Football Funnies

Just Like A Wavin’ Flag

Who says international football is boring? Well honestly we all did at some point. Our craving for club football has reached such a fever pitch that we often dismiss the magic of two countries duking it out.

One thing that is certain is that people dislike friendlies. People also dislike qualifiers because they aren’t the real deal, at least on a grand scale. On a per country basis there’s no issue, but neutrals don’t watch qualifiers, or so they say. There’s now a firm preference for club football over internationals, and this has now spilled over to the World Cup.

Many criticized WC 2010 for being cagey and tactical. Many said that the level of competition was low when compared to the Champions League. The inclusion of New Zealand, Algeria and Honduras to name a few was said to lower the quality of play. None of these teams embarrassed themselves. None lost a match more than 2-0 so the level of quality argument escapes me. If one looks at the Champions League, this year has minnows like Viktoria Plzen, Steau Bucuresti and Austria Wien who’ve been pummeled by their more elite counterparts.

The main difference between international football and club football is that money doesn’t have much to do with its success and that’s what makes it so romantic. It’s about patriotism and a high level of coaching. If not for the evil antics of Luis Suarez, Ghana would have made it to the semi-finals in 2010. An underdog making it that far is extraordinary. The whole world was behind the Black Stars and cheering them on. In contrast, when Schalke 04 made it to the Semi finals of the CL in 2011 vs Man United people couldn’t wait for them to be slaughtered so they could get to see United play Barcelona or Real Madrid.

The quality of play in a game of high importance such as a Cup Final is more often than not, cagey. It means so much to both teams that no one wants to give up anything. Like two boxers feeling each other out waiting for the other to show some weakness that they can use to land a knockout blow. This happens a lot in the World Cup because EVERY GAME MATTERS. There is no home and away system. One loss in the competition could mean elimination. This means that the atmosphere in the stadiums is electric and the players are constantly feeling the pressure. The Champions League might be the freer and more fluid competition but that’s because for the most part either the pressure is off OR the gulf in class and money is so vast that the competition goes out the window (until the semis at least).

One thing is for sure. The World Cup is every four years and the whole world stops to watch it. Here in Canada, the country was in a jubilant mood the summer of 2010 and football isn’t even in the top 3 sports here. The Champions league just doesn’t grab people’s attention in such a way until the final. It’s not UEFA’s fault it’s just the way it is.

And if you really want to see what international football means to a nation and means to players and if you want to see if it brings out the very best in players then watch Ronaldo and Zlatan in the European Qualification Playoffs. That was international football at its finest, it’s most romantic and it’s most captivating. See what it meant for the Portuguese to qualify for Brazil 2014:

Those who believe that club football is more important than international football fail to factor in socio-economics as well as political impact that international football has on the world. This impact goes way beyond the mere “entertainment value” that club football provides. USA 94 brought football to a land that seemed to not care for “soccer”. Look what has happened since that fantastic event. The MLS has become a competitive, self-sustaining league and is gaining respect every year. Football is the most played sport among youth in North America now. As a result a whole new economy based on football has developed in the United States. This is something that European club football on its own could not achieve, infact international football has helped improve the profile of european clubs in North America and not vice versa. 

International football also has the power to unite nations. Countries that experience ethnic violence, such as the Ivory Coast who were ravaged by war, used football to help unitize the people. The national team captain, in Drogba, took it upon himself to promote peace in his country. The culmination of this was in 2007 during a qualifier for the African Nations Cup. During the singing of the Ivorian national anthem leaders from the current government and the rebel opposition stood side by side proudly singing the anthem of their country. Club football simply doesn’t have as much power to do this. Your allegiance to your cub team will NEVER surpass that of your national team.

Perhaps club football is more “entertaining” than international football. Perhaps there are too many minnows allowed to compete in international tournaments. I refuse to believe though that the solution is to allow more European teams to compete and less from developing countries. I also refuse to believe that we should have fewer international tournaments and scrap international friendlies. I remember Tahiti playing in this year’s Confederations’ Cup. The whole world supported that tiny nation and their footballing amateurs. When they scored that goal against my beloved Super Eagles the whole world cheered. Now that was magic! If Plzen score against Bayern which they did you may not even know it happened. Club football is about the games and pride in one’s club. I cried tears of joy when Manchester United won the treble in 1999. But during the U-21 World Cup in Nigeria during the same year, I heard an entire city erupt in unison when Nigeria scored the second goal against Germany and that was earth shattering and incomparable.

The World Cup is 8 months away and I’m already excited and feeling a buzz. The Champions league final is 6 months away and i haven’t given it much thought yet. The World Cup’s four year break gives it an air of anticipation that the Champions League will never be able to match on a yearly basis. Its just human nature. Currently, all roads lead to Brazil 2014. This is what it meant to the French:

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