As the curtain comes down on a rather drab 2018 World Cup, I share some of the thoughts that came during the occasional high points and the many disappointments. In some respects, it was a thoroughly forgettable affair.
Croatia as a finalist is a goalpost to the noggin. I mean who are these people? By the way, where is Croatia? My first mistake was to mix them up with Florence Nightingale; then I remembered that the geography was a little off. Anyhow, no one should have a problem with listing a few degrees among friends. Hats off to a scrappy underdog, which can end up biting the big dog that is France. That is where my money is.
Next, I recalled the news coverage about Achilles when the games had just started. It was all fuss and media buzz. No, this was not the fabled warrior of Homeric lore, but get ready: Achilles is a psychic cat. I have heard of black cats and the related superstitions, but a psychic cat? I would take pink elephants any day. This furry four-footed psychic prophesied back then (according to the New York Daily News) that there was going to be a sturdy Russian advance. Seeing what happened to the Russian team I will have to dismiss that prediction as American propaganda, and sour grapes to boot, since they got booted from qualifying. Somebody is still fighting the Cold War, even if only of words and over past elections these days. The only thing left for me to do is to group this fanciful feline, Achilles, with those other frauds also embraced by Russians, such as Lenin and Stalin and Bulganin. Did somebody say Vladimir….?
I am humbled enough to admit that I did hope against hope that Portugal would go all the way; especially after ex-Mancunian Ronaldo razzled and dazzled in that early game. But like Sir Lionel it was the same forlorn story: all alone and blue. Make that black and blue; gang warfare, double-bank, no supporting cast of note. Think about this: Pele had Jairzinho; Mueller had Beckenbauer (or vice versa); and Bobby Charlton ran the field with Bobby Moore, with Gordon Banks doing salvaging work in the nets. I am brought up short when I realize that Maradona had nobody of worth; and so, too, did Johan Cruyff. The former carried his team on his back and all the way; while the latter fell just short, despite his individual brilliance.
This emphasizes that these national one-man shows are not enough on the ferocious world stage, in spite of Olympian efforts by these individual stars, which they are. In the leagues they are surrounded by precocious talent at nearly every position. At the country level, the flag only goes so far despite the best of efforts. I think that Brazil was a whimper in underachievement, though not a complete team; but England overachieved, through a cracking good show. It was good while it lasted; there was always the feeling that it was not going to be enough when the going got real tough.
Overall, it was a dismal event, other than for the few moments of Mbappe et al. In the good old days, underperformers would have ended up not on a return flight, but on a train to some archipelago. Others would have been prompted to apply for asylum, like Kim Philby, and found solace in vodka or the Bolshoi. As for me, I am content to settle for a viewing of the running of the bulls. From the safe vantage of television, of course.