PT Barnum may have been right 150 years ago, but The Greatest Show on Earth these days gets underway this afternoon, despite the shameful corruption displayed by Fifa. By comparison, the Olympics is a sideshow. My first experience of the World Cup was watching Scotland play Zaire in 1974. For 20-odd years the tournament had participation value for Scotland, even if the joy of being there was short lived.
These days the joy is all about being a neutral football fan and soaking up the drama and brilliance from the game.
Statistically it is difficult to look past Brazil, who will benefit enormously from home advantage. European teams have never won the tournament in the Americans, where Brazil and Argentina have won every competition since Uruguay triumphed in the last time the tournament was held in Brazil 64 years ago.
Lionel Messi was, until recent times, the undisputed best player on the planet, but his position in the all-time greatest list is in considerable dispute. Ask an older Barcelona fan, who has watched Cruyff, Maradona Ronaldo and Messi all do their stuff at the Camp Nou, and they are likely to tell you Leo is by far the better player. His stats as a striker bear this out, but ask an Argentinean, and he’ll scarcely get a mention in the same breath as Diego. There is not even a debate that Messi is the greatest Argentine.
After giving a spectacular display of goal-scoring prowess in 1982, then 25-year-old Diego Maradona singlehandedly led Argentina to their second World Cup in 1986 and back to the final four years later. By Comparison, 26-year-old Messi has looked comparatively pedestrian in his two previous tournaments. He’ll be 30 by the time of the next tournament, which will be held in the completely different environment of Russia. If Messi is to be considered an all-time great, he needs to take Argentina to the final. If his career ends without an outstanding World Cup, he’ll slip somewhere between Eusabio and Cruyff in the list.
I’d like Belgium to win. Belgian clubs and FA go about their business correctly and brought a remarkable bounty of talent to Brazil. It’s always been easy to back Brazil but I’m still not over the Neymar thing. The guy is an abomination in the Brazil No. 10 shirt, a vastly over-rated charlatan. Anyone but Neymar, please.
Bertie Auld live chat, tomorrow, 1pm, on CQN. Be there.
Visit the CQN Bookstore to get Tommy Gemmell to sign your personal copy of his tome, All the Best.[calameo code=0003901719d82038831a9 lang=en page=126 hidelinks=1 width=100% height=500]