Saturday, October 10, 2009

Writing the World Cup Guest List

I'm a bit overwhelmed with the soccer available this weekend, and excited.

The only live soccer I'll be seeing was this morning, when the West End Terrorists (Jacob's team, though they now only use their name privately and on the team sheet are just, 'West End') won their second indoor game 8:2, against the Feral Rats. Last week they also won their game, and all things considered they are one of the favourites for the comp. But for various reasons that's all I'll probably actually witness this weekend.

But there's so much on. It's struck me many times that moreso than any other sport it is impossible to actually 'follow soccer'. It's an ocean of leagues, even without the variations like futsal, indoor and beach soccer. I've ended up with vague favourites in various major leagues in the world, along with Brisbane Roar of course. But even for the Roar I've noticed I've neglected the youth league, barely even checking the scores. The lads' indoor soccer and my own futsal games are of course the most important and intense, but they're more organic, even rational, outbursts of interest. But when I add it up, I 'follow' an enormous amount of soccer, and in reference to the ocean, almost none at all.

Then there's the internationals, with our mighty Socceroos, and especially the World Cup. That's where this weekend is crazy, and as I have previously declared, this is to be of particular interest in this blog until the said event, which Jacob and I shall be attending.

There's a lot of decisive internationals happening in the next few days, after which most of the World Cup teams will have been decided, and the final showdowns will be set.

First a sweeping recap. The first of the 204 teams to play an actual World Cup 2010 game were Tahiti and New Caledonia on the 26 August 2007. Both of those teams have long been knocked out of the comp, and neither would have expected to get close, but both small nations would have had their journey nonetheless. Tahiti, apart from a solitary win over the Cook Islands, didn't get anywhere, but New Caledonia would have been rightly proud to come second to New Zealand in the Oceania region.

When Australia qualified for Germany 2006 the fact that soccer is not our main sport didn't stop the nation from being deeply emotionally effected. Studies have shown over and over again how productivity improves in an economy when the local team wins. But Argentina and Portugal, soccer mad countries both, will be devastated if they don't get to South Africa (both quite possible), and Algeria,, New Zealand and Slovakia will get the full ectacy if they make it (also quite possible). The Italians and Brazilians will be disappointed if they don't make the final four at least, whereas New Caledonians will find plenty of national pride in beating the whole Pacific except for New Zealand.

This competition, I believe the greatest competition in the history of civilisation, sweeps up millions in different ways, and eventually of course it will sweep up billions as the climax unfolds next year. All of it is ostensibly for a unique and quite odd looking 'cup' which is not a cup, but a gold earth held in two grasping hands. According to one source I have the football had the original mythopoeic meaning of the sun. I think that now it means the world - the globalised world-as-seen-from-space - and the World Cup makes this explicit.

Kicking off this pending marathon of 39 qualifiers in 10 hours, at 10pm tonight Brisbane time, is Zambia vs Egypt. Without a victory Zambia's slim hopes will be ended, but both teams are struggling to catch Algeria, the favourite for the African Group C.

The second game at 10.30pm (all Brisbane time) between Malawi and Ivory Coast could be decisive, as if Ivory Coast win it, as expected, they will also be uncatchable in African Group E, and will hence join Ghana and South Africa the hosts as Africa's representatives at the World Cup Finals. Malawi is already out regardless, playing for pride as they say, and although a Malawi win will mathematically keep Burkina Faso's hopes alive, the latter would have to score about 15 goals to none in their remaining games, so basically Ivory Coast is in. They'll have the champagne on ice ready right now, especially pleased to be qualifying for the World Cup to be in their own continent.

This is the sticky, competitive end of the qualifiers, with the egos of top soccer nations on the line as well as aspiring aspirants. Eleven teams have already qualified, but by tomorrow afternoon that number will be more like 20-25. Nations will be in celebration, others in shock.

On the 15th of this month another 32 games will be played, which will leave Africa and virtually all of North and South America worked out, as well as 9 out of 13 of the European places. By the 18th of November it will all be settled.

So far the national tribes attending, apart from South Africa itself, the hosts, are (from Africa)Ghana, (from Asia) Australia, Japan, North Korea and South Korea, (from South America) Brazil and Paraguay and (from Europe) Netherlands, England and Spain. From my own perspective, as a fan attending the event, of interest is not just the teams attending, but the national tribes, the languages and fan-cults that will be attending. I was sorry when Jamaica was knocked out for this reason for example (they have made it before), and pretty 'meh' with North Korea making it. We're talking about a party guest list here.

Anyway, I won't be watching any of these games, but I'll be following the scores, and with my globe on my desk I will be imagining the emotional maelstrom throughout the world in the next 10 hours as great joy and great despair descend upon the various millions. And I'll be watching to see the guest list of a much anticipated party unfold.

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