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Column: 'This World Cup continues to laugh in the face of football convention'

The international game is beautifully flawed by design and the world at large is benefitting from this World Cup of imperfections, writes Colm Boohig.

Colm Boohig Journalist and blogger

THIS WORLD CUP has been unpredictable, chaotic and fun, and that is before we even discuss the football. This is how the international game should be.

In the aftermath of Argentina’s recent World Cup humiliation against Croatia, Eamon Dunphy consigned South America to the football doldrums in a statement high on nonsense. Brazil had not impressed him yet, either.

Funnily enough, it was not a totally outlandish sentiment when compared to the average punter’s grand expectation of international football. And it is easy to see why that is the case.

Temporary teammates

As fans, we are hardwired to believe that representing one’s country is the zenith of the beautiful game and the World Cup its promised land. The best of what the world’s most popular sport has to offer come together for one just month every four years. The greatest names wear the most famous shirts and demonstrate the game in its most elite form. But that rarely, if ever, is the true story.

The World Cup is the world’s most famous festival but its participants are temporary teammates, each taking a summer break from the day job. In fact, international football really only takes up a small portion of the typical representative’s season.

Ask part-time sides to play like full-time superstars and you will be acquainted with an underwhelming result. It is the equivalent of expecting a world-class club team to have reached their peak by mid-September.

That does not stop us from expecting the optimum quality and entertainment from each World Cup. It is, after all, the perceived pinnacle of football. Almost all of us fall into the same trap every four years because it is such a seductive temptation. The quality on show rarely matches the hype via discussion.

Entertainment to trump the performance

We tip the big boys, each confidently proclaiming that it is, without a shadow of a doubt, the year of *insert nation’s name*. But predicting results is a fool’s game and the World Cup catches the biggest suckers.

Think about it; who is the dominant country in international football? Or, more appropriately, which was the last great international side?

Spain, between 2008 and 2012? Yes, they were exceptional, a squad dominated by the domestic big two playing a brand of football that perplexed the rest as they outpassed the opposition into submission. Who else? France threatened to build a dynasty after Euro 2000 that never came to fruition.

And that is about it.

Longevity is rare

An international manager’s time with their players is so minimal that it is next to impossible to build a sustained philosophy which can achieve and dominate over a number of years. A country can be stocked with talent but even world-class quality requires time to function as a cohesive unit.

Longevity in this field is rare bar the odd exception in Óscar Tabárez and Joachim Löw, who have managed Uruguay and Germany respectively since 2006. In fairness, each side has a relatively clear style of play and can be excused from this article’s argument.

Otherwise, there are generally two types of national coach; the social worker – trying desperately to sustain positive energy within a camp full of gifted players – and the troubleshooter, attempting to get a tune out of what they have available to them.

Both versions of this leader have a common competitor to face in the shape of allocated time; an adversary that is never going away. Enjoying international football for what it is

Bread and butter

Club football is the modern day player’s bread and butter, international duty their honour and the World Cup simultaneously pressurised and euphoric in equal intensity.

The international game is a world of its own and the 2018 World Cup has attracted the masses because it has been so brilliantly dramatic and hysterically fun, with a sprinkle of quality on the pitch to boot.

The World Cup is for everyone and this Russian version is the most inclusive example in living memory, something that few can claim to have called as Russia and Saudi Arabia started it all off on June 14.

This tournament has whizzed by at a mile a minute and collected a series of unusual moments en route to etch into the annals of World Cup history.

We have had Spain’s rendition of Saipan two days before kick-off, Michy Batshuayi inadvertently smashing his own face, Iran’s Milad Mohammadi’s unforgettable botched throw, Japan supporters’ impeccable social etiquette after their heartbreaking last-16 defeat to Belgium, Russia confounding all reasonable expectations, John Obi Mikel playing despite his father being kidnapped, Messi and Ronaldo bowing out (for good?) six hours apart and England winning a penalty shootout.

The drama has been so plentiful that some of it was quickly made redundant. Toni Kroos’ last-gasp heroics against Sweden was deemed irrelevant by the end of the following match as the defending champions fell to South Korea and Son Heung-min, who is still not exempt from potential military service.

We are still at the tip of the iceberg.

The real VAR of the show

This World Cup has been pure theatre, with only some of it to do with the football and so much of it courtesy of VAR – the sport’s most Hollywood introduction.

So many goals have been scored from set pieces and only one game has ended goalless, summing up the disparity between the quality of play and the drama on offer presented by this World Cup that continues to laugh in the face of football convention.

The heavyweights have chugged their way through, often seeming sluggish and disjointed, playing with little tempo and lots of lethargy, as is so often the case with international football. Comparatively, the club scene has never looked so polished, but you would not change the endearing narrative of this World Cup for anything.

The international game is beautifully flawed by design and the world at large is benefitting from this World Cup of imperfections. Logical reason was eliminated at the group stages and the only certainty that remains is the unpredictability of the overall outcome.

How often can we say that about the club game?

Colm Boohig is a journalist and blogger who works for Storyful.

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Colm Boohig  / Journalist and blogger

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