The World Cup begins tonight. I have vague memories of the 1982 World Cup, but the 1986 one was the first one I have full recollection of. And that was the best cup ever. Or more likely that I remember it to be the best Cup ever because of my age. And I have a feeling that I am not the only one. After 1986, the 1990s Cups were not quite as exciting. But 2002 was great. And in 2006, I did a bunch of posts — those were simpler, more carefree times as far as writing was concerned.
Over the fold, and in next few weeks, I reproduce/update some of those posts. Enjoy.
Where I live, football is a weird game that involves an elongated object being kicked or thrown across the field by men who are then jumped upon or thrown around by other men. In fact, this is the case in most of the English speaking world — although in other Anglophone countries football means different games than what they play in my neighborhood. Even in the Mother Country Old Blighty England, ‘football codes’ other than soccer still fill stadiums. In fact, England already won a ‘football’ World Cup in 2003.
Why is it that no single football code has dominated the entire Anglophone world the way football (that is, soccer) has come to dominate Europe and its former colonies?
One argument is that the association football was the first to professionalize, and therefore take the full advantage of capitalism.
But if capitalism is behind football’s success in Europe, then how does one explain its failure in the United States? Years ago, I heard David Landes say that the multitude of football codes in Anglophone countries is a result of the deeply ingrained liberalism/libertarianism of these societies — countries where a single football code came to dominate, typically by the second quarter of the last century, were also countries that flirted with establishing a strong totalitarian state based on a dominant ethnic group or ideology or religion.
Along those lines, Franklin Foer asked in the New Republic what kind of political system is best at producing the best football teams?
He found that: fascist countries beat communist teams; military juntas beat fascists; and social democracies beat military juntas — unfortunately, no liberal democracy has ever won the World Cup. In addition to this general finding, he noted that: European Union members are likely to do well; former communist countries do better now than they did under red flags; colonizers tend to do better than the colonized; oil rich countries don’t do well; and neo-liberal economic reform doesn’t help — Argentina hasn’t won in two decades.
Foer also had a caveat: The political reality most likely to produce a Jules Rimet trophy (sic) at any given moment in history: whatever form of government has taken up residence in Brasilia that week.
Rolling prediction (before match 1)
Semi-final 1: Brazil vs England
Semi-final 2: Nigeria vs Spain