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.

Auckland stadium power rankings

This content first appeared in Sport Review newsletter number eleven – if you’d like to receive articles like this and much more every Friday, you can sign up here

Auckland’s stadiums are like Stuff commenters – there are too many of them, and they’ve all got something wrong with them.

This week’s Auckland venue development strategy, handily summarised at sportsfreak.co.nz, confirmed that as ever, the sticking points are Eden Park, Mount Smart and Albany Stadium. There’s an argument for knocking at least two out of three over and starting again.

A waterfront rugby / league/ football / concerts stadium must happen, with a retractable roof and meaningful connection with the CBD. To help push things along, behold the Sport Review Auckland stadium power rankings:

#5 – Eden Park 
What’s it good for? Rugby, and history. It was fantastic for RWC 2011, but that relied on temporary seating being put in. The number two ground is lovely for second tier cricket, with the old stand and the service station over Sandringham Road to aim at.
What’s wrong with it: It’s basically the world’s largest Back Yard Cricket venue, and no-one turns up for Test matches despite best efforts to put on a show. It’s too far out of town and your transport options are highly variable. Residents permanently terrified of Otago students vomiting on the Q7. No concerts allowed.
Personal high point: Cricket World Cup 2015 v Australia and the semi final, Waikato winning the Ranfurly Shield in 1993.

#4 equal – Albany Stadium
What’s it good for? Has potential but needs lots of work. Why not embrace the Shore’s culture and make it Stadium South Africa, home base for visiting Super Rugby teams, with Braai?
What’s wrong with it: Frustratingly far away from the bus station. Could be an ideal NZ Football venue and high performance set up but needs to get a pro team of its own, which is a can of worms bigger than Dune.
Personal high point: I saw the Kingz there once.

#4 equal – Mount Smart
What’s it good for? Spiritual home of the Warriors, in spite of itself. Close-ish to public transport if you’re up for a bit of a walk or are into industrial areas.
What’s wrong with it: Tired, needs a lot of fixing up. Despite having roots in South Auckland, the owners are keen as beans to move into town. Where Carlaw Park was. Ahem.
Personal high point: Paul McCartney last year, Big Day Out ’94.

#3 – America’s Cup village 
What’s it good for? Drinking beer beside the Waitemata water while watching yachts. Simple pleasures. It’s right beside the Viaduct where it all started, and takes advantage of all the development since.
What’s wrong with it? Nothing so far – there’s a lot to do, but it’s going to be in Auckland, not Italy, which is a great start.
Personal high point: When we retain it.

#2 – Vector Area 
What’s it good for? It’s downtown, still pretty modern and great for netball, basketball and concerts.
What’s wrong with it? The trains go straight past it, meaning an awkward walk back from Britomart. Would be the ideal location for a waterfront stadium.
Personal high point: Luckily, courtside for the Breakers one time, Pixies Dolittle tour in ’10.

#1 – Western Springs, cricket venue 
What’s it good for? The boutique ground to rule them all. OK,  it doesn’t technically exist, but if we can build a venue that can handle 5 or 45k fans just as easily, with lights, green top pitch, craft beer and some kind of artisan meat snacks that can still handle big summer concerts, it’s going to be an absolute winner. Victoria Park would be even better but it’s hard to see this flying.
What’s wrong with it: Residents permanently terrified of Guns n Roses showing up in speedway cars to poo on their begonias.
Personal high point: U2’s Love Comes To Town show in 1989, it was ace.

Make rugby great again

This content first appeared in Sport Review newsletter number ten – if you’d like to receive articles like this and much more every Friday, you can sign up here

Rugby in 2018 is rubbish. Scrums that last longer than an Easter traffic jam. A Super Rugby comp that’s as organised as spaghetti. Justin Marshall.

But it used to be brilliant – we just need to bring back these top innovations from the past and everything will be sweet.

  1. Day time rugby. Playing under lights used to feel like the height of sophistication. We’re sick of that now. Day time games means a dry ball and running rugby, university students really enjoy getting drunk in the daylight and it’s heaps easier for mums and dads to take the kids without a meltdown.
  2. Angry coaches. Media training means you never see a decent blow up, walk out or swearing from a coach these days. We used to have an All Black coach called Grizz for goodness sake. Have some pride.
  3. Fighting. They say you can’t get away with dirty play anymore because of all the cameras, but I say just think of all those sweet YouTube views and get stuck in.
  4. Short back and sides. Remember when everyone got on Carlos Spencer’s case ‘cos he had a haircut? Now they’ve all bloody got them.
  5. Terry Wright. What with your ‘nutrition’ and ‘gym’, rugby’s no longer the game for all shapes and sizes. Bring back skinny guys, short arses and fat blokes, and make our national game relatable again.
  6. Tours. Three tests, and playing in the provinces. Seriously though, tours.
  7. Amateurism. Sure, everyone deserves to get paid, but wouldn’t it be better if Sam Whitelock always had time for a yarn at the butchers, Beauden Barrett delivered your Amazon packages and TJ Perenara was the kids’ PE teacher?
  8. Cotton rugby jerseys – jersey grabbing, and carrying twice your body weight in water when it rained added an exciting dynamic imo.
  9. On-field interviews with kids leaping around and pulling faces in the background.
  10. Australia. They were great, we should get those guys involved again.