Latin America (continental).
        Vamos Charrúas!

    2. Easily the saddest part of being am atheist Brazilian fan. But fortunately it’s not as bad as it was under Dunga. Scolari answered a question a week or so ago about church and was very adamant that it is each person’s private business.

      But the spread of evangelical religion into soccer in Brazil is very disheartening.

  10. I’m a curmudgeon and find here that the World Cup brings out the worst of nationalism with people taking sides based on their nationality and clashing with others of different nationalities. It was the World Cup that made me see how made nationalism is first hand (which is actually the most benign way to discover this for yourself)

      1. Maybe – the Rugby world cup made me think the opposite: I have so many teams to support. Start with Wales, then England, then South Africa and now I have to add Australia.

    1. I think Canada has only played in one World Cup and lost all 3 of its games, so I understand your POV.

      1. There are always fights and sometimes serious ones between ethnic groups in multi-cultural Ontario, Canada because of the world cup. I don’t like seeing this as people support the teams because of their own nationality. It’s okay to do so but it seems things go a step beyond a game and start getting personal really fast and as a neutral Canadian witnessing it all I want to tell them all to smarten up (which is impossible in the middle of a big fight). I feel this way with world affairs as well and often wonder how Angela Merkel can stand it sometimes. 🙂

    2. Generally I think so too, and I don’t care about soccer anyways, but in 2006 I saw quite a few of the cars in the corso downtown with both a Turkish and German flag on the sides, and I thought that was kinda nice.

    3. Some people think that the partisan natute of the support is what adds to the passion & drama. As BilBy says, Rugby tends to be equally passionate but less partisan – the rugby fans appreciate great sport in other sides, but some football fans think that makes it less passionate.

      I want England to do well, I am just not going to shout at the TV if they win or lose!

      1. Sadly, it seems that when England play football domestic violence peaks, especially if they lose. I don’t know if the same is true in other countries.

    4. I like the fact that, with few exceptions, many of the powerhouse nations can’t have their way in the World Cup like they can everywhere else. The US has little chance of winning and approaches this competition with humility, as in it is legitimately afraid of the likes of Ghana and Portugal on the soccer pitch. Japan is also a minnow at this tournament. China stinks at soccer and never even gets past the qualification stages. Russia has always been a decent side, but they’ve never won a world cup and won’t be winning this one. Latter day powerhouse England, while having a first rate domestic league, have a national team at about the same level as Russia and will be happy with a run to the quarterfinals.

      On the other hand, 3 of the 4 PIGS are very good at soccer (and all 4 of them will be at the tournament), as are economic underachievers Brazil and Argentina. Tiny nations like the Netherlands, who almost won it last time, are considered elite. Belgium (who manhandled the US in a recent friendly) is considered a dark horse this year and has the talent at least to make a run to the semis. It’s nice to see the world order turned on its head for a month every 4 years.

  11. Geez, for a moment I thought that the Rapture had begun, and that the bible was really true after all.

  12. FYI, Rémi Gaillard is that good. He is a soccer fan (of the Montpellier team) and a lot of his earlier videos feature a soccer ball and him doing tricks.

    Allez les Bleus ! 😉

    1. Exactly. He’s been doing these ball striking tricks for years, and it’s obvious that they weren’t faked in his low budget early videos.

    2. He is not just a soccer fan. He was a player who tried to become a pro. He’s probably been training from childhood on.

      In one of his videos, he shoots a football right into the open door of a police van.

      Now, how many times do you think the polise let him bang his football against the wall of their van? It has to be right from the first time.

  13. It will probably be a South American winner if only because the European TV stations have forced matches to be played in ridiculous times in the heat of the day so they can be on in the evening here, thus probably putting those teams at a disadvantage.

    When Alan Mullery played in Mexico in 1970 they were not allowed water during the game – he lost one stone = about 8-9% of his weight in one game!

    1. It was mild in South Africa and that was one of England’s worst performances ever. Sometimes lack of talent is just lack of talent, no matter what the thermometer says.

  14. 24 days straight of live games. Me and my boy have got the sofa in the back lounge booked, the beers are in the fridge and we’re ready to roll. Brazil v Croatia at 9pm tomorrow night, a rerun of 2010’s final of Spain and Netherlands at 9pm on Friday night and then Saturday. 9am kick off for New Zealand v England in the rugby, out all day at a summer fair, then a friend’s 50th birthday party on Saturday night, incorporating the big one – England v Italy at 11pm. We’ll probably have to walk home so eta into bed circa 4am Sunday morning.

    It’s going to be emotional.

  15. The Italian television broadcasting company, RAI, recently aired a commercial for the coming World Cup, with the statue of Christ the Redeemer wearing an Italian team jersey (

    The diocesis of Rio de Janeiro asked RAI to pay between 5 and 7 million euros, because the hold the IP rights to the statue…

  16. I live 40km out of Melbourne and travel 8km toward the city to work. I would have loved to have said I saw it. But, goddamn, I didn’t!

  17. I am always interested in how national team managers pick their teams. It seems that you can either have a system in mind and pick the players that best fit that system, or figure out who your best players are and accommodate them as best you can.
    As long as the system is sound, using the “pick the players to fit the system” approach seems to be the best for consistent performances and success for national sides. Germany for years was very successful with its sweeper system, and when players went down through injury or loss of form, new ones trained in that system seamlessly took their place. Spain’s national side seems to be built around its possession/pressing system, and not really any particular player. Brazil, despite moans that they are more of a conservative side now, still like to play attacking, fluid soccer and take the game to other team no matter who the opponent is. World class players can be and are excluded from teams like these.

    But this approach only works for nations with deep talent pools. Nations like the US, with few high level players to choose from, have to incorporate their best players regardless of whether they fit within the ideal system in the manager’s mind. So although Klinsmann probably wants the US to play a lot like Germany in 2006, we don’t have the defensive stability to bomb forward as much as that side did, no little genius like Philip Lahm to morph into a dangerous attacker or solid defender whenever the situation called for it, and we are still far too wasteful in possession. The US will inevitably play on the counter, start people like Jozy Altidore, and try to mask our weaknesses.

    Then there are nations that are sort of in-between. Either they have a player of such enormous talent, such as Messi or Ronaldo, that they have to make him the focal point of the team, system be damned. Or, like France, Uruguay, and to some extent England, they have some legitimate world class talent, but also a lot of pedestrian players. Do they go with a solid system with everyone drilled and organized, but one that might not have room for one of their best players? Or do they try to accommodate their talent, even though some of that talent would be out of synch with the best available system?

    France, by dropping the likes of Samir Nasri, seems to feel that they have a good system in place and enough available talent to make it effective. England, by contrast, would probably do best by emphasizing its pool of youth, speed and athleticism up front, supported by a solid and organized back four. But their best overall player is Rooney, who is a bit of square peg. He’s not the team’s best out and out attacking player (that’s Sturridge), and he’s no longer quick enough to make constant, bursting runs from deeper positions behind the striker. That role now seems best occupied by young Raheem Sterling.

    So better teams that England might have just dropped Rooney from the starting line-up, but since they are not exactly bursting with talent, the manager feels compelled to fit him in somewhere, anywhere. We’ll see what happens once the tournament starts!

  18. Well I am going to root for the Ticos (a) because Costa Rica’s a great country and (b) I like lost causes. They, like the Americans, have a virtually impossible task in group stage.

    Per blitz442, I think you’ve made me think that England has a good chance of getting out of their group (which I consider the G-of-Death). They’re solid in back and in the middle and Sterling and Sturridge add much-needed speed and punch up front along with Rooney (who’s not at all bad at passing the ball either).

    Finally, although I have no particular attachment to Argentina, I thoroughly enjoy watching Messi play. I’d sort of like to see him get his World Cup so everyone can stop with all the “he’s nothing unless he wins the Cup” talk. That’s gotten tiring.

    1. Agreed about Messi, he’s already proven to be one of the best ever.

      England might get out of the group if Roy unleashes Sterling, but that’s a big if.

      Roy is cautious, so in that first game with Italy, don’t be surprised if he sends a guy like Milner out there with express instructions to protect Glen Johnson. Jags and Cahill will probably have 20 blocks each in that game.

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