For 30 summer days every even-numbered, non-leap year, people across the globe gather around screens for 90 minutes to stare at, and care deeply about, 22 (physically) mature men kicking a ball around a green field with some white lines. Most people get the game; some wonder why players writhe around occasionally; people who don’t watch the 64-match tournament still hear about it, thanks to a scandal or controversy or shocking result. (This year, with Google’s doodles marking the event, many online surfers were usually aware of who was playing.)
FIFA shakes its money-maker, louder and noisier than any vuvuzela (2010’s buzzing plastic horns), more fervidly each go-around. And out of this cauldron of male soap-opera, one-sport extravaganza, nationalisms played out on turf and soccer-branding meat-market, a few juicy morsels always bubble to the surface—quotes, quips and quirks capturing the odd basic flavour, or quiddity, of the World Cup. Here are the choicest from 2014’s edition, hosted so generously by Brazil that the home squad ceded 10 goals in their last two games just to make sure the all-time record for goals scored at a 32-team WC could be equalled on the final day, in Rio, where Germany beat Argentina 1-0.
“How would you feel if someone took naked pictures of you? They are adamant that they won’t speak to you lot any more and I don’t know whether the silence will end tomorrow or last until the end of our World Cup campaign … you blew it with this one.” – Croatia coach Niko Kovač explaining, to reporters at the team’s base on June 15, that his players would no longer be talking to them after two photographers hid in bushes and snapped players bathing nude in the team’s pool; the pictures were published online.
“FIFA is getting to the bottom of the issue by possibly bringing Neymar in to be debriefed.” – Brandon Hicks, cbc.ca/sports, June 25, in an article about FIFA investigating Brazil star Neymar’s reported underwear violation after photos showed the striker wearing a brand of underwear not FIFA-approved.
HIS BITE WAS WORSE …
“Just downloaded a video of Luis Suárez’s greatest moments—it was only three megabites.”
“Messi’s carrying Argentina, Neymar’s carrying Brazil, Chiellini’s carrying rabies.”
“Luis Suárez would like to thank his fangs for their support.” – Three of many jokes circulating after Uruguay striker Luis Suárez bit Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini in the shoulder late in the second half of their June 24 match; it was his third chomping incident and he was suspended by FIFA for four months.
… THAN HIS DETACHED BARK
“The truth is that my colleague Giorgio Chiellini suffered the physical result of a bite in the collision he suffered with me.” – Part of the apologetic statement released via Twitter by Suárez on June 30; nowhere did he actually state that he purposely bit his opponent.
RESIGNED TO PROTEST
“But you ask why people are more interested in the World Cup? It’s the fucking World Cup. You can’t do much about that.” – Julia Mariano, a documentarian, activist and freelance producer (quoted by Sam Laird in a Mashable.com article, June 25), explaining the drop-off in protests and public interest in protests. Demonstrations at the FIFA Confederation Cup a year before, over the comparative lack of funding for schools, health care and public transit, had brought thousands into the streets. The estimated cost to the Brazilian government of hosting the World Cup is $14-billion US, with $900-million pledged to security forces in operation during the tournament.
“This [is] not an excuse, it is a fact. There was a laser.” – Russia’s coach Fabio Capello, discussing his team’s elimination after their 1-1 draw with Algeria on June 26. Just before Algeria’s fateful corner kick, the FIFA TV feed showed a green light being flashed across the face of goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, who made the error that caused the goal moments later. Capello was the highest-paid coach at the WC; Russia doled out about $11.4-million US in annual salary to the 68-year-old Italian.
“That was the smallest problem. Everything had accumulated over a month. It was pure disaster. Poor training conditions and sleep options … I [was] just wonder where all the money was flowing … The association get[s] so much money from sponsors and FIFA—it was certainly not used for hotels, flights, the team and the preparation … everything was amateurish.” – Kevin Prince-Boateng, Schalke midfielder and former Ghana player, in a June 29 interview with Bild after his expulsion from Ghana’s national team on the day of its final WC game. The “smallest problem” he refers to was the team’s dispute over player bonuses, resolved, it was widely reported, by the Ghanaian president when he had $3-million in cash flown to the Black Stars in Brazil via private jet. Prince-Boateng was kicked out after, it was claimed, he made “vulgar verbal insults” against coach James Appiah; teammate Sulley Muntari was expelled after an apparent “unprovoked physical attack” on a Ghana Football Association member.
ELEVEN FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST
“We were extremely cool and realized they were cracking up, and we took advantage of that.” – Coach Joachim Löw, July 8, assessing his German team’s dismantling of the hosts, in their Belo Horizonte semi-final, with four goals in seven minutes and seven over 69 minutes. Brazil hadn’t lost a competitive home match since 1975. They went on to lose the third-place match 3-0 to Holland, marking their first consecutive home losses since 1940.
THE CUP’S HALF-EMPTY … BEFORE IT’S BROKEN
“The atmo[sphere] at the 2018 World Cup will be DOA.
In 2022, it will be even worse. … You can’t just roll into Qatar to soak up the vibe. The average daily high is 40 C. If you’re on the street, you’re going to die.
There’s also the issue of moral peril. Who wants to vacation in a graveyard for itinerant workers?
By 2026—after two consecutive gong shows—nobody sensible is going to want this hassle any more. Of course, that means Canada’s already declared its interest. That’ll never happen. We’re too straight. …
No, this will end up going to some desperate, half-crooked government that will be happily robbed blind in exchange for a month’s worth of agitprop. That pattern has been very good to FIFA. The organization will do even less for the fans, because that’s the trend. This thing is charting a line into human oblivion.” – Cathal Kelly, The Globe and Mail, July 11, looking ahead to the World Cup wonders of 2018 and 2022.