Brazil’s major worry coming into this tournament is, almost unbelievably, a lack of creativity. Without an in-form superstar in their attacking line-up, a weight of expectation is on the shoulders of Kaka, who has spent much of the last 12 months alternating between injured and out of sorts. With Julio Cesar, Lucio and Maicon in their back five, it is defensive solidity that is their strength this time around, much to coach Dunga’s delight presumably.
Despite 7 years of the left-wing Lula administration and social programmes such as the Bolsa Família aimed at eradicating hunger, Brazil nonetheless enter the World Cup firmly in mid-table in the Who Should I Cheer For league, thanks in part to a persistently high level of income inequality.
Like Didier Drogba’s arm, the Ivory Coast’s health system appears to be comprehensively broken, with maternal mortality figures through the roof at 944 per 100,000 births. Despite this, low national income and extremely low carbon emissions lead Cote d’Ivoire into 4th place in the Who Should I Cheer For standings.
Drogba, despite his infuriating on-field personality, is actually one of football’s most prominent champions of the poor. He is a UNDP goodwill ambassador, and once donated his £3m fee from a sponsorship deal to the construction of a hospital in his hometown Abidjan. Nonetheless, about a quarter of the population live below the $1.25 a day international poverty line, and in a group of death, and potentially without their inspirational captain, they may not gain much succour from this tournament.
Well, what can you say really? Even the most avid of contrarians will struggle to get behind a team representing one of the most repressive regimes in the world. While their audacious attempt to sidestep FIFA’s silly mandatory three goalkeepers rule was both amusing and admirable, it is nonetheless indicative of the disconnect between incredibly strict rules at home and a cavalier disregard for international standards. With approximately 900 people per 100,000 held in prisons or labour camps, I dread to imagine the consequences of defying any of the Supreme Leader’s goalkeeping-related regulations back in Pyongyang.
Portugal’s main failing during their recent ‘golden generation’ years has been a lack of killer instinct, which belies their curiously high military spending. Similarly, their often generous defending fails to reflect their significantly less generous 0.21% of GDP given in international aid, placing them comprehensively to the bottom of our standings, if not the FIFA world rankings.
Nonetheless, their appetite for a major trophy reflects the 6% of the country that remain chronically hungry, and with the poor form of the team under Carlos Quieroz mirroring an economy described by the Economist as “the new sick man of Europe”, riddled by both debt and corruption scandals, it’s not looking great for either.
Chile’s hosting of the World Cup in 1962 is a case in point for the often vexed intersection between football and poverty. The 1960 earthquake had devastated the country, yet Chile vowed to press on: “Because we have nothing, we want to do everything.” While it is arguable that resources for rebuilding may have been better directed elsewhere, one should not underestimate the effects of football on national morale, and a successful World Cup, coupled with an impressive third place for the hosts had a deep restorative effect on the country.
Despite sitting at a lowly 24th in the most supportable country stakes (largely due to somewhat extravagant military spending), after another enormous earthquake this February, the damage for which has been estimated at around 10-15% of GDP, Chile may be a great deal more sympathetic than it would appear.
This is without even mentioning their cavalier attacking football, typified by the free-scoring Humberto Suazo, that brought them to second place behind Brazil in the qualifiers, and may well see them get out of the group.
After scraping through to the World Cup from a poor CONCACAF qualifying tournament, the Hondurans appear set to be the most whippingest of whipping boys, despite the presence of Premier League talents Maynor Figueroa and Wilson Palacios. A desperately poor country, the Hondurans’ delight last year at qualifying for their first World Cup since they took a point off Spain in 1982 occurred during a constitutional crisis that resulted in left-leaning president Manuel Zelaya being removed and exiled in a military coup d’état. The subsequent election has been condemned as illegitimate, with most of Latin America and much of the rest of the world refusing to recognise the election of Porfirio Sosa.
2009 also saw a period where freedom of expression, movement and habeus corpus were all suspended, somewhat belying their position at number 3 in the Who Should I Cheer For? standings, albeit perfectly encapsulating the tension between whether you would be cheering for the people, or the State.
Having posted the best inter-World Cup set of results of any international team ever, it would seem that Spain are deserved favourites. With a superabundance of attacking talent at their disposal, a world class goalkeeper in Casillas, and a surprisingly resilient defence that benefits from the opposition almost never having the ball, surely only injuries can dent Spain’s chances of finally joining the elite of World Cup winning nations. Football being football however, come the latter stages (and Spain have a relatively tough route to the final) nothing is a certainty.
Nonetheless, one can but applaud the quality of football they play, and, for a European country, a fairly respectable 8th place in our standings (thanks to low military spending, and an incredibly high rate of women in parliament) mean that Spain are a very attractive proposition for the neutral indeed.
Low income inequality, low military spending (surprise) and relatively low carbon emissions mean the Swiss occupy a reasonable 10th position in our standings.
While legendary coach Ottmar Hitzfeld has offered them new attacking impetus, for a famously neutral country, their team is remarkably poor at attracting neutrals of the footballing variety. Specifically, that 10th place fails to take into account their 0-0 draw with the Ukraine in the last 16 of World Cup 2006, which, though it has yet to be put to a vote at the UN, can only be described as a crime against humanity.
After a controversial plebiscite banning the construction of minarets was passed last year, liberals, Muslims and fans of enjoyable football alike may find it difficult to forgive and forget this summer.
Posted in: Brazil, Chile, Cote d'Ivoire, Group previews, Honduras, North Korea, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland
Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the World Development Movement.