The 2018 World Cup has been steeped in controversy from the moment that Sapp Blotter announced that the Russian bid to host had been successful. Many of the following protests were blamed on sour grapes, particularly the ones citing underhand dealings.
If only there had been some kind of circumstantial grounding for the accusations, some historical lack of transparency maybe, or perhaps FIFA officials mired in charges of "rampant, systemic and deep-rooted" corruption. Even a suspicion that Russia might have a penchant for meddling in elections could have added weight to the arguments… Oh well…
Since then, Sipp Bladder has of course, been banned from all FIFA business and Qatar 2022 seems to be going fine. Absolutely fine. Nope, nothing to see here… No. Seriously. Move away.
Of course there were the boycott threats too – rumours of America pulling out were rife, before the team spared Trump’s blushes by dropping a bollock – and, crucially, three points – against Trinidad and Tobago last October and failing to qualify.
Then it was the turn of England and the famous diplomacy of stoic statesman Boris Johnson who, following the poisoning of a former Russian spy in the UK, likened the 2018 World Cup to the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany and seemed to suggest that England would pull out. They didn’t, of course, and their group looks, if not easy, then at least OK. If they can manage Belgium and beat Tunisia, knockout-stage heartbreak is still very much on the cards.
Sadly heartbreak came all too soon for Italy, who failed to qualify. It will be odd not to see them there, and the 2006 winners would have been certain to avoid previous bogey teams – a list which includes absolute giants of football such as Slovakia and New Zealand. We can only dream of what might have been.
2014 third-place finishers Holland will be staying put too. A crying shame for the nation that gave us Total Football, and for those in the ageing squad who now have little to look forward to other than a possible career in punditry, a free bus pass and a surprisingly wide choice of incontinence pad options.
Out with the old perhaps, but it’s also in with the new. Russia 2018 brings with it the introduction of virtual assistant referees. Banned Sopp Bitter has said he thinks the move is “not very clever” and, ironically enough, tried to get it banned (maybe he’s just lonely, misery loves company, after all), but following Brazil’s 2014 introduction of goalmouth technology, it seems very much the natural next step. If you’re not sure of what VAR entails, it’s a team of people scrutinising banks of screens showing video replays in order to make sure that all angles are covered – much like police do with CCTV in town centres night after night, or Chuck Berry did with a rudimentary video camera mounted in the female toilets of his restaurant.
But despite the controversies and calamities, the arguments and absences, this is still the World Cup. Sixty-four beautiful (we hope) games that we’ll be covering in our own, unique way, combining words and pictures in an attempt to pretend that we’re working. We hope you enjoy…