Thursday 19 April 2018

Wait is over: let's get ready to rock to the Samba beat

Brazil, England and sex are the hot topics as football fever is about to grip the world

Michael Bradley and Graham Zusi of the United States work out during their training session at Sao Paulo FC in Sao Paulo, Brazil
Michael Bradley and Graham Zusi of the United States work out during their training session at Sao Paulo FC in Sao Paulo, Brazil

Donny Mahoney

Here we go. After all the waiting, all the joy and madness of the World Cup is only a day away. So, what will we be talking about for the next month? Here's three trends that we think may frame some of the discussion as we build to the Maracana and the final on July 13.

Are Brazil certainties?

Statto Nate Silver is so good at his job at forecasting US presidential elections, he picked every state correctly in the 2012 election AND he was given wheelbarrows full of money by ESPN to start his own website. This year, his team of geeks have fine-tuned the SPI (Soccer Power Index), an algorithm that assesses player and team performance.

His prediction: Brazil have 45pc chance of winning. That's compared with Argentina at 13pc, Germany at 11pc and Spain at 9pc. Silver compares that with some betting markets, where Brazil are only 23pc favourites. However, Brazil are even more of a sure thing than the pundit class accepts, more than any team in recent history.

Meanwhile, England are a mere 1.6pc, which makes them marginally worse than Uruguay and marginally better than winning the World Cup. So this guy knows what he's talking about.

Is This The World Cup of Not Caring About England?

I fondly remember being at the International Bar on Wicklow Street in June 2006 watching Ronaldo's wink, Jamie Carragher's penalty attempt and England's inglorious defeat in their World Cup quarter-final against Portugal. I was best friends with everyone in the pub. Ditto the night of the monsoon at Wembley when Croatia knocked England out of Euro 2008 qualifying. I saw it at the Glimmer Man in Stoneybatter. There was practically a conga line.

England's 4-1 drubbing by Germany in Bloemfontein may have punctured the hubris of the English media and public, but it now means there's not as much fun in watching England lose anymore. It took a while, but most of England has accepted what the rest of the world knew for a long time – that they're a pretty average side.

I heard someone on the radio last weekend trying to pump life into the tired old 'Should Ireland support England?' debate. I thought that discussion had been buried long ago. People will (rightly) revel in the expected and unexpected ways England manage to lose at the World Cup, but it's perhaps the greatest compliment of Hodgson's England that they hardly inspire any reaction any more – good, bad or indifferent.

If Hodgson unleashes the shackles and plays all-out attack, with Barkley and Sterling running riot, I suspect England would woo a big chunk of the Irish viewing public, a la Liverpool with neutrals a few months ago.

England's qualifiers and friendlies suggest he won't and that England will bow out quietly and politely after some penalty drama. The World Cup may be more boring because of it, but maybe that's a good thing.

Does banning players from sex during the World Cup affect on-field performance?

Every country has its own way of policing off the field behaviour during the World Cup, with some managers are more lenient than others.

Mexico coach Miguel Herrera raised eyebrows when he stated recently: "If a player can not endure a month or 20 days without having sex, then he is not prepared to be a professional. We're not going to a party."

His opposite numbers in Brazil and the US have taken different approaches (Scolari has forbidden anything 'too acrobatic').

Science says sexual activity 12 hours before a game has minimal effect on the field, but should Mexico overachieve, Herrera's notions may attract more disciples.

Irish Independent

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