(Three Lions fans, you don’t get a vote. Yes, we know it’s coming home.)
If you’re a soccer fan, a futbol fan, this has unilaterally been the most exciting, most crowd-pleasing World Cup ever.
If you’re not a fan, well, hang tight: there are only three games (technically four if you count the consolation bracket) left and I’ll get back to writing about how American football is awesome (but how the NFL sucks) and why everyone should have watched the first season of Amazon’s ‘Patriot’ very soon.
But until then we have a biblical showdown of two Goliaths without a David in sight. Or two Davids, I guess, since neither team has dropped a match this Cup.
Evenly matched is the point I’m stumbling toward.
I don’t care who you are, you cannot easily pick a winner in this one. Both teams are absolutely wonderful to watch and playing at the top of their respective games.
They both have wily, capable goalkeepers.
They both have multimillionaire superstars.
They both have a collection of amazing roleplayers.
They both can score in game action and on set pieces alike.
They both counter faster than a sidewinder in a shallow puddle.
They both have been tested and pulled through adversity.
The both have veteran managers.
And they both have a series of intangibles that localize around teams of this ilk: teams that can truly win it all.
I can’t pick a winner. I haven’t publicized who I’m pulling for (I was always pulling against Russia) and I’m too chickenshit to pick one team, but my kids would tell you that I had six teams that I was in love with at the outset and I couldn’t settle on just one.
Two of them were just lineage:
My paternal grandma is Polish, so Poland. My paternal grandpa is Swedish, so Sweden.
You have to root for your ancestral homeland. That’s just your duty as a modern major general.
But my heart was crazy about:
Such is the luxury of not having your own country in a World Cup. You can mix and match a bit. And I foolishly figured that by now, things would have sorted themselves out. That by now, it would have been pared down to one team or two at the most.
Spain was knocked out in a game where they passed a thousand times. 859 of which were basically in their own end. It was masturbatory and hard to watch and thus the soccer gods smote them from the tournament.
But the rest have been brilliant. Just brilliant to watch.
France’s Kylian Mbappe is possibly the most exciting player in the whole draw. At only 19 years old he’s the first player under 20 to score two goals since Pelé. Anytime your name is mentioned with the likes of Pelé, you’re doing pretty will. Filling out the front for Les Blues is Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud. That’s an embarrassment of riches.
It would be a slam dunk if Belgium didn’t have what might be an even better hive of bees at the front of their attack. Romelu Lukaku is every bit the game-changing, hot-trigger danger that Mbappe is. Eden Hazard (it’s funny to type his name because it looks soooo redneck-y on paper but it’s pronounced Ay-den Azarr) is at least as threatening as Griezmann and possibly a better playmaker in space. And I don’t think I’d be overstepping to suggest that Kevin De Bruyne, recently pushed forward by Manager Roberto Martínez, is every bit the equal of Giroud, and a force of nature who is playing at the height of his career.
I can’t even begin to wonder who will prevail in a goalie duel between France’s Hugo Lloris and The Red Devil’s Thibaut Courtois. They have both played outstanding thus far.
Perhaps the only real advantage either team has is that France probably has a better midfield, led by All-Star Paul Pogba.
But that’s really splitting hairs.
Belgium knocked out Brazil, really survived Brazil if we’re being completely honest. An own goal by Brazil helped, and the second half of that game was like watching a fort get shelled by artillery. But they made it. They won.
France took out Uruguay, a team missing one of their most dynamic players. But the fact that they sent galactic asshole Luis Suarez home should win them a few extra points.
Right now, I’d probably rank the remaining teams this way:
I feel like I wake up today liking Croatia a little less after they fired their assistant coach for dedicating their win over Russia to Ukraine. Hmmm. That seems really suspect to me. I’m sure I don’t fully comprehend all of the geopolitical ramifications of appeasing Russia if you’re Croatia, but that move seemed kind of dodgy.
I think England has enough going for them that they beat Croatia tomorrow. There’s a lot to like about both teams but Harry Kane is closing in on the Golden Boot for a reason. Whatever this English team has going for it, it’s tangible. And it’s palpable.
If you’re England, I think you root for France today. No matter who wins, England will have a really tall order ahead of them. But if France prevails, there may just be enough historical precedent to churn up the intangibles enough to put the Three Lions over the top. Belgium, I think, might prove more daunting.
But it’s exciting, goddamnit! That’s what I’m getting at. Today is going to be a magical game. Tomorrow is going to be great. I don’t know which way either will go, but in spite of the grotesque carcass of bile and corruption that FIFA is, this World Cup has been memorable and spectacular.
Here’s hoping today and tomorrow only build upon that mythology.