Just how important is the World Cup?

July 6, 2010

SOCCER-WORLD/ No other sporting event has the same impact as the World Cup. Entire countries grind to a halt to watch games, no more so than Brazil where shopping and banking hours are completely altered throughout the tournament month and many just take an official month-long holiday. Politicians jump on the bandwagon, making a big thing of how much they are supporting the team, and launch government inquiries when their teams fail.

Entire reputations can be shattered as Juan Sebastian Veron discovered in 2002, when he was vilified for Argentina’s first-round exit, and Ronaldo experienced four years later when some saw as excess kilos around his waist became an affair of state and were blamed for Brazil’s quarter-final elimination.

Paraguay’s Oscar Cardozo was inconsolable after missing a penalty against Spain on Saturday and the floods of tears in the Brazil dressing-room team after quarter-final defeat by Netherlands said everything about how much defeat means to them.

Like many of his colleagues, Brazil coach Dunga had spent four years planning and preparing for South Africa. All that work was undone in 20 minutes when the Dutch scored twice and Brazil had Felipe Melo – who is almost certain to have his career permanently tarnished – sent off.

Former Brazil striker Tostao, who played alongside Pele in the 1970 team, believes that we may be attaching too much importance to a one-month long tournament.

“In spite of the importance of a World Cup for the players and for the national teams, it doesn’t make good sense to define concepts and plan the future because of a tournament which lasts only seven matches, four of which are sudden death,” he wrote in the Folha de Sao Paulo.

“The best team is the one which was the best this month. If they held another World Cup one month later, the results would be different.

“When judging a player’s career, much more importance should be given to his average performances for his club than his performances in a World Cup, which is so short.

“Messi has not stopped being the world’s best player simply because Argentina were knocked out by Germany and because he didn’t score a single goal. Brazil’s virtues…did not cease to exist because they were eliminated.

“Is it right that Brazil stops because of a sporting event, as if it was a struggle for national sovereignty?”

Does he have a point? Or is the very attraction of the World Cup the fact that reputations can be made and broken in the space of one month and that few of those who fail will have a chance to try again?

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