The World Cup Gives Us A Distraction From Our Turbulent Times ({{commentsTotal}})

In a year of such tumult and crisis, where it may be that history books eventually record that we "Kept Calm and Carried On" while around us a Third World War was creeping up on us, it is perhaps appropriate that sport should provide a diversion, and another way of viewing a fractured planet - a form of uncertainty that is enjoyable, rather than fear-inducing.

Perhaps it takes football for us to sit up and question our prejudices, to find out about other countries. We all know corrupt political leaders; many of us ceased to trust elected (or unelected) representatives a long time ago - some of the worst of whom run football. But to paraphrase Sting, if I lose my faith in the simple sport of football, there'll be nothing left for me to do.

The World Cup returns to Brazil today for the first time since the 1950 tournament, when a team expected by practically everyone to saunter to the title lost it to a united, tough Uruguayan side. The more that changes, the more stays the same: in 2014 Luiz Felipe Scolari leads a squad with all the talent, a team boasting some of the finest individual players in world football. The expectations on the shoulders of Neymar, Hulk, Thiago Silva and the others will almost be unbearable.

Uruguay, to complete the circle, are strong once again - Luis Suarez, the English Premier League's top goalscorer, is one of the favorites to repeat the feat on his own continent, and he has Edinson Cavani for company up-front. Argentina seems to have finally found a way of getting Lionel Messi's engine purring in the way it always has for Barcelona. With Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain playing off his shoulders, there is no reason to believe they cannot win.

And what of the contenders from Europe? Italy and France, relatively unfancied, have been taking good results in warm-up matches, and seem to have found form and, crucially, harmony, just in time for the matches that matter. Spain continues remorselessly on, like a once-revolutionary rock band intent on "playing the hits one last time," the E Street Band of Xavi and Iniesta on what Bruce Springsteen once called "a last-chance power-drive" - although there is a mounting sense that football may have moved on.

Germany is likable - maybe even lovable. Joachim Löw has built an exciting squad, spearheaded by Mesut Özil and Mario Götze, two players who look like Harry Potter and Ron Weasley, and likewise perform wizardry on the ball. Part of the reason it is possible to like this new-look Germany, though, is because of its fallibility: the overthinking and overcomplication of a simple game, and it is why they will probably fail.

England is never in harmony, thanks to a vicious tabloid media and an inability of its top players to convert their form to the world stage, but a curious ennui has set in among the public back home, the low expectations perhaps working in the team's advantage.

The Netherlands, even in their 1970s glory years, were a powder keg of simmering discord. That said, they possess enough quality in midfield and on the attack to go all the way.

Belgium finds itself in the odd position of being backed by many to win - a consequence of the English Premier League and La Liga fame of many of their players, such as Hazard, Lukaku and Courtois - but it seems their lack of big-game experience may tell when the decisive moment falls.

None of this is decided. Nothing is done yet. That's the beauty of football - and of life itself. We can lose faith in others, we can become disillusioned by the people meant to serve us, but in this particular footballing uncertainty, there is beauty.

For a month football can provide us all with a focal point, a safe haven, a talking point - a place where the feats of our heroes will never die, get old, or be tarnished. Brazil 2014 could be the most exciting World Cup ever. Enjoy it, and when it's over, enjoy life. To, again, quote The Boss, "people get ready, you don't need no ticket."

Especially when the whole thing's being shown for free on ETV.



Winner - Uruguay. They'll end up in the opposite side of the last-16 draw to Brazil. The final will be a repeat of the decisive match in 1950, won by Uruguay 2-1 ... in Brazil.
Golden Ball (best player) - Neymar (Brazil)
Golden Boot (top goal-scorer) - Luis Suarez (Uruguay)
Biggest Surprise - France to make the semifinals, with the team united like in World Cup 1998, and a wave of popular support due to their fine young talent.
Breakout Young Star - Antoine Griezmann (France) - a player who would not have played if not for an injury to Frank Ribery, but has every trick.
Greatest Disappointment - Cristiano Ronaldo unable to carry an otherwise poor Portugal side beyond the group stages.

Tonight's Game

Brazil vs. Croatia (Group A)
23.00 Estonian Time, on ETV. Coverage begins at 22.10. If you are in Estonia, you can watch the game, here.


Stuart Garlick is a journalist and blogger based in Tallinn. Since 2012 his blog, Charm Offensive, has offered insight into Estonian music, fashion and food.

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