World Cup highs and lows

Shell-shocked... Spain fans inside the FIFA Fan Fest area on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro are left numbed by the team's dismal show.-AP

The idea that Barcelona had found with its devoted coaching from the junior level the key to unchallenged success was ripped to bits by the direct Dutch. That’s the beauty of football. No style is permanent, no method invincible. Spain’s players, however famous, simply looked ageing and vulnerable, dismally liable to basic error. By Brian Glanville.

The World Cup tournament in Brazil made a vibrant start, overshadowed alas by increasing dark revelations of scandals off the field. While the world of soccer was still digesting the full implications of Holland’s stupendous 5-1 crushing of supposedly exemplary Spain or admiring the dazzling surprise of Costa Rica’s effervescent young striker Campbell, we learned of FIFA’s suppression of a vital report on Qatar’s vulnerability to terrorist attacks if the World Cup is still to be played there in 2022. Meanwhile, for those of us, who for so many years have liked, admired and respected Franz Beckenbauer have learned that he has been briefly given a 90-day suspension from all football activity — including his presence at the World Cup — for refusing to answer the Garcia inquiry’s questions over his alleged links with Qatar and their successful tournament bid.

The Sunday Times, whose devastating investigation, based on literally millions of disclosed e-mails, now tell us chillingly that a report from South Africa’s Andre Pruis, head of security at his country’s 2010 tournament and now security consultant in Brazil, warns that players and supporters will be at risk of a major terrorist incident in 2022. One which would close down the tournament.

Pruis’ reports gave chapters and verses to specific sites in Qatar, which will be vulnerable to terrorist outrage. None of the other various contending countries, whom he investigated, was supposedly as vulnerable as the tiny but hugely wealthy Middle Eastern nation.

Pruis’ report was given to FIFA 17 days before Qatar was voted host for the 2022 tournament. Pruis wrote, “Qatar is allocated a risk factor rating of high. I am of the view that it will be very difficult to deal with a major incident in such an environment without having to cancel the event.” Qatar, in other words, will be a sitting duck for terrorists, yet FIFA, blithely through its executive committee, so many of whom have seen been disgraced, voted for Qatar.

Other documents reveal the immensely close link between Bin Hammam, the corruptor-in-chief on behalf of the Qatari bid — he has of course been suspended for his attempts at bribing his way to the presidency of FIFA — and Qatari bid chief Al Thani, who needless to say denied any connection between them. Bin Hammam having notionally abandoned any official Qatari position.

And Beckenbauer? Previously highly detailed reports have given chapter and verse on his close relations with Bin Hammam and the Qatari bidders, including highly expensive deluxe visits to Qatar, where he had discussions with officials. He insists he has nothing to hide, yet his initial refusal to meet Garcia and answer questions seem depressingly ominous. If even Becekenbauer, alias Der Kaiser, is proved to be implicated in this sordid affair, you cannot help but think, what hope for football? He’s now agreed to cooperate.

Yet it does seem there is something rotten in the state of Bayern Munich football. It was only a few months ago that another famed member of the brilliant Bayern and West Germany team, captained and inspired by Beckenbauer, the ex-winger Uli Hoeness, who rose after his retirement from active football to become the President of Bayern, where Beckenbauer had long reigned, was imprisoned. Guilty, as he shame-facedly admitted to avoiding huge sums of money in tax. Who is next, you cannot help but wonder. And what holds for football if wretched, corrupt Qatar, however wealthy, can enlist the voting support not only of Beckenbauer, but of another previous giant of the game in France’s erratic President of UEFA, the European body, Michel Platini? One is reminded of the apocryphal story of an American baseball star, Shoeless Joe Jackson, implicated in the scandal of the Chicago White Sox (nicknamed in this dire context ‘The Black Sox’), guilty of selling the 1919 World Baseball Series. A celebrated cartoon showed a small boy pleading with Jackson, “Say it ain’t so, Joe!” And now we can only say, however, uncertainly, “Say it ain’t so, Franz”.

We have, of course, had the inevitable Blatter blathering. He ludicrously told a large sycophantic audience of peripheral soccer countries that the attack on FIFA over Qatar was a product of racism. For which he was promptly put down by the Chairman of the Football Association, Greg Dyke, who told him that he was talking nonsense. Nevertheless, and all too significantly, his hearers applauded him.

The supreme shock of the tournament so far — and it is hard to see it being surpassed — has been the 5-1 rout of Spain, the holders, by Holland, the team they beat in the World Cup final of 2010. It is tempting to say that the Spanish bluff has been called, that what has been known as Tippy Tappy football, has emphatically been found out and has had its day. Though the thrashing of Barcelona, once the epitome of the style, by Bayern Munich the season before last should plainly enough prove that the method had passed its meridian.

But so goes football. When England were slaughtered 6-3 at Wembley in November 1953 by a superlative Hungarian team, we were told that Hungary had now found the magic key to football success, A book was published in England called Learn to Play the Hungarian Way. We were told in great detail of exactly how they trained and how diligently they were coached. But by the 1958 World Cup, when their salient stars — Puskas, Kocsis, Czibor — had gone abroad, they were a merely mediocre team, all too ready to kick the opposition.

In the early and mid-1970s, we had so-called Total Football, in which the underlying theory was that anybody could do anything — defenders attack, attackers defend. The West Germans and the Dutch deployed it to stunning effect; it was what a French journalist called the new reality. But within a few years, with the passing of stars such as Beckenbauer and Holland’s Johan Cruyff, it was a mere bright memory.

The idea that Barcelona had found with its devoted coaching from the junior level the key to unchallenged success was ripped to bits by the direct Dutch. As with the Hungarians, the heroes were all too obviously tired, tip tapping their way to disaster. That’s the beauty of football. No style is permanent, no method invincible. Spain’s players, however famous, simply looked ageing and vulnerable, dismally liable to basic error. They were overrun and humiliated by the Dutch.

What will the next fashion be?