Tuesday 16 January 2018

Fans look to Spain for sweet music on the pitch

James Lawton

James Lawton

Now we have only Spain to wait for, because if Brazil, who play tonight one day ahead of the favourites, are a formidable team, they do not carry much of the vital promise which dwindled a little more in the din of Soccer City yesterday.

The Netherlands were third from last in the roll call of football nations who might just carry this 19th World Cup into a classic dimension, but after their 2-0 victory over Denmark, all the senses were unfortunately dominated not by the football of the Oranje -- decent enough though it was at times -- but the racket of the infernal vuvuzelas and maniacally loud, piped music.

It makes it all the sadder that so far there have been no arias floating up here from beautiful playing surfaces. No, mostly the football has been conducted in whispers.

Germany produced a few bars of Wagner the other night against the hapless Aussies, and reminded us that no-one ever comes to the big show of football better prepared or more clear-eyed in their ambition.

Lionel Messi was beautiful in the victory over Nigeria and, who knows, Diego Maradona may work some emotional alchemy on a talented Argentina. However, they did not hold their most promising notes; they offered some hints of exciting potential, but no more than that.

Brazil play tonight against a scampering North Korea, who made such an impact back in 1966 when they sent the Italian coach home to a reception of rotten fruit and led the Portugal of Eusebio by three goals on a summer's afternoon at Goodison Park. It is reasonable, though, to expect a commanding performance from the team former World Cup winner Dunga has fashioned over the last few years.

But one Brazil insider puts it succinctly, if painfully, enough: "Dunga has made a strong team and Kaka might produce something special, but you know the truth is we don't do fantasy any more, we don't do perfection. Winning is enough for Dunga. If you want that other stuff, you better wait for Spain."

Yes, Spain. They are both the putative champions and saviours of the game, which at this level last produced teams to travel the ages when Brazil won so imperiously with Pele, Tostao, Gerson and Carlos Alberto in 1970. Four years later Johan Cruyff's Netherlands produced some poignant and unforgettable football which could only be described as sublime failure.

Of course, there have been great men and great deeds in the interim: players like Paolo Rossi, Diego Maradona, and Zinedine Zidane have reached out for superb individual achievement, but we haven't had a team to carry us up to the stars.

Not with the same promise that Spain, who won the European Championship with such passion and bite in Vienna two years ago, bring to their opening date with Switzerland in Durban tomorrow.

It is early yet, of course, and many possibilities remain. Even England may find some form of resurrection with the help of Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard.

But it is the promise of the Spanish which is so gripping. Of all the tributes that have come Spain's way, few match in depth the one offered by yesterday's beaten coach of Denmark, the fine international player Morten Olsen. Coming into the tournament, he was asked: "Do you have a coaching philosophy?" This was a bit like asking a banker if he likes a bonus, but Olsen certainly saw the point of the question.

"Yes, of course I do. You always want to be a winner but you also want something more than that. The ideal is fast, technical football with good combination play, and the most hopeful thing about the future of football is that you can look at Barcelona and watch Spain.

"They are fantastic to watch and they are winners. That's so good for the game," he commented.

It was once said of Brazil, when they were still a repository of all that was brilliant and artistic and emotional in football, that adopting excessive defensive measures against them was probably the equivalent of draping the windows in brown paper in the event of a nuclear attack.

Whatever your attachments, it is surely not wrong to wish such a phrase could be inspired by the work of one team going about their business here in the next few weeks.

Maybe the Spain of Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez and Fernando Torres are indeed the new Brazil. The possibility, at least, is something to beguile this World Cup which, like every one that has gone before, aches for the greatest of football. If Spain miss their target, we can only hope that it is not by much. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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