Karl Ove Knausgaard, in his book Home and Away: Writing the Beautiful Game, shares a series of letters with his friend Fredrik Ekelund about the 2014 World Cup. In his first letter he says that he will always cheer on Argentina and Italy in such competitions. And he does this because both teams are traditionally cynical, they never do ‘anything beautiful for the sake of beautiful, only if there is some outcome.’ And the fact that they can do so, but hold back, appeals to something deep in side him.Well, now that World Cup 2018 is upon us, I’m looking at the line-up and wondering who I want to win. Up to a couple of days ago the whole thing hadn’t even registered, or if it had, I was more or less apathetic. I was far more focused last Sunday on the monumental, Homeric game between Clare and Tipperary, that’s for sure.

Given the choice of the whole World Cup and last Sunday’s single glorious outpouring of epic hurling, I know which I’d choose, but the great thing about sport is that we can have it all. It isn’t a situation of either whiskey or beer. We can get completely sloshed if we want.

In Group A, it has to be Egypt because it would be amazing and also I still feel guilty about cheering when Salah got hurt against Real Madrid (I’m United). At 150/1, however, and without the mighty Mo …

In Group B, I’d love to say Morocco or Iran but their joint odds are heading for 1000/1 so I’ll have to choose between Portugal or Spain. Now I’d love to see Portugal win because it would shove it up to the Ronaldo haters and if it happened his head would become so big that it might cause a space time anomaly or a even black hole. But no, it’ll have to be the tiki taka boys. And it would also be interesting to see bad boy Ramos irritate the moral brigade into a twitching mess of outrage.

Group C: Denmark for sure, because it’s never going to happen and I can no longer love the French football team after the Henri hand ball. There will be some crack in Peru, though, and that would be a blast, to be in Lima during their three games, drinking piscos and eating ceviche by the beach in Miraflores.

In Group D, it must be Iceland, the country that gave us the genius of Sigur Rós. Unlike Knausgaard I don’t like Argentina and haven’t since that wonderful championship of 1978, when Mario Kempes stole my heart and Argentina stole the cup. My passion for Holland and the glamour of that 1974 team had waned in the four years after they were mugged by Germany. And Cruyff had gone, even if the player with the most perfect name ever in football was still there: Johnny Rep. But how cool was Johan Neeskens, long hair flowing, orange shirt loose, socks down, dreamily gracing through the middle, giving and taking one-twos. He was probably the reason I played soccer in the first place.

But the excitement of being seventeen years old and watching those glorious dramas unfold in the heat and the noise of Buenos Aires and the pitches emblazoned with confetti, scattering over the grass like white dreams. And then the coming of Maradona, who could have played in 1978, he really could. Sigh.

In Group E let’s go with Brazil. Now, I’m not gone on Brazil. There’s too much romanticism about them – I don’t agree much with Knausgaard but I do agree with that. I was sorry about the drubbing by Germany on their home patch four years ago – that was cruel and unusual, but, while I get the splendour of the whole concept of Brazilian football, it’s too sugary for my harsh taste buds. I do remember 1970 and the glory of Jairzinho, who scored in every game. And that team probably was the best ever, but I was only nine at the time and so I was cheering for England (I hadn’t learned to hate them yet) and then for Germany, because Gerd Müller was, well, Gerd Müller.

In Group F, it will have to be Sweden because of Abba (just kidding). It will have to be Sweden because if they win it, the country will go clean mad and what a laugh to see 8 million Swedes lose the run of themselves completely and run naked into the Baltic Sea. Of course, I know that Germany will win the group and then the championship, but we have to dream.

In G, it’s a toss-up between Panama and Tunisia. Again the odds are over 1000/1 but so what? To see both of them beat England would be an interesting exercise in Brexitology, but it would also be interesting if England won the group and lost the final or even won the final. Interesting good if they lost the final, interesting bad if they won it. But it’s too risky, so I’ll go for Belgium here.

In Group H, I’m going for Japan because we’ll all be eating free sushi for weeks. Although if Colombia did it … There’s too much nationalism in Poland already, so, no-go there. Let’s opt for Senegal. Oh, to have an African champion. What that would mean.

But I won’t be hugely moved if any of these teams wins it. And I don’t think the intimacy of a kiss between Ronaldo and Ramos can match the exquisite soul sharing of that moment between Patrick O’Connor of Clare and Seamus Callanan of Tipp, that Ray McManus so wonderfully captured last Sunday. Ah, now.

Overall, I’ll be cheering for Italy, as I always do. Just because it’s Italy, if for no other reason at all. And I know they didn’t qualify and I know Materazzi shouldn’t have said what he said to Zizou in 2006, or maybe he should. And then there’s Giorgio Chiellini  who I think is the most beautiful and perfect footballer I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen Maldini, and I’ve seen Baggio, and I’ve seen Pirlo – Pirlo!).

Giorgio appeals to something deep inside me. Maybe it’s because he stepped straight out of a Caravvagio painting, or his profile is the exact same as that of Julius Caesar, or maybe it’s because his heart is the size Lake Garda. I don’t know why and I don’t care. Intellect or logic has nothing to do with football or sport. It’s emotion or nothing.

And, sorry, a World Cup without Giorgio just doesn’t do it for me. But then again, you never know.

Come on Senegal!

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