Welcome to planet football

This content first appeared in Sport Review newsletter number fourteen – if you’d like to receive articles like this and much more every Friday, you can sign up here
World Cups generate memories – goals, like Micheal Owen’s solo effort as an 18 year old in ’98 and Brazil 70’s supreme team goal in the final. There’s the craziness of Luis Suarez biting a defender, or the great Zinadine Zidane’s red card for a brutal head butt, and even whole games, like Italy v Brazil 1982 or West Germany v England 1990.

You can watch at the pub of course, but the real work is done on the couch, with a milo. Football fans live a half-light solitary existence, mapped by World Cup wall charts, time differences and time-shifted recordings for the month. You basically turn into Renton in Trainspotting, but for football. It’s hard to resist.

Hosts Russia kicked things off this morning with a match against Saudi Arabia and, inexplicably, Robbie Williams. And we’re off. Here’s the build up, teams and how you can follow along.

Last time out
Germany won the last tournament in Brazil in 2014, taking the hosts down 7-1 in a seismic semi final. The champions are just as strong this time around, and seeing how Brazil, who live for World Cups, bounce back will be one of the great storylines.

Russia welcomes you! 
Russia won hosting rights in 2010, with Qatar announced as 2022 cup hosts at the same time, in a bidding process shonkier than your un-consented deck. Since then, FIFA has been discredited by massive systemic corruption while Russia has hosted the drug, human rights violation and judging scandal-plagued 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, had state-sponsored  athlete doping exposed, interfered with the US elections (allegedly!) and annexed Crimea. Expect some pretty painful Putin photo-ops over the next month.

The telly
It’s a fairly challenging time difference for New Zealanders, with most of it happening in the middle of the night, but there’s a game on at 6 or 7am most days. All the matches will be live on SKY Sport, with quite a few free to air on Prime including the semis and final – here’s the list.

The internet
The FIFA World Cup app looks pretty decent for yer fixtures and standings, but they’re not giving much video away – for that, sashay over to r/soccer, where you’ll find goal clips within seconds of them going in, and all the highs and lows of internet fandom.

I really like the Guardian’s football coverage – this preview is an amazing effort and achievement – and recommend the Football Weekly podcast, which is going daily. At home, Radio New Zealand have the Squeaky Bum Time podcast running for the duration.

Selected team previews
Brazil 
History: Winners in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002. Often called the All Blacks of Football by people who don’t know much about either sport, those yellow shirts and languid skills are everyone’s favourite second team.
Chances: Depends on how they bounce back from 7-1. They have the best players around, but as always, it depends on how they knit together.

England 
History: Winners in ’66. Penalty shoot-out horrors, comedy goal keeping, non-qualification and general over promising and under delivery ever since.
Chances: Harder to predict than what’s going on with David Seymour. Harry Kane is the marvellous Tottenham striker who can’t stop scoring, if he can do the same for England they’ll be well placed. Come on!

Spain
History: Winners in 2010. Perennial underachievers, they finally put together a special team and tactics to match in South Africa, starting a golden run.

Chances: Boldly sacked their coach a week out, but are still laden with talent. The world’s caught them up somewhat, but this golden generation will have some life left, no doubt.

Germany
History: Winners in 1954, 1974, 1990, 2014. England’s worst nightmare.
Chances: More efficient than a Kraftwerk bassline, but not quite as stylish. Will be very, very organised and very, very hard to beat.

Argentina
History: Winners 1978, 1986. England’s worst nightmare.
Chances: If Messi gets injured, they’re in trouble. It’s not a LeBron – Cavaliers situation but close.

Elsewhere
There’s loads more of course. France have a fantastic team, Ronaldo’s Portugal are flying and all previews are obliged to mention Belgium, who have their own golden generation happening, and replace Croatia as hipster tipsters’ European dark horses.

Australia are there, but up against France, Denmark and Peru, who put the All Whites out, so will have a tough time making it out of the group.

Brilliantly, there’s always an unlikely nation like Cameroon in 1990, Romania in 1994 and South Korea and Turkey in 2002 who become global superstars for a couple of weeks. And there’s no way of knowing who it will be. Enjoy it.

Author: Richard Irvine

Welcome to sportreview.net.nz - here's a bit about the site. Here I am on Twitter, or email me at richard (at) richardirvine dot com.

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