Pedigree counts in the final run


The second biggest sporting show of the universe after the Olympic Games — the football World Cup — will kick off at Johannesburg’s futuristic Soccer City Stadium on June 11. For a month the world will be in thrall of its favourite event. It is no exaggeration to state that football is the commonest thread binding the disparate sections of mankind.
In a world divided by religion, region, language and ethnicity, the universality of the beautiful game shines through. Football is one language that is understood as easily in the conservative Arab land and the communist China as it is in the highbrow circles of England, its birthplace. India is no exception as the cumulative television ratings for the football World Cup are exceptional for an avowed cricket country.
First, we would have a look at the likely winners. The history of the World Cup indicates that pedigree counts in the final analysis. Teams blessed with the big-match experience and the ability to deal with pressure last the distance. Fairytale stories are rare on the home run. After causing an upset or two in the preliminary rounds (like Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal in 2002), smaller nations leave the stage to established powerhouses.
At the outset, five-time winners Brazil, defending champions Italy, Spain and Germany are the front-runners. Brazil and Spain are in a different league in terms of talent. Italy and Germany, the two teams neutral fans love to hate, are always title contenders, irrespective of the strength of the teams they send to the World Cup. The two have an uncanny knack to rise to the occasion. Italy’s veteran coach Marcello Lippi will be pumped up to win his second successive World Cup and emulate his compatriot Vittorio Pozzo, who did the double in 1934 and 1938. The core of the team that went all the way in Germany four years ago is available for the charismatic Italian.
Watch out for Germany, the most consistent nation in Euro and the World Cup in the last three decades. The Germans have warmed up nicely to the task ahead by reaching the final of the 2008 European championship. After a fine run in the World Cup qualifiers, confidence will not be in short supply. Germany will rely on their traditional qualities — mental strength, organisation on the field and the drive to excel — to bring the cup home from South Africa.
Argentina, France, The Netherlands and England are the dark horses. Diego Maradona has the onerous task of proving his genius on the touchline, as he had on the field of play in 1986.
Even though France are in disarray, it will be foolish to write the talent-rich ’98 champions off. The Dutch took the 2008 Euro by storm only to lose the plot against Russia. There is no doubt that they have the tools to win their maiden World Cup.

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