Some moments have not been altogether that surprising. Lionel Messi is almost expected to lead Argentina to glory in a Maradona revisited-esque role and for large parts of their games his support actors have disappointed. Against ‘plucky’ (there simply isn’t a more patronising yet more suitable word for it is there) Iran they toiled and rarely troubled. This suited me fine having pulled out the Middle Easterns in the office sweepstake. Indeed, that day I did some research having read an interview with their coach, former Manchester United assistant manager Carlos Quieroz. This was conducted by one of my favourite writers, Andy Mitten, in the summer special of United fanzine, United We Stand. It was an engaging read involving the pressures set by their federation and how poor their preparation was going into the tournament. Thus, my expectations that they could pull of a result were slim to none. Having watched it at a family BBQ I barely paid attention and kept returning to the screen expecting Argentina to have scored. Then I sat down and waited, and waited. With the score remaining goalless going into stoppage time it seemed only a hideous mistake or a piece of genius was to make the difference. Up stepped Lionel Messi.
There always seems to be certain moments of disgrace that mar a World Cup. The Hand of God in 1986, Luis Suarez’s handball then celebration in 2010. For this World Cup (at least so far) that moment has been provided by Suarez (him again) with another trademark bite. Having watched the game between Italy and Uruguay, like many I did not realise what had happened for a good five minutes. Surely he hadn’t done it again, oh, he had. No-one saw it coming, well, apart from Thomas Syversen, a Norwegian living in Trondheim, who staked money on it. By the end of the game the memes were coming thick and fast with many wondering what goes through a man’s head when he goes to bite.
Another moment of utter disgrace that no-one else has noticed, or indeed cared about, came in the France v Switzerland game. With the game deep into stoppage time France were already 5-2 up and cruising when the ball was laid to Karim Benzema. Then the referee suffered a brain fade similar to Clive Thomas’ infamous decision to deny Zico what would have been the winning goal from a corner in a 1978 World Cup match against Sweden. You can hear the final whistle as the pass is played to which Benzema clinically dispatches the shot. Why the referee cannot wait until the ball is in the middle third or out of play is beyond me. It is a ludicrous decision not at all simply because I have Benzema in my fantasy team.
Into the knockout stages now and the first second round game between Brazil and Chile promised much but descended into a nervy, tense affair. The players didn’t know whether to stick or twist and I was stuck wondering when I should leave to catch an evening train. Thankfully I managed to remain until the end of extra time yet had Mauricio Pinilla’s shot been an inch lower I wouldn’t have had to jog to the station. There has been a nervousness in each Brazil match that comes with a home nation expected to win and a young team desperate to meet those high expectations. There are also the demons of 1950 to eradicate and the fear that the host nation will blow it again. As Pinilla let fly a nation, if not a global audience of millions, held it’s breath. I thought it was in but for the sake of the competition it was a relief to see it crash off the crossbar. Pinilla has since had an epic tattoo done of the moment.
No-one really knows why but the sight of a ball crashing against the woodwork then hitting the back of the net looks so good. Somehow it looks more visceral, more brutal, more aesthetically pleasing than it going straight in. This is probably why I have saved my favourite moment to last. If there is such a thing as a £40m breakthrough talent then James Rodriguez is just that. I was walking down Deansgate to a friend’s party in Manchester when I glanced through the window of yet another pretentious bar. Fake tans, plucked eyebrows and glow in the dark skirts flooded my eyeline yet I managed to see the ball drop out of the sky then Rodriguez swivel and dispatch a stunning goal. Come the final itself it might not be the best goal but for me there is something primal about such a glorious goal, something indescribable that you simply have to stand back and applaud. Even if you are standing outside a bar and rushing to a friend’s house with a four-pack of lagers.
NB – I’m aware the link doesn’t contain a video of the goal (thanks FIFA) yet the commentary does the goal justice.