LIAM MACKEY: Hoping for no rain on World Cup parade

Drought? What drought?

True, Wednesday and Thursday of this week were tough going, a disturbing trailer for the Saharan horror which lies in wait after July 15.

But we’ll worry about that then.

As for increasingly hysterical reports of an actual Irish heatwave, well, those of us who have migrated to planet World Cup for the duration are tempted to file that sort of stuff under ‘fake news’.

But even if true, all the more reason, surely, to heed the advice of the experts about how to keep safe when the sky turns an ominous blue. And here, once again, we owe thanks to the Mundial.

Those deadly UV rays struggle to penetrate thick curtains which are drawn 24/7 while, on the important subject of water safety, I have found that the element of danger is significantly reduced when you make the decision to desist from any form of showering or bathing for five weeks because, after all, you have better things to be doing with your time.

As for the conservation angle, even during that brace of bone-dry days this week when the World Cup paused for a breather, there was no ban to prevent anyone going online and replaying the tournament’s deluge of great goals, phenomenal drama and madcap moments to their heart’s content.

It has, without doubt, been a fabulously entertaining affair.

But even though we have now arrived at the business end of things, it’s still too early to pass definitive judgment on Russia 2018 and assess where it might end up featuring in the all-time hall of fame.

In my lifetime, the World Cup in Mexico in 1970 stands supreme, with Spain ’82 not too far behind. 1970 holds the title because it was won by the greatest team of all time, Brazil, starring the greatest player of all time, Pele, while in Spain 12 years later, another fantastic Brazilian side, while falling short, still managed to eclipse even the ‘total football’ Dutch of 1974 as the most beautiful losers of them all.

But Mexico 1970 and Spain 1982 shared something else which elevated them above the rest: Classic games for the ages when the tournament was right down to the wire.

In Mexico, there was that epic semi-final which saw Italy beat West Germany 4-3 after a pulsating period of extra-time. And then there was the final itself, Brazil’s swaggering 4-1 demolition of the Italians which ended on a perfectly majestic note with Carlos Alberto finding the net at the end of what is almost universally regarded as the greatest team goal ever scored at the game’s highest level.

1982 in Spain provided another epic semi, as Germany came back from two-down to draw 3-3 with France before prevailing in the first ever penalty shoot-out at a World Cup. 

The final was never going to match that game for drama but, after German goalkeeper Harald Schumacher had so brutally felled France’s Patrick Battiston in the semi, there was deep satisfaction for most in seeing Italy triumph 3-1 in a game which will always be remembered for Marco Tardelli’s iconic goal celebration.

If Russia 2018 can deliver similar highs at the penultimate and ultimate stages then it will have earned its place in the pantheon. If it doesn’t, a lot of the gloss will be taken off the tournament as a whole.

But while we wait to see if the best is saved for last, we can certainly say that this tournament has already comfortably exceeded expectations even as it has confounded so many predictions.

With their 3-3 thriller, Spain and Portugal set the bar high early doors, so high indeed that neither of them could get over it in the end.

France 4 Argentina 3 was another outstanding game while Belgium’s comeback against terrific Japan was simply sensational, their last-minute winner the very definition of what people mean when they talk about the fine margins which sometimes separate agony and ecstasy in sport.

But it wasn’t just the high-scoring games which shook the world: The victories of Mexico and South Korea over Germany were no less memorable, with Iran and Peru also winning hearts and minds, if not enough points, before departing the tournament.

What else? Well, take your pick of some stunning goals (I’ll have Pavard’s screamer against Argentina, thanks).

VAR has mostly done the job for which it was badly needed while introducing a new element of suspense to the melting pot. And then there’s dear old England, still around in the last eight to supply the compelling love/hate interest in this neck of the woods, though it would surely have taken the hardest of hearts not to share in our neighbours’ joy after they finally consigned their penalty shootout jinx to history to earn a thoroughly deserved victory against Colombia.

For me, one of the few big clouds in the sky so far was Messi’s inability in 2018 to emulate Maradona in 1986, the greatest player of the modern era deserving so much more than to find himself ensnared in a shockingly dysfunctional Argentine set-up.

And that’s also why one of the few significant consolations arising out of yesterday’s underwhelming first quarter-final is that France’s grinding defeat of Uruguay means we get at least one more chance at this World Cup to see if Kylian Mbappe can further enhance his reputation.

As for last night’s second quarter-final, well, I can’t pretend that I’m ever happy to see Brazil exit the Mundial and, at the very least, the performance of Tite’s team on the night deserved to send another enthralling game into extra-time but, as the South Americans go the way of other superpowers like Argentina, Germany, and Spain, while Belgium, with their electric front three, power on to the semi-finals, it’s further evidence that reputation keeps rubbing up against reality with sometimes astounding results at this most unpredictable and compelling of World Cups.

Six games to go and the forecast is still looking good.


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