The Beautiful Game

In Asia and other countries afflicted by World Cup time difference, everyone has their strategy. Sleep at 8 and wake up for kick off. Never happens. Set video recorder and watch match in fast-forward. That’s cheating. Read the match report and pretend to have stayed up. Guilty, your honour.

All these machinations, to catch a glimpse of the beautiful game. But is the game really worth staying up for? Is the game really all that beautiful?

It certainly is when Lionel Messi figure-skates past defenders.  Or when Germany’s youngsters launch a counter attack. Or when Diego Forlan conjures a goal from thin air.

But at 2.30 in the morning, when you’re yawning yourself awake – trying to watch two teams not score for 120 minutes, it is anything but pretty.

We’re all used to this. The 2006 final is best remembered for a head-butt to a chest and for featuring two teams that no one cared about.

This year’s affair was the first final in history not to feature Brazil, Argentina, Germany or Italy. Everyone expected a clash of new ideas. Spanish artistry vs. Dutch ingenuity. The poets vs. the philosophers. But there was neither poetry nor philosophy. Just cynical play, a few dirty challenges and as Dutch legend, Johan Cryuff described, “anti-football.”

At around 2.30 a.m. Spain manage to squeeze in yet another 1-0. Asphyxiating the Dutch through ball possession. No flamboyant Bavarian-style 4-0 drubbings here. Just a last minute goal to put the game out of its misery.

This isn’t a complaint. A World Cup is rarely about its final. In fact, we’ve grown to expect an anti-climax. While purists may complain about the tournament’s lack of drama or substance, the 2010 World Cup did offer a few moments to rejoice about. Though perhaps not enough to keep you from snoring at 2.30 a.m. on a school night.

Only one team remained unbeaten. New Zealand. 3 games, 3 draws. Glorious stuff. Though the fact that we’re celebrating draws says a lot about the competition.

Forget the final, for a neutral fan (and let’s face it, if you’re from the subcontinent that’s all you’ll ever be) it’s the group stages that make a World Cup.

There were a few goal-filled thrashings. Portugal pranced around North Korea for a 7-0, while Argentina conquered South Korea 4-1 with fluid footwork.

The Swiss undid the Spanish early on, while Slovakia dispatched Italy in the second best game of the tournament. France imploded under the weight of its collective ego, while England ran out of excuses.

Favourite joke: The England team visit an orphanage in Cape Town. “It was heart-breaking. All those sad little faces. With no hope for the future,” said Jamal, aged 6.

Before the group stages there was The Hype. The Hype creates the myth of beautiful football.  Nike’s epic commercial “Write the future” did the rounds and got us all excited. We saw the heroes of the game performing superhuman feats in slow motion. Little did we know that each one would be cursed.

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