You don’t have to go full Dunphy and say Chile will win it, but you need to get your ‘might make a semi’ ducks in a row. Larry Ryan, with the help of some graphics, gives you the low down on the main plot lines for World Cup 2018.
THE BIG QUESTION
Can Messi do it and finally dance out of Diego’s squat shadow? Or can Argentina shrug off their ‘Messidepencia’ and help themselves?
Can Dybala, Higuain, Aguero and co muster a bit of support, or at the very least keep out of the great man’s way?
Whatever happens, alas, VAR will probably stop Leo punching in any winners.
NEYMAR THE REDEEMER
Pick a narrative for yourself. Were all the prayers offered and tears shed in Belo Horizonte for nought?
Can the golden child carry a nation on his back after it broke last time under the weight? Or will the spoilt brat with the dodgy metatarsal and short attention span prove to have a foot of clay?
Do Brazil have to beat the Germans along the way? Come to think of it, can you write off the Germans?
Would you like the fate of the world to be decided “in a centralised video operation room in Moscow”? Well that’s where the destiny of the World Cup is likely to be settled, where a video assistant referee team will have access to all broadcast cameras and two dedicated offside cameras so they can set the ref straight on any ‘controvassy’.
Have no clear view on whether this is the future or not? Just complain it’s taking too long.
Save face in front of your children by at least recognising which goal celebrations are based on Fortnite ‘emotes’ (don’t ask).
Julian Brandt gathering bricks, Griezmann taking the L, Pogba’s Shoot dance, Dele Alli doing the Floss. Important note, don’t attempt any of these manoeuvres.
IS DEFENDING DEAD?
Dunphy told us, a few weeks ago, that “the world of soccer is bereft of defenders”. Where once we might have had to spend the group phase debating, ad nauseum, the merits of zonal versus man-for-man, now we can safely skip all of that and join in the lament for all the lost disciplines that went out of every young stopper’s head the day he was encouraged to get it down and play.
BLAMING THE BALL
Telstar 18, memorise it now. We don’t know yet if you’ll need this information. The Telstar may join the Brazuca and Etrusco and Teamgeist among the balls we can’t quite recall, the ones that never become iconic like the Tango or Azteca.
But give it the first weekend and see how many crosses are overhit or tame shots misjudged, see if there are any free-kicks on target. By then, we might have a “beach ball” on our hands, a Jabulani or a Fevernova, and that’s all we’ll be talking about thereafter.
THE ENGLAND QUESTION
In our much-trumpeted maturation as a nation, are we with ‘em these days, or is there still too much amusement to be had at their expense?
Southgate seems a dignified gent, but then so was Uncle Bob and we didn’t care. Are we ready to watch Harry end the hurt or will we carry on laughing at him? Can we really cheer on Dele, or are we eyeing him up as a potential scapegoat when it turns out referees aren’t as tolerant when he swaps the white of Spurs for England?
Look, let’s start small; after all the grief he’s already taken from the tabs, is there anyone at all out there who wouldn’t wish Raheem Sterling well?
THE DARK SIDE
Might football be overshadowed altogether? And will Fifa show a hitherto unseen backbone if the worst happens and racism rears its head.
Danny Rose told his family to stay at home just in case, but Gareth Southgate says England won’t walk off. Fifa president Gianni Infantino says referees will have the power to abandon matches, but where would that leave us?
VAR to identify the racists?
And what about the hooligans? One Russian politician wants to see licensed 20-a-side fights outside stadiums. Any takers among England’s likely lads?
THE DARK HORSES
You don’t have to go full Dunphy and say Chile will win it, but you need to get your ‘might make a semi’ ducks in a row. Croatia are the traditional choice but their football is still mired in in-fighting over corruption and they might lack some of the old fire. Maybe it’s Belgium’s time - Hazard has been saving himself.
Or how about another run for Colombia, without the need for the world to learn James’ name all over again?
Same goes for the golden boot. Pick someone like Isco and talk about the damage he can do as a false nine.
Will Mo Salah recover and will Spain meet Egypt in the last 16 where he nails Ramos with a hat-trick and a rear naked choke.
Are Germany so good they can leave out Sane? France so good they can leave a Champions League strikeforce at home? Surely even Ronaldo can’t help Portugal do back to back tournaments? But he’d definitely try another bicycle in the final, wouldn’t he?
And what about the romance? Have we tired of Iceland’s Thunderclap and punts in the mixer? Anything from Panama to put in the papers? Could Tim Cahill score in his fourth tournament?
And what’s the spread on the first game you miss? Uruguay v Saudi Arabia at four Wednesday week looks dodge.