With World Cup fever firmly gripping all football fans, alongside the plethora of football stats, predictions, squad updates, opinions and the like being on hand 24/7, I felt it appropriate to offer some light relief in the form of some good old Footballblether.com nostalgia.
The first World Cup which I really remember was France 98, so that is where this nostalgic overview will begin. The home nation were the victors in this tournament, albeit without really possessing a recognised striker, or goal poaching striker at least, in the squad (this was when Thierry Henry was still seen as a promising winger). They did have the genius of Zidane, as well as the brilliance of Thuram and organisation of Blanc which helped power Les Bleus through to victory.
As a Scotland fan, I of course remember the fanfare surrounding the opening match where Scotland played the reigning champions (and subsequent runners up) Brazil. A typically heroic and hard fought 1-2 defeat was not unexpected by the Tartan Army. A 1-1 draw against Norway followed to build up some oh so familiar hope before a 0-3 pumping by Morocco sealed a group stage ticket home for Craig Brown’s boys.
Elsewhere in this tournament, memories of Romania stick out with the entire squad electing to dye their hair bleach blonde in some ill advised act of team building following a victory against England. This image, in particular the image of the team lining up in their “away” red strip with yellow trim with every member sporting bright yellow hair to top it off. A real iconic image and certainly not something we are likely to see again.
It wasn’t all toe curling late 90’s fashion choices at France 98 however, there was some genuine football brilliance. One particular moment which will never be forgotten was Denis Bergkamp’s sublime goal against Argentina. A long diagonal pass from De Boer, floated over the top, instant control, a step inside past the defender and still in a single movement the curling finish with the outside of the right foot into the far corner was and remains one of the greatest moments in World Cup history and an iconic image of the 98 tournament.
Japan & South Korea 2002
Scotland failed to qualify for this tournament, a now familiar occurrence. This didn’t diminish the quality of the tournament however, far from it. One memory as a fan was watching matches over breakfast before trying to find a way to watch or consume mid morning and lunchtime games. To this end, every boy at school came into possession of a small portable radio, with earphones fed up sleeves for optimal, secret, listening pleasure during Physics and Geography.
The great France team of the era, reigning World and European Champions kicked off the tournament against the relatively unknown Senegal. The African side shocked the world by beating the French and setting up the rest of the tournament for relative underdogs to thrive.
Yes, ultimately Brazil won the final against Germany which doesn’t seem to fit in with the “underdog” tag, but there was plenty for the neutral to get excited about throughout the rest of the tournament. As well as the vibrant and ultimately relatively successful Senegal side and the Turkey team who travelled deep into the tournament, there were the co-hosts South Korea – led by a certain Guus Hiddink who was to establish himself as something of a coaching messiah for emerging national teams over the next decade with successful spells at Australia and Russia to follow. Here however it was South Korea who he steered through to the Semi Finals of the tournament where they lost out to Germany following victories against Spain in the Quarters and Italy in the last 16. The Italian victory was made more memorable by the fact that the Extra Time winner was scored by Ahn Jung-hwan, who played for the Italian side Perugia at the time. His earth shattering winner also ended up shattering his fledgling career in Italy, where his club took great offence at the audacity of their player scoring against their national team and duly sacked him.
Notwithstanding the familiar look to the final, the refreshing nature of so called lesser nations progressing far in the tournament and achieving victories against some big hitters along the way will remain as one of the defining aspects of 2002.
Fussball came home in 2006 as Germany hosted the tournament. Again, Scotland didn’t qualify. The underdog theme as described above had continued in the intervening Euros where Greece had emerged victorious, but this tournament wasn’t as forgiving to the “wee guys” as Italy ultimately emerged victorious against a Zidane inspired France side (inspiring, of course, until he stuck the head on Materrazzi).
The European location meant favourable kick off times, with afternoon and evening slots proving popular. Having reached drinking age, there were a few heavy days including those with a small portable TV hooked up via extension leads in the garden for “al fresco” viewing with the obligatory refreshments alongside.
One memorable aspect of this tournament related to the media furore surrounding the England team – the “Golden Generation” who were set to end “40 years of hurt” in the “ideally situated, European tournament”. England ultimately made it to the Quarters where they were beaten on penalties by Portugal, not without controversy of course – with outrage at Rooney’s sending off for a stamp and Ronaldo’s subsequent appeal for justice. The reigning champions Brazil also made it to the Quarters, but the tournament was Italy’s. Engulfed by the Calciopoli match fixing scandal, there was a lot of bad press surrounding the Italians but their team was truly brilliant at this tournament. With attacking flair including Andrea Pirlo and the simply unbeatable Cannavaro at centre half, looking back there was simply no alternative. It is quite fitting that a tournament in Germany was won not by an underdog but by a cold, hard, ruthless side who set aside associated turmoil and bad press to claim the title.
South Africa 2010
Another tournament, another stay-cation for the Scots. The World Cup continued in South Africa regardless however. This tournament will mostly be remembered for the continuation of a football revolution, where Spain and their now iconic short passing style continued to evolve following victory at the 2008 Euros. There are a number of moments in history where the change in football philosophy really kick starts something, a useful example is the “Totaalvoetbal” change instigated by the Dutch in the 70’s – the inverted symmetry of the now more aggressive and physical approach of the Dutch in the final against the victorious Spain serving only to amplify the beauty of the Spanish style in this tournament.
Elsewhere, we had incredible in-fighting from the France side who simply imploded at this tournament in one of the most bizarre and indeed memorable moments. Something even less savoury here was the constant drone of the “vuvuzela” horns at every match, serving as an incredible irritant to all those watching at home during every match. Ghana made it quite far in this tournament, eventually going out to Uruguay where Luis Suarez handled on the line to prevent a certain goal before celebrating euphorically when Ghana missed the resultant (last minute) penalty – this drew criticism at the time, but if we’re all honest we have probably all done the same at some point. A really memorable incident nonetheless.
There was something really magical and brilliant about a World Cup in Brazil. Growing up, Brazil at many times were seen as one of the very best teams in the world. Skill, flair, flamboyance, enjoyment and “Joga Bonito”. Shame their team didn’t perform to a level to satisfy the passion of the Brazilian public, particularly when they were completely destroyed 7-1 by a ruthless German team in the Semis. This match will live long in the memory both for the scoreline but also the sheer cold blooded display of footballing brilliance from Germany who just dismantled the Brazilian side. A complete performance and an illustration of why they were ultimately deserved winners as they took Spain’s short passing style a step further and vindicated the decision in the early 00’s to completely restructure the youth development structure of their football system.
The carnival atmosphere of this tournament seemed to really resonate even through the TV and radio, this was in part exemplified by the strong performances of other South American nations like Chile, Argentina and notably Colombia, with James Rodriguez proving to be an exceptional, free spirited, skillful player. Messi helped his Argentina side push through to the Final, but never seemed to really find the same spark or flair as James in this tournament – whether this was the more focused, ruthless drive to the final rather than the party like enjoyment of Colombia I’m not sure. In any case, Brazil 2014 certainly ranks as one of my favourite tournaments for the sheer enjoyment and party atmosphere generated.
Slightly more crazy moments included the imperious Spain being pumped royally by Holland, with Van Persie scoring an outrageous diving header. Also were the 2 Cameroon players fighting on the pitch while being gubbed 4-0 by Croatia. We also had Suarez and his mid game snack which drew smiles and outrage in equal measure.
In reminiscing about past tournaments above, I am reminded about how much I actually love a World Cup. Excitement for Russia 2018 is growing and I for one can’t wait for the action to start.