World Cup Reflections


The streets of Istanbul were filled with the sound of vuvuzelas.. There were cheers and groups of people dancing and celebrating all down Istiklal. We watched the game in a bar in Nevizade, filled almost exclusively with our friends, among who there were just a few lone Dutch fans.

This was my first World Cup. I watched almost every game and went from supporting the US to Argentina and finally Spain. There were extreme highs like when the US qualified for the round of 16 at the 91st minute and extreme lows as watching Maradano and his crushed teams’ grief stricken faces as they saw their World Cup dreams die.

I celebrated this great event as I read articles about how the World Cup brought joy to the poorest of people, reading one poignant headline that said, “For the Poor, Soccer is Everything” and it made my heart happy that this wonderful challenge gave such joy to some people who had nothing. And then I hated the game when I read about over 300 incidents of domestic violence on the night of England’s defeat and later the murder allegations against the Brazilian goalie. I wondered what kind of values this testosterone filled sports was promoting.

South Africa brought pride to Africa by hosting an amazing World Cup. Their economy surely benefitted and a great sense of pride is surely felt by the South African people. And then there are the oft forgotten stories of all those that were displaced and ostracized because of the World Cup.
Finally there were the hopes of a country who is facing its worse economic crisis with one in five people out of a job and the hopes of a country who apprehensively waited as their national team took their third attempt at being world champions.

There will be players and coaches who will bury their World Cup dreams in 2010 and there will be those who have already began to think about 2014.

So, who is in for Brazil?!

Nostalgia

Life in Istanbul continues on. And I never stop feeling like I am living in some sort of beautiful dream. For the last five weeks we have had guests in the house and now that there is a short lull in visitors, there is time to breathe, reflect and feel that more personal connectedness with the city.

Most nights we take long, windy walks going down the same streets we have walked on hundreds of times now, each time still discovering something new but now with solid footing. I still feel slightly short of breath as I walk up the hill into the main square, I hold my nose as I pass the doner kebab stands (the dark meat never grew on me), and still laugh and smile at all the performers and the almost overwhelming sense that every type of humanity can be found on Istiklal.

It may be a bit preemptive but already I am missing this beautiful city. I find myself sitting at the kitchen table watching the endless stream of boats going by and coming to terms with the realization that like those boats I am just passing and soon these times in Istanbul will be a fond memory. I get scared by the notion that life might never be better than this. Not because this is not enough. This is everything I could hope for but that instead as life passes by, I will always be looking with eyes to the past towards some definition of perfection that has already been achieved but can’t be duplicated.

But that is a negative way to look at things. Instead, I will aspire to be like Anais Nin who said, “I tend to feel negatively about nostalgia; I think we go back when we feel stunted in the present life. People who are nostalgic have known something good in the past and want to pick it up again;…I don’t have that nostalgic craving. Each cycle of my life interested me equally, but I have no desire to go back to any of them.”

Quarter-Final Predictions

Uruguay v. Ghana
I think every neutral wants Ghana to do well and give Africa something
to shout about by having a team in the World Cup semi-finals for the
first time. If you’re not Uruguayan, you probably don’t care what
happens to Uruguay and couldn’t care less if they got knocked out
tomorrow. My heart wants Ghana to win, but my head says Uruguay are
just a little too good for the Africans. Uruguay are a well-organized
team and actually have the best World Cup record of any nation if you
take into account the size of their population, a paltry 3 million
people. They’ve won the World Cup twice, back in 1930 and 1950, but
haven’t done better than the second round since 1970 until this years
competition. They’re in the quarter-finals now, and you’ve got to
give them an edge over Ghana just based on pedigree alone. However,
Ghana are a dangerous team. They’re strong, and fast, and have almost
boundless energy. Put that together with the support they’ll get from
the fans in the stadium and you’ve got the makings of an upset.

Verdict
Very tough to call taking everything into account. You’ve got to
fancy Ghana’s chances though if the match goes it into extra-time
because of their phenomenal levels of stamina. I think they just
might squeeze past Uruguay in a tense match which will go down to the
wire. Host nations have a history of performing well in World Cups,
and Ghana’s basically the host nation now with the support of the
entire continent behind them. Ghana wins.

Brazil v. Holland
Two giants of the game promise an attacking match with plenty of goals
to keep everyone happy. Everyone knows Brazil are the best, they’ve
won the World Cup 5 times and look set to make South Africa 2010 World
Cup #6. However, they’ve still got a couple of matches to play before
even getting to the final and this match-up against Holland isn’t
gonna be a walk in the park. Holland have been unstoppable so far,
having won all of their matches both qualifying for, and at the actual
World Cup. Could they cause an upset and beat Brazil to make it to
the semi-finals?

Verdict
Brazil don’t play with the creativity and flair that we’re used to
anymore. They still regularly win matches, but not with the panache
and style of yesteryear. Holland are chronic underachievers. They’ve
made it to the World Cup final twice, but lost both times to the host
nation. This might even turn out to be quite a stale match with both
sides canceling each other out. I’d like to see Holland advance, but
I just can’t Brazil leaving the World Cup this early like in 2006.
Brazil wins.

Spain v. Paraguay
Verdict
Easy win for Spain. Nuff said.


Argentina v. Germany

Oooh…I’m licking my lips at this one! Germany were hugely
impressive against England, demolishing us 4-1, and Argentina have
been the best team at the tournament so far, easily seeing off the
likes of Mexico to keep their 100% record intact. Although he hasn’t
scored, Messi’s been making some nice plays and everything’s set up
for him to dominate during the closing stages of the tournament. As I
wrote previously though, the best thing about Argentina is Maradona.
I just love that guy! Check out the way he wears his suit, and the
faces he makes, and just how GOD DAMN COOL HE IS. I really hope
Argentina win the World Cup so I can see him going mental in the
final!

Germany’s young guns have proved to everyone that they’re a force to
be reckoned with. They may not win the tournament this year, but they
will be hot as hell in future tournaments and will be very hard to
beat. One of their star performers has gotta be the Turk, Mesut Ozil.
You’ll hear his name a lot in the coming years as he’s bound to make
an impact in the Champions League sooner, rather than later. Germany
has the most diverse team at the World Cup with something like half
their team being dual nationals. England need to learn a thing or two
from them and start blooding some naturalized citizens in their team
too.


Verdict

Argentina wins in an entertaining match that’ll be closer than you
think. As they proved against England, Germany are a real threat on
the counter-attack and Argentina will need to be wary of that danger
or face the consequences. Messi will shine, and Tevez will score.
Easy peasy.