Friday, June 11, 2010
Let the games begin !
I can't wait. Even though I descend into the occasional spell depression thinking about what a tragedy it is that Ireland was robbed and cheated (No I won't get over it) out of the chance to play in South Africa, I must say I am looking forward to the month long feast of football.
And it is not just the football. It's the politics and make no mistake international football is riddled with international politics. Think about it, for the first time ever both North and South Korea have qualified for the same tournament. Although the two are unlikely to meet you can be sure that both sides will want to go farther than the other as some kind of contest as to which nation has a superior system. The fact that only two months ago the North Koreans sunk a South Korean warship only adds to the tension and you can be sure there will be some sort of political incident in South Africa between the two countries.
Incidentally, the North Koreans only qualified for one previous World Cup, that being in England in 1966. It is believed that the entire North Korean squad were imprisoned on return to North Korea, simply because they could not be trusted as men who had spent time alone in a western democratic nation. Fanatical communists have always struggled with soccer. They don't quite know what to make of it. On the one hand they like it because it has a working class tradition. A good soccer team also requires communal cohesion. However a great soccer team needs individual brilliance, something which communists are terrified of.
Most of the North Korean team from the 1966 World Cup were never heard from again.
Other things to watch out for.
The political stability of South Africa is also on show. South Africa has been democratic for 16 years now. There are still tensions between black and white and I know from experience that many white South Africans fear that once the moderating influence of Mandela passes away that the more militant in the ANC will push for greater land reform. In other words, to copy the Mugabe model and seize more land. These tensions have been heightened by the recent murder of white supremacist Eugene Terreblanche. It will therefor be interesting to note how well run the tournament is. If it is not well run and is plagued by infrastructural and organisational problems it will likely be seen as another example of black and white failing to work together. Also it is unfortunately inevitable that some fans will be victims of robberies and violent muggings. South Africa has extremely high levels of conventional crime and it is likely that some lives will be lost to this. Again, South Africa is on show.
The USA are also set to play Algeria in their second game. I'm sure it will pass of peacefully but no doubt there will be some nerves as only last month the Iraqi authorities arrested a member of Al Quaeda they believed was organising a terrorist attack on the World Cup.
Spain are in the same group as Chile and Honduras which is always interesting when countries meet their former colonial masters.
Serbia (as Serbia) have qualified for their first World Cup since the break up of Yugoslavia. Watch out for fervent displays of nationalism.
Political controversies at previous World Cups
The 1934 World Cup was held in Italy. Benito Mussolini had decided before hand that Italy were going to win it. That was it really. In a similar vein to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin Mussolini used the World Cup as an opportunity to spread fascist propaganda. The final which was held in the Stadium of the National Fascist Party was watched by Mussolini who lauded over the game like an emperor at a gladiators fight. The Italians were losing the game to the Czechs with only a few minutes to go when the Italians equalised. They won it in extra time with a truly bizarre goal that should never have been allowed. Although it was never proven it has always been assumed that Mussolini who had met the referee in private had bribed or threatened the Swedish official.
The Italian team line out for the World Cup Final in 1934.
The 1978 World Cup was also hugely controversial as it was held in Argentina which was at the time in the midst of the brutal military dictatorship of Jorge Videla. Again it was never proved but since Argentina won the tournament there will always be suspicion hanging over it.
Sticking with Argentina, who can ever forget the famous "Hand of God" goal that Diego Maradonna scored for Argentina which knocked a very bitter England out of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. Coming only four years after the Falkans War the Argentinians loved it where as the British went insane with rage.
The 1982 tournament in Spain was an interesting tournament. It was a chance for Spain to shout to the world, hey, look we are now a free and democratic country, 7 years after the death of Franco. It might not have happened at all had the attempted military Coup in Madrid the previous year been successful. The tournament will also be remembered for the famous collaboration between Austria and Germany who deliberately played out a draw when it suited them both at the expense of Algeria. It led to screams of cheat and "Anschluss", mocking the infamous reunification of Germany and Austria in 1938. Ever since that game all final matches in the first round must kick off at the same time to prevent teams engaging in deal making.
Then there was the Iran V USA match at the 1998 World Cup in France. There was so much tension before hand that they decided to line the teams up together (below) with flowers for the pre match photograph in a kind of silly attempt at showing how football brings people together.
Some observations of my own.
I attended the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea and the 2006 tournament in Germany. My American readers will like this one. I always remember that after Ireland's first three games in Japan it was time to travel to South Korea for the next round. We got a ferry from Fuokoka in Southern Japan to Pusan in South Korea. On the boat were many Irish and Spanish fans as well as Americans and Mexicans who were themselves playing in Korea in the coming days. The US won their second round match and knocked Mexico out of the World Cup. On the boat back to Japan a few days later there were only Irish and Mexicans on board as the victorious Americans and Spanish were staying on in Korea for the next round. The Mexican fans were utterly devastated. The only thing that Mexico is better than America at is soccer. To lose to the great northern neighbour was more than some could handle. There were grown men in sombreros weeping the whole way back to Japan.
I took this picture in Leipzig at the match between Iran and Angola at the 2006 World Cup. I couldn't help notice the Israeli flags in the Angolan section. I spoke to one of them afterward. He told me he was traveling around Germany to attend all the Iranian games as a sort of protest.
So let the games begin. I want to see some brilliant matches, some politics and a bit of controversy. My tip, Spain.