Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : November 21st 2013 Contents A57
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Victor Valdes will be sidelined for six
weeks because of a leg injury.
Barcelona says medical tests yester-
day confirmed Valdes tore a muscle in
his right calf after coming on as a substi-
tute in Spain's 1-0 loss to South Africa in
a friendly a day earlier.
Valdes, whose contract expires at the
end of the season, will likely miss the
next eight games, including a pair of
Champions League matches against
Ajax and Celtic.
Valdes has allowed just 11 goals in 19
games this season for the Spanish
Backup 'keeper Jose Manuel Pinto,
who normally plays only in Copa del Rey
games, is expected to step in for Valdes
during his absence.
Barcelona plays Saturday against
Granada, holding a three-point lead over
Barcelona 'keeper Valdes out six weeks
PARIS---Even though it comes around comet-
like just once every four years, or perhaps pre-
cisely because of that, the World Cup s grip on
the planet s imagination remains impressive.
French fans delirious chants of "We re going
to Brazil!" after their team dug deep to defeat
Ukraine in the playoffs and Cristiano Ronaldo s
joy at his hat trick that qualified Portugal
showed how much this most global of sports
tournaments means to nations and people alike.
Illogical, really, given that the World Cup isn t
football at its best. The best sides in club football
are stronger, more balanced and often better to
watch than many of the 32 national teams bound
The World Cup sinks its claws into people not
by treating them to consistently dazzling play---
you see better games on a more regular basis in
the Champions League---but by tapping into base
emotions of national pride. Next June, people
who for three years of four have little or no
interest in the sport will rally behind "their"
team and paint flags on their faces.
All fine, of course. There are worse ways to
let off steam. Sunk into your sofa and perhaps
skipping sleep to soak up the drama of one nation
besting another, it is comforting to know that
billions of people around the globe are doing the
exact same thing for the month when football
takes over. As a shared human experience, the
World Cup has few rivals.
As for every World Cup, expectations will
build over the next seven months until the hype
becomes almost unbearable, more so this time
because the host is football-mad Brazil, a five-
time world champion and home of the great
As always, the tournament will throw up sur-
prises. A team that defends solidly but count-
er-attacks swiftly could oust defending champion
Spain well before the final.
There ll be a feel-good story in Bosnia, playing
its first World Cup as an independent nation
two decades after its war that killed more than
Injuries that have sidelined Lionel Messi this
year could prove a blessing in disguise in 2014,
because they are forcing the four-time world
player of the year to rest before the tournament
where he must excel with Argentina to be con-
sidered an equal to Pelé, a three-time World Cup
But, at risk of spoiling this party, history also
shows that the World Cup delivers hoped-for
thrills only erratically, certainly of late. Not since
Argentina 3, West Germany 2 way back in 1986
has the final game been a true classic.
From the first World Cup in 1930 and for the
next 56 years, through 12 tournaments, both
finalists always managed to score in the showcase
game and, with the only exception of 1974, always
from open play, not the penalty spot. In short,
action flowed both ways.
That fine run ended in 1990 with Germany
1, Argentina 0---the World Cup s first some-
thing-to-nothing final. That sorry match, a
stinker, started a new, less appealing pattern: In
four of five finals since, the losing team has failed
to score. France is the only exception---in 2006.
But its solitary goal in losing to Italy came from
a penalty, put away by Zinedine Zidane before
he melted down and headed-butted Marco Mat-
Lopsided let-downs, stalemates and frustrating,
often bad-tempered, disappointments have
become a norm for the showcase game. The last
time a World Cup crowd saw a losing finalist
score in open play (it was Rudi Voeller for Ger-
many in 1986) Ronald Reagan was in the White
House, Tom Cruise was fighting the Cold War
in Top Gun and Bananarama were chart-top-
Partly to blame is the weight of World Cup
expectations, crushing for some. Fear of letting
down entire nations makes coaches and teams
cautious and inhibits players. Take Wayne Rooney.
Decisive and strong-willed for Manchester United,
the forward hasn t scored in eight World Cup
games for England.
As in South Africa four years ago, weak teams
in Brazil---think the likes of Algeria, Australia,
Greece, even England---will try to hang on for
dear life against the game s powers, packing their
defenses and taking few risks. Understandable,
perhaps, but dreary. Anyone who stayed awake,
for example, through the tedium of Spain 1,
Paraguay 0, in the 2010 quarterfinals should
demand their 90 minutes back from Fifa.
Players will arrive tired from exhausting club
seasons. The distances in Brazil will be taxing,
too. When the World Cup was last played there,
in 1950, France withdrew because it objected to
the great distances between fixtures. Brazil s
team, for example, will fly some 6,600 kilometers
(4,000 miles) next June from its base camp in
Rio de Janeiro to its group games in Sao Paulo
in the south, Fortaleza in the north and Brasilia
in the middle of the country.
The World Cup isn t going to go away, no
matter how poor the show. The 2010 edition
generated revenues of $3.6 billion for Fifa, a
whopping sum which allows the governing body
to grow the global game and grease the palms
of its power-brokers. Presidents, princes and
sheikhs beat paths to Fifa s door for the prestige
of hosting the tournament. Which begs the ques-
tion: As the source of Fifa s power and wealth,
is the World Cup actually poisonous for football?
Those who want fresh and more responsive,
transparent leadership at the very top of the
sport might be forgiven for thinking so.
As with South Africa, the World Cup will be
looked to for proof that the $13 billion being
spent by Brazil on stadiums, airport renovations
and other infrastructure has been worth it. If
streets aren t filled with police tear gas and pro-
testers, as they were in June at the warm-up
Confederations Cup, Brazil could be a ball. Pas-
sions outside the host country will run high
Cross fingers that the football lives up to the
Hold the hype on World Cup
Mexican fans cheer in the World
Cup football qualifier against
New Zealand at Westpac
Stadium in Wellington, New
Zealand, yesterday. AP PHOTO
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