Academic Opinion: Winners and Losers at the 2014 FIFA World Cup

Posted by sb661 at Jul 14, 2014 03:55 PM |
John Williams talks about how Germany triumphs in a World Cup of many winners and losers

The views expressed below are the views of the academic and do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Leicester


‘The match should never be played, it’s unfair.’ This was Luis Van Gaal griping (no kidding?) last week about what he described as the ‘meaningless’ third and fourth place match between Netherlands and Brazil played on Saturday night. Graceless to the last, just a little research would have told poor Luis that the joyous Turks (in 2002) and the proud Croatians (in 1998) took a radically different view. This is because achieving third place in the world is actually no mean feat, even for the sometimes haughty Dutch. And you’d imagine that poor Brazil had nothing at all to play for on Saturday, what with its global football reputation so suddenly in tatters. As measured by recent results, losing 3-0 to the Dutch on Saturday was no mean effort by the hosts. Meanwhile, perhaps Dutch Luis had other things on his mind and he just wanted a quick South American getaway. After all, the all-consuming Premier League is now just around the corner.

It is difficult to argue that Germany did not deserve to win the 2014 World Cup: they remained unbeaten throughout, humiliated the hosts along the way, and then saw off those other historic guardians of the reputation of South American football, Argentina, in an engaging final, albeit one strewn with missed chances. The Germans also spared us penalty kicks en route to becoming the first European country to triumph in South America. In short, the best team won in a hyped tournament in which none was outstanding.

So, who were the other winners and losers at the 2014 World Cup finals? (We can largely leave England aside here, perennial failures: no change there). The Spaniards and Italians suffered surprisingly badly and left early and embarrassed. The former have reached the end of a great cycle, the latter have a domestic game in deep crisis off and on the field. Did either turn up at all? And I guess all of us are losers, ultimately, because of the diminished and disgraced Brazil, wrapped for solace this week in those once saintly and all-conquering golden shirts. To the delight of some cynics, the hosts have been shown to have footballing feet of clay. In fact, to be just like the rest of us.

The roots of this slump are, of course, the relentless drip, drip draining Europeanisation of the major South American football powers, a process defined by the way dead-hand trawling for players, intensive coaching and a focus on systems increasingly trumps raw talent. Teenage Brazilian starlets are now hoovered up – and often spat out - by Europe’s elite clubs. The world game looks and feels increasingly homogenised, and is often replica dull as a result: 43 of the 46 players in the 2014 Europe v South America World Cup final squads are actually based in Europe. Foolishly, Brazil tried to play like they imagined South Americans should, but performed like hollowed out pretenders as they were easily pounded by the Germans.

Other World Cup losers have arguably been us, the ‘ordinary’ fans. There has been plenty of World Cup drama, but at home we have also endured weeks of: pundit babble; TV stadium panoramas of mass fancy dress and ubiquitous Mexican waves; images of beautifully coiffured and toothsome young women; and manicured, often tearful, children. Belgium fan Axelle Despiegelaere even briefly landed a L'Oreal campaign job after her own Brazil photo-op went viral.
For many of these World Cup part-timers with so many air-miles to cover, seeing oneself flicker on the magic stadium screen apparently cures all football ills. All this, and the sight of the largely black Ecuador team watched by groups of exclusively white, well-healed fellow nationals – there were plenty of other examples in Brazil – are eloquent statements enough of current trends. We all know now that an essential disconnection exists between the global festival that is the FIFA World Cup finals ™ and a sport we used to call, apparently without irony, ‘the people’s game’.

Undaunted by these contradictions, this weekend tens of thousands of Argentinians hiked, ticketless, to Rio for Sunday’s final. They wanted simply to breathe the air of their national heroes and to be present in Brazil just in case the best of all things might happen – a world title won on humiliated enemy soil. Their tears had some value even if most of them were locked outside the Maracana by the legions of the unattached, the corporates and the global sports tourists who no doubt enjoyed Sunday’s ‘spectacle’ as it unfolded. Praise where praise is due: some of these hangers-on even managed to get back into their seats on time for the start of the second half.

But not all is so gloomy. Elsewhere, there have been welcome signs of new football life in these past few weeks – these are the other World Cup winners of 2014. The Costa Ricans, Mexicans, Columbians and even the Australians all delighted; it was the Africans, from Ghana and Algeria, who frightened the life out of the ultimately victorious Germans; and even the ruined Greeks surprised. And what about that gallant USA side, showing loads of spirit and buckets of skill.

In fact, the USA may well be the ultimate winners in World Cup 2014, because the thriving US game may yet be needed to bail FIFA out of its Qatar 2022 nightmare. The Yanks as hosts and potential world soccer challengers in eight, short years’ time? What, with all those willing sponsors, new soccer markets and vats of TV money? You really think so? Remember, you (almost) heard it here first……


John Williams, Senior Lecturer, Department of Sociology


The views expressed above are the views of the academic and do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Leicester

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