As much fun as one such as this may be in its own right, you constantly end up comparing something from it to something from another tournament. It may be how a particular national team measures up to its predecessors or how an obscure nation’s success reminds you of another’s from decades ago. The present is not so much haunted as shadowed or even more so enhanced by the past.
This column in particular has been walking in a fog of nostalgia as much as it has been enjoying the rays of light of such a bright and vibrant tournament.
Here have been some random thoughts we’ve had in recent weeks. If you’ve had them too, then it’s that we’re less kindred spirits as simply of a similar age.
1. This tournament might not have been so exciting if it was anywhere else than Brazil but is this 2014 squad along with the 2010 version the most limited and starless Brazilian teams in memory? In 1970 they had Pele and Jairzinho et al. In ’82 and ’86, Zico and Socrates et al. In ’98, Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos; in ’02 Rivaldo and Ronaldinho to go with Ronaldo again. This time there’s Neymar and who else? Does he even have a Bebeto like Romario had in ’94? And would you even take Neymar as he is now ahead of Careca, Maradona’s wing man in Napoli, the way he was banging them in circa ’86 and ’90?
2. In our eyes Lionel Messi is the greatest player ever, regardless of how this tournament transpires. Yet even if his performances go on to rival that of a certain compatriot’s in Mexico but Argentina ultimately fall short, will it be seen as less Maradona ’86 as poor old Baggio in ’94? And, by extension, will that cost him his rightful status as the world’s and Argentina’s greatest ever?
3. No points if last Sunday night Costa Rica’s penalty shootout win over Greece prompted memories of Ireland’s penalty shootout win in Genoa 24 years ago. But five points to all you nerds who remembered Costa Rica kind of introduced themselves to the world football stage in that tournament too as Scotland found another way to mess up not getting out of the group stages, losing 1-0 to the little Central American nation. And another five if you can remember they pulled off that win in, yes, Genoa too.
4. Looking at how dour and cynical much of that 1990 World Cup was and how quick a tournament like this one now is, has there ever been a more ingenious rule change in a major sport than the back-pass rule football introduced for the 1992-93 season after the nadir that was Italia ’90?
5. A team you love to watch in this tournament probably won’t win it all: Colombia, primarily. But if you pick them ahead of either Brazil ’82 and ’86 or even France ’82 and ’86 as your favourite team never to win the World Cup, you’re a lot younger than us. If you pick Holland ’74 and ’78, we’ll graciously bow to both your age and taste.
6. In recent tournaments the Dutch are the new Germans and the Germans are the new Dutch. The entertainers are the new pragmatists, the pragmatists the new entertainers.
7. Is there a whole generation out there that know Michel Platini only as some suit constantly in the same orbit as Sepp Blatter rather than probably the best European footballer of the 1980s?
8. When you watch how raw and limited England are now, constantly talking up a future that will most likely never come, didn’t they and Sven make a hames of the golden generation. Neville and Cole as full-backs; any two of Campbell, Terry and Ferdinand in central defence; Gerrard, Scholes, Lampard in midfield; Rooney and Owen up front. If that crop couldn’t make the semi-finals of a World Cup or Euros, when will the English ever again?
9. Looking at the schedule, how is there still a third and fourth place playoff? Isn’t your standout memory of that fixture still the late, great Dermot Morgan mimicking and upsetting Eamon Dunphy?
10. It was 20 years ago this summer that Houghton put that ball in the Italian net. But was it any better a feat, whatever about a day, than when the North’s Gerry Armstrong put the ball in the Spanish net 32 years ago this week?
11. Christ, by the next World Cup I’ll be x years of age.
12. You going outside for a kickabout? Hold on there, I’ll be right with you.
13. Is there any sporting tournament that makes you feel quite as old — and yet quite as young?