||Issue No. 138||31 May 2002|
Interview: The Star Chamber
Politics: The Odd Couple
Media: Audiences Before Politics
International: The Off-Side Rule
Economics: The Fake Persuaders
History: Terror Tactics
Poetry: Food, Modified Food
Review: Spiderman Spins Out the US
Satire: England's World Cup Disaster: Star Hooligan Breaks Foot
The Locker Room
Week in Review
In Defence of Latham
Swans A Pathetic Con-Job
The Locker Room
Football, or soccer as we know it, begins its great four yearly festival today with a classic David and Goliath contest between reigning champs France and Senegal, a French speaking West African nation in its first Word Cup.
It is a fascinating opener. Metropolitan power versus former colony. The power house of the game versus the debuting minnow. A sparkling team of soccer celebrities against a bunch of unknowns.
It's also a dangerous game for the champs. In 1990 the holders Argentina with Maradona still at the height of his powers were humbled in the opener by the Cameroons, a brilliant and brilliantly organised team which went on to capture the imagination of the world as the tournament unfolded
Whatever happens tonight the four weeks that follow promise to dazzle.
Sepp Covers His Arse With Blather
Yet, before the first ball has even been kicked, the tournament has been draped in controversy. This week the game's governing body FIFA, an organisation which makes the IOC look like a model of glasnost and good governance, conducted the most divisive and acrimonious elections in its history.
The dodgy democracy of the organisation was on show as Sepp Blatter, the authoritarian German head honcho crushed an African led revolt by Cameroonian Issam Hayatou after a spiteful campaign.
'Turkeys don't vote for Xmas' was how one correspondent described the election. Blatter has been able to consolidate his power base with some judicious patronage of the smaller footballing nations whose votes carry equal weight with the big boys.
Meanwhile, FIFA, which should be a license to print money, is technically insolvent and corruption in the organisation is rife.
Bigger than the UN
The political dynamics on field are always fascinating as well. 204 nations participate in the world cup more than exist in the United Nations.
Despite its diversity and spread of talent, unpredictability in the world cup is reserved for its opening stanzas. As the tournament progresses it tends towards the United Nations model. Everyone is represented, it is superficially democratic but when it comes to crunch time the big players call the shots.
In the football world the security council consists of Germany, Italy, Brasil and Argentina with the fifth place rotating between England and France. Some other nations like Holland are always applying for a spot but just miss out. Uruguay once had a seat when it was like the prototype League of Nations but this anomaly has long being dealt with. Wannabes like Spain, the Balkan states and some African countries fantasise about being fat cats but are always lacking a key ingredient to complete their football nuclear capability.
The French are the coolest side. The team reflects the racial hues of the French colonial empire and its alliances -Pied Noir, Mahgreb, Kanak, West African, Basque, East European and players descending from the French Carribean as well as those from the Hexagon. France has the player with the most wonderful name in world football - Bixente Lizarazu.
Brasil is the unlikely little guy. Don't believe a word of it. Politically third world but football aristocrat, Brazil enters the tournament as unfamiliar underdog after a shocking run in the qualifying phase where it was humbled by a number of South American lesser lights including Ecuador.
Argentina are the most desperate. On paper on a par with France for talent and footballing smarts, they were head and shoulders the best qualifiers but are burdened by the expectations of a traumatised and desperate country.
Holland leave a big hole at the dining table. The best team never to win the world cup, the nation which revolutionised the modern game with their 'total football' and with a contemporary side full of superstars like Ruud Van Nistleroy, Jaap Stam, Patrick Kluivert, Edgar Davids, Edwin Van Der Saar et al will not be there after imploding in Dublin before the modestly endowed Irish.
Who Will Win And Why
France, a team with power, personality and panache, is my tip for back to back wins. They are awesome all over the park and have a squad with layers of depth. With a World Cup and European Championship under the belt they have battle hardened experience but their key players aren't too old. Twenty nine year old Zinedine Zidane was still the dominant player in the Champions Cup less than a month ago. Key defender Marcel Desailly still rises to the big occasion as he showed in the FA Cup final despite being a thirty something. Ditto Bixente Lizarazu. Fringe players from the last cup like Henri, Trezeguet, and Dugarry have stepped up many notches. They have a new batch of superstars coming off that incredible assembly line of talent. Watch out for Djibril Cisse - the 20 year old from Auxerre who was the top scorer in the French league last season. Last time the French won the cup with virtually no forward line. This time they are bristling with firepower up front.
Then it is the usual suspects. Argentina is on paper another complete team, has the pedigree and comes in as the form side. But their key playmaker Juan Sebastian Veron is hot and cold and like last time the South American form could be suspect.
Italy are always dangerous and deserved to beat France in the 2000 European championship. But the Italian league isn't what it was and the poor form of Italian sides in Europe in recent seasons poses a question mark.
Bolstered by the return of a resurgent Ronaldo and with the old guard of Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos and Denilson backed up by new talent like Ronaldinho, Brazil will, as usual, have their say.
England fancy themselves but outside Beckham whose fitness must be suspect and Owen they look to lack the class to go the whole way.
One highlight of the tournament should be the continued decline of Germany.
The best outsider could be Spain. A perennial underchiever, on paper they have a strong side including one of the world's best playmakers in Raul. The Spanish league has evolved over the past few years into the strongest in Europe and one not short on verve. This might be the forge for a more resilient national team.
My sentimental team - the Cameroons. Viva Roger Milla!! I'm still dining out on Cameroons wonderful journey at Italia 90. Disappointing at the last two this time they look more composed. The reigning African and Olympic champions they've appointed a German coach to instill some Teutonic discipline in the ranks. In Samuel Eto'o they have one of Africa's most exciting prospects.
Four weeks of football bliss! Let's go!
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