The Fear the Wall writers have already shared their BVB-related takeaway’s from the World Cup, but what is a person to do if they haven’t given Dortmund a single moment’s thought in the last month? The England football team are the team I care about more than any other, in any sport (in large part due to reasons unrelated to sport), so I’d be lying if I claimed I’ve been thinking about what all this means for BVB! But that doesn’t mean I want to get left out, without getting to share my asinine opinions with you all. So here’s an article jam-packed with my entirely non-BVB thoughts about the World Cup. It’s nothing to do with Dortmund, here on this Borussia Dortmund fan blog. Enjoy!
Don’t Mess with a Winning Formula
Plenty of ink (or pixels) has already been spilled on the topic of Qatar as a host. Here at Fear the Wall, Anders and Joey both wrote excellent articles on their decision to watch the Qatar World Cup or not. So I don’t think it is either necessary, or helpful, for me to go over that right now. Instead, I’d like to make a case for the format of the World Cup right now, if not the despots we choose as hosts!
There has been discussion about the possibility of changing the format of the tournament for the 2026 World Cup, which will be hosted by United States, Mexico, and Canada. Discussions have focused on the group stages, and how you organise an expanded tournament, from 32 countries to the 48 that will compete for the next World Cup.
Fifa’s Chief of Global Football, Arsene Wenger, has said that the group stages will be 16 groups of three, 12 groups of four, or two sides of six groups of four. I’m not entirely sure how the latter would look, but I’m generally in favour of sticking to what we know, simply because it has worked so well. The 32-team World Cup era has been excellent (on the pitch, at least), and I’d like to see more of the chaos that the group stages brought this time round.
Stadiums Should Look Different
One of the real shames about some of the major tournaments in recent years has been the stadiums. I mean, sure, they’re massive, marvellous venues, kitted out with every modern and fancy feature you could imagine... But if I showed you any stadium from the last tournament, could you name it? Could you even distinguish it from any other stadium at the Qatar World Cup? Or most stadiums at other recent tournaments?
Part of what makes these major tournaments special is the unique stadiums that serve as a perfect backdrop for the world’s greatest football players to create their legacies. It feels like, in recent years, we’ve started to lose some of that. The stadiums we build for major tournaments nowadays are incredibly impressive, but they all feel a little bit sterile, or lifeless.
Take the gallery of iconic stadiums below. These are some of the most well-known, loved stadiums in football.
- San Siro, Milan Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images
- Villa Park, Birmingham Photo by Ian Cook - CameraSport via Getty Images
- Azteca Stadium, Mexico City Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images
- La Bombonera, Buenos Aires Photo by Daniel Jayo - Pool/Getty Images
- Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images
- Old Wembley, London
And these differences aren’t limited to the architecture that surrounds the pitch that the game is played on. The game is framed by these stadiums, and those frames become quite recognizable. I can pick out the Millennium Stadium immediately when I see football or rugby games being played there. Everyone could spot Highbury immediately when they saw a game being played there on television. These things add so much to the experience, both for the fans in attendance and those watching on TV. It would be a shame to lose that, but it feels like it’s happening already.
Brazil Shouldn’t Panic
I remember a Brazilian journalist (I think) once making the claim that the two hardest jobs in football are manager of Brazil and manager of England. The pressure that both face is arguably worse than in any other job, but for completely different reasons. Brazil, the greatest football nation ever, are so successful that anything less than victory is a failure. The pressure of having a shot once every four years, and knowing that walking away without the trophy means complete failure, is obvious. In England’s case, it’s pressure driven by desperation. We want it so badly that the pressure that creates for the team is immense. Despite the distinct difference in how the pressure builds, it does for both nations, and I don’t think it helps either.
Both countries ended up going out in the quarter finals of the Qatar World Cup despite outplaying their opponent, and in Brazil’s case they really outplayed their opponent, but the reactions to both (by the media, and I would assume, the fans) were very, very different. England, due to their low expectations + desperation combo, were proud of the effort, especially against such an amazing team in France. Brazil? Well Brazil are supposed to come away with the trophy, and instead they lost to a Croatia team so old they had to pull Luka Modric back out of the crypt ahead of the game.
But knockout football is a mess, and Brazil absolutely tore Croatia apart, in a game that Croatia played pretty well! The fact they ended up on the losing end is more about the random chance involved in the knockout stages of a World Cup.
I think this Brazil team was clearly one of the four best teams in this tournament, and the fact they didn’t end up winning it all, while obviously very disappointing, shouldn’t be taken as proof of failure. Take it from a fan very painfully familiar with failure... That wasn’t what failure looks like.
I Finally Believe England Could Win
This is the first time I’ve really believed that England can win a major trophy in my lifetime. Sure, there were fleeting moments when I thought we might get lucky and win it all at the Euros, given that it only requires a little luck for one of the best teams in the tournament (England) to overcome the best team (Italy) in a single knockout game. But that belief that a little bit of luck might help us snatch a win isn’t really what I mean here. For the first time ever, I think England can go into tournaments not just as arguably the best team on paper, but also in practice. I think we’ve got the quality, right now, to really believe we can win in the next few tournaments, and I think we’ve built an infrastructure that can produce talent on a consistent basis similar to Clairefontaine in France (though the French are clearly better at it still).
None of this means that England will win. Knockout football doesn’t work like that (as we found out against France this go round). But I believe we can have a real shot at it, and I have hope that things can, at least once, fall our way and lead to us winning something.
I am deeply uncomfortable feeling this sense of optimism in an England side. We’re supposed to be the team that is almost good enough but consistently a desperate failure at the same time. I don’t know how to handle believing something good can actually happen!
How do you feel about the format and the venues for World Cups in the future? And do you have any final thoughts from the Qatar World Cup?