Today, in a newly transformed beachfront resort location near Salvador (Bahía), Brazil, the Federation of International Football Associations, or FIFA, will be holding the gala prelude to their signature event, the official draw to the 2014 World Cup. For soccer, or (European) football enthusiasts, this is like the fantastic anticipation of a Christmas, if Christmas occurred only every four years. The fact that this edition of the World Cup will take place in Brazil the crucible of “The Beautiful Game,” only raises the tension level. Thirty-two national teams are drawn into eight groups of four, which will largely determine each team’s chances of winning, or even proceeding beyond the three guaranteed group games (only two teams progress out of each group). Will one find great and useful gifts in one’s stocking, like Iran, Cameroon or Honduras, or will it be (albeit entertaining) lumps of coal, like host and favorite Brazil, The Netherlands, Germany, and Italy? The United States team, fans, and media contingent faces such a quandary, but it pales to the level of obsessive behavior occurring in European countries such as France, Greece and especially, England.
Meanwhile, FIFA and its corporate benefactors are milking the occasion of drawing for all it is worth, with pop stars, music, and the revealing of a new soccer ball by Adidas, the Brazuca, conjuring the bizarre image of cariocas in floss bikinis setting tanks aflame. With that in mind, I recommend watching The Glitterball (1977) tonight. A classic piece of ‘70s British Cinema, it stars Marjorie Yates (Stardust (1974), Wetherby (1985)), as well as a number of actors that would go on to long careers on the BBC and other networks. In a story that was obviously aware of the original Star Wars (1977), yet long pre-dated E.T., two adolescent boys, in a suburban milieu somewhat recalling that described by author David Mitchell in his novel Black Swan Green (2006), encounter a small, spherical alien that has fallen from the heavens. Soon they are on the run from a sleazy treasure hunter, as well as Home Defence forces. The ‘alien’ itself is a simple combination of a World Cup Draw ping pong ball cross-bred with the ball from Rollerball (1975) and R2-D2-like blips and bleeps, with a surprise reveal at the end. All in all, perfect preparation for todays draw, adolescent-level adventures and fantasies, shifty back-aisle dealings, government-level techno-tempests in a teapot, and kitschy entertainment.
On a sober note, tomorrow’s World Cup Draw Ceremony celebration will be dampened by the loss of Nelson Mandela. The South African hero had campaigned stalwartly to get a World Cup in Africa and in 2010 in his own beloved country, he finally succeeded. His final widely seen public appearance was brief but well-appreciated, at the competition’s closing ceremonies. It is unfortunate that but for the hand of Uruguayan Luis Suarez to deny Ghana, he did not see an African team go through to at least the semi-final round for the first time.