The Greatest World Cup Fairy Tale of All Time


England is the birthplace of both soccer and dramatic irony. For several decades, the two native traditions merged. As if scripted by Dickens or Fielding, the fate awaiting English soccer was visible to everyone—except the nation itself. Deluded by its triumph in the 1966 World Cup, the country set itself expectations that it could never possibly fulfill—and it didn’t. Inevitable debacle followed debacle, each accompanied by ritualized bouts of self-immolation. Players were accused of lacking commitment to the cause; wags bemoaned the nation’s paucity of technical acumen.

This time, there was no foreshadowing of crushing defeat, because there was no sense of expectation. England’s manager, Gareth Southgate, had played a central role in some of England’s past catastrophes. And he seemed hellbent on tamping down any thought that his team might win the tournament. If you’ve ever listened to the meditative app Headspace, Southgate is like its soporific zen-master, Andy Puddicombe, with an almost narcotic capacity to numb and becalm.

Then the unlikely happened. The squad—young, slightly patchwork—started to win the sorts of games that have usually induced English choking. Its intricate passing seemed to finally dispose of England’s deeply ingrained habit of aimlessly kicked balls in the direction of the box. Eric Trippier, the team’s bombarding right back, became one of the breakout stars of the tournament. The slogan “It’s Coming Home,” an allusion to England’s invention of the global game, was chanted ironically; then it began to be trumpeted earnestly. But at the moment the country worked itself into a frenzy, it was almost inevitable that the plot would punish England again for permitting itself a sense of self-belief.

By halftime of today’s semi-finals, England led the game and even commanded it. It played with speed and smothered the midfield. Every corner kick or free kick it launched seemed a clever scheme, designed to induce Croatian panic. And there was every reason to believe that, after two consecutive games that extended to penalty kicks, Croatia was bereft of the energy that could fuel a comeback. Therefore, we need to bow down before Croatia’s slightly ragged victory.

There are nearly four times more undocumented immigrants in the United States than the total population of Croatia. If metropolitan Philadelphia decided to secede and start its own nation, it would have a far bigger population pool to draw from than the Croats. The World Cup is historically a cartel—owned …read more

Source:: The Atlantic – Culture

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