RIO DE JANEIRO—It's the night before the World Cup and I can't sleep. These four weeks, these 64 games, this World Cup will define the rest of my life, in one way or another. The life cycle of football fans is linked to seasons, temporadas, campeonatos, fixtures and World Cups. I frequently count backwards in four year increments to 1930: Uruguay. Monumental.
Despite the horrors of producing and hosting the World Cup and all of the criminally banal acts of intimidation, corruption, and authoritariansm that accompany these thrity days, there is something irresistable about the World Cup.
1100, Brasilia time, Mexico vs. South Africa. Where will you be? I love to hate Mexico. It wasn't always that way. I used to like Mexico. But when the US started beating them regularly, El Tri turned into a swarthy group of petulant punks, kicking and crying their way to defeat. The Yanks were, and are, a better side. Not as creative or tricky, but much more mens sano em corpore sano.
During qualifying, Mexico did well to get rid of the ineffectual Swede Sven Goran Ericksson, now the manager of Ivory Coast. They recalled former coach Javier Aguirre, who has El Tri playing like El Tri. Mexcio are fun to watch. They pass the ball beautifully and have players with real technical gifts. This generation of youthful attacking players (Dos Santos, Guardardo, Torres, Vela, Franco) are all in the top European leagues. And even though Cuauhtemoc Blanco has headed so many balls that he's lost his neck, having your talismanic triker named after the last Aztec emperor is cool. So, arriba Mexico?
The Bafana Bafana will be performing under more pressure than the Mexicans. It's hard to know what to expect from them, other than an incredibly high work rate. I think they'll be fortunate to get a draw, probably with a little help from the referee. It's hard not to sympathize with them, but perhaps best to lose early to get started with the decades-long hangover.
Prediction: RSA 2 x MEX 2
15:30, Uruguay vs. France. Les Bleus are tout enigmatique that it's impossible to say what they're going to do. Coach Dominech doesn't really seem to have a clue and the players are openly confused. France might just be a bunch of well-fed Eurostars who can't be bothered to fight their way into the second round. I don't envision a coherent performance, but if three or four players get into sync they will score more than they concede.
Uruguay is no fun to play against, and only slightly more enjoyable to watch. They will kick and pull and counter and run until they have to change feet or get sent off. Diego Forlan is a world-class striker, capable of turning a sleepy draw into a win.
Prediction: URU 2 FRA 1
Chris is a visiting professor in the School of Architecture and Urbanism at the Universidade Federal Fluminense. His research and teaching focus on the urban and social impacts of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics. His recent book, Temples of the Earthbound Gods, explores the history, geography and culture of stadiums in Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires. His first World Cup memory was the 1982 Final. In 1986, he watched Diego lift the trophy in Mexico from Portsmouth, England. He watched 1990 in Arlington, Texas, when he videotaped all of the games—since lost. Went to the six Dallas games of the 1994 World Cup. Rented an RV and drove around France in 1998. Got up at 2:30 every morning for weeks in Northampton, Mass. in 2002. 2006 was a brilliant time playing ping pong between matches in Austin, Texas. This Cup, he is in Rio de Janeiro, checking out the FIFA Fan Fest as often as possible.