Day five: the best ever?

This World Cup was one surrounded by doubts, some of them more reasonable than others. For anyone who has ever visited Brazil, there was no question the visiting fans would be treated well and would find themselves in the middle of the most joyful and festive atmosphere on earth. There were worries about the organisation, but despite some hiccups the tournament has ran smoothly. Again, anyone who has visited Brazil could tell you that it this is not a country of outlaws where any sort of order or efficiency is impossible.

There was also a significant worry about safety, whether that be connected to street protests or crime. This unfounded concern can be added to the tab of the international media, who have consistently portrayed Brazil’s big cities as war zones, places where the only thing tourists can hope for is theft, kidnapping and death. I’ve heard people say that they did not want to risk their lives by travelling to Brazil for the World Cup, likely to be the same people who would not blink at holidaying in Paris, London or New York, big cities that are just as dangerous and threatening as São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro. I imagine they are watching scenes of Argentina fans partying on Copacabana beach or Dutch and German supporters taking over Salvador and feeling pretty silly.

In my opinion, the only reasonable worries were those connected to the tournament on the pitch. The standard of football at the World Cup has been declining since 1986. It is generally accepted that Europe’s Champions League is now the top table of the sport, while international football is losing its importance. Another poor World Cup, in Brazil, the home of football, could have been the deathblow for the competition.

So far, what we have seen has the potential to be the greatest World Cup of all time. At the time of writing, there have been no draws and only one match has had less than three goals (Mexico v Cameroon, although Mexico had two goals wrongly disallowed). Even in the tamer matches (can 3-0 be called tame?) there have been wonderful moments, going down in the history of the sport. Switzerland’s last-second winner against Ecuador, Bosnia’s first ever World Cup match since independence, Ivory Coast’s two-minute turnaround to beat Japan, even the forgettable matches have been unforgettable.

While the 1990 World Cup in Italy followed the studious, defensive style of the host country, this year’s tournament is oozing with the Brazilian jogo bonito. Thomas Müller and Robin van Persie are emulating the natural goalscorers such as Romário and Ronaldo; Joel Campbell and Raheem Sterling have shown the youthful joy and daring of Garrincha; Pirlo and Daley Blind’s opening performances definitely had a bit of Gersón about them. We can only hope that this trend continues throughout the group stage and into the knockouts, and if it does we could well be experiencing the greatest moments in the history of our beloved sport.

It’s making me tear up just talking about the knockout round or, god forbid, the final, because I know that soon we will have to say goodbye to what has been a spectacular tournament of football.

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