Fairy Tales We'd Love to See at the 2014 FIFA World Cup
The 2014 FIFA World Cup offers football fans all across the globe the opportunity to dream.
While FIFA's continued commercialisation of the tournament and their tax-free demands are a cause for consternation among the common supporter and even more so the Brazilian public, the actual tournament still offers the same magic as those of a bygone era.
Returning to Brazil for the first time since 1950, the World Cup next year is the place where dreams will be achieved as the world's best players and nations come together for a festival of football, in the tournament which remains the choice of the romantic.
And what is more romantic than a fairy tale?
Each World Cup brings about at least one, some throw up many, and it's to be expected that Brazil 2014 is no different. We can't expect an underdog host nation to make a deep run as Brazil are anything but an underdog, but there are more than a few narratives which wouldn't look out of place on the silver screen.
Thus, with all that being said, here's a look at a couple of fairy tales we'd love to see next summer at the 2014 World Cup
Uruguay Pinch it in a Maracanaco Repeat
Back in 1950 the the tournament was a little bit different to the modern-day incarnation, as instead of the knockout rounds the four winners of the initial group stages moved into a final four-team group.
Nonetheless, after five matches it effectively came down to a straight shootout between Brazil and Uruguay in Rio de Janeiro. Brazil needed only a draw to claim a first Jules Rimet trophy and were heavy favourites in front of 200,000 supporters at the Maracana.
However, despite the attacking talents of Zizinho, Jair and the tournament's top goalscorer, Ademir, the Selecao came unstuck in the face of stubborn resistance from la Celeste.
Friaca's goal gave Brazil the lead, but led by the never-say-die attitude of skipper Obdulio Varela, the home supporters were stunned when the inside forward Juan Alberto Schiaffino equalised, before Alcides Ghiggia struck the decisive blow 11 minutes from time to give Juan Lopez Fontana's side an unlikely victory.
It was a success for hard work, organisation, determination and sheer courage in the face of overwhelming odds, and while a repeat for Oscar Tabarez's modern-day incarnation may appear unlikely in 2014, it isn't beyond the realms of possibility.
At this summer's Confederations Cup Uruguay arguably came closer than anyone else to stopping Luiz Felipe Scolari's men, a tight 2-1 defeat featuring a missed Diego Forlan penalty (with the score still goalless) and a late Paulinho winner doing for the Uruguayans.
Nonetheless, with a rugged defence featuring warriors like the Diegos, Godin and Lugano, the experienced nous of Arevalo Rios and Maxi Pereira, the talent of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez, and the mercurial ability of Diego Forlan in the twilight of his career, not to mention the tactical flexibility of Tabarez, they may have the wisdom to replicate some 64 years previously.
It would need one almighty effort, but as far as poignant fairy tales are concerned, it would be one hell of a repeat performance if the event known as the Maracanaco came to pass once more.
Everyone Loves a Comeback: Spain Get Revenge
Conversely, perhaps a more relevant modern-day fairy tale would be that of Cinderella Man, the guy who appeared to be past his best only to find within himself that little bit extra when it matters.
Spain, for all their success in winning the last two European Championships and the 2010 World Cup, have been written off by many ahead of next summer.
Having been utterly decimated by the pace and intensity of Luiz Felipe Scolari's men in this summer's Confederations Cup final—which would see them bamboozled by Neymar, bullied by Paulinho and Luiz Gustavo and comprehensively taken to pieces in a 3-0 win—the epitaph for Vicente del Bosque's side has already been written.
Too old, too slow and without either Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo to rely on for a world-class cutting edge, this Real Madrid-Barcelona medley are just not what they once were as age wearies them. Indeed, many have the reigning champions behind Brazil, Argentina and Germany in their choice for next summer's most likely winners.
However, to write off this Spanish side, still having not conceded in the knockout stages at a major finals since France beat them 3-1 in 2006, would be incredibly foolish. When they are "at it," arguably no international side in history has ever known how to control a game as well as they do.
And having been so horrendously exposed by Brazil, maybe some of the fire that may have been dimmed during six years of unparalleled success has been rekindled amongst del Bosque's men.
With that in mind, perhaps Carl Jung said it best:
Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.
Maybe, just maybe, this truly magnificent generation has one last act of greatness up its sleeve.
The Dark Horse Finally Sees the Light
Every World Cup, pundits left, right and centre go out and discuss their outright selections for the tournament as well as predicting their dark horses who could perhaps make a deep run into the knockout stages.
1994 saw Hristo Stoichkov's Bulgaria party in the USA, 1998 had an outstanding Croatia side who played some remarkably excellent technical football, 2002 had a Guus Hiddink-inspired South Korea, while 2010 saw the re-emergence of Uruguay after years of non-descript international performances.
However, the common denominator among all those sides: They didn't win.
And this may sound harsh, but when they all reached the semi-final stage and had to deal with some kind of expectation—no matter how minor—and whisperings of "they couldn't do it, could they?" all without fail, erm, failed.
Certainly we should applaud their achievements for that is exactly what they were. But wouldn't it be ludicrously fantastic if someone came out of nowhere to shock the perennial favourites and actually win the whole thing.
The two outsiders being tipped to make a run at next summer's festival of football are Belgium and their uber-talented crop, featuring the likes of Eden Hazard, Axel Witsel and Thibault Courtois, and Jose Pekerman's Colombia, an eclectic mix of pace, power, dribbling and Radamel Falcao.
World Cup "dark horse" for 2014? Colombia. Look an excellent side - and are much more than just Falcao. U20 champions of S.America too.— Dan O'Hagan (@danohagan) March 22, 2013
Either would make a fantastic success story: A dark horse running the lengths and powering, rather than cowering as the finish line comes ever closer into view.
It may seem all kinds of unlikely, but what a wonderful tale success for either, or indeed anyone else lower down the pecking order, would make.
Miroslav Klose Breaks Ronaldo's Goals Record
When Ronaldo Luiz Nazario de Lima, aka Ronaldo, rounded the Ghana goalkeeper and rolled the ball gleefully into an empty net at the Westfalenstadion in 2006, the entire world smiled with O Fenomeno.
After a career in which the entire globe had seemingly witnessed each of his ups and downs, not one person who witnessed him break Gerd Mueller's World Cup goals record could possibly not be happy for him.
Next summer, his record will come under severe threat from another German international: Miroslav Klose.
Somewhat unheralded when discussing Europe's premier strikers over the last decade or so, Klose has been the German word for goals where international football has been concerned. In the last three World Cups he has become the first man to net at least four goals in three successive tournaments, while his overall record of 68 goals in 130 matches for Die Mannschaft is hugely impressive and makes him one of only five European players to score over 60 times for their country.
But when you view Miroslav Klose, you aren't witnessing a player who has hit the devastating peaks that Ronaldo did. And as a striker he doesn't have that one truly remarkable characteristic that you instantly pick up on and say that's why he's a danger—perhaps if you really had to select one it would be his heading ability.
Importantly, however, he possesses the happy knack of hitting top form in World Cup years: 2002 saw him score 12 times for his country, in 2006 he netted 13 and in 2010 he struck 10 times. And whether that is fortune, luck or whatever, it's a more than happy knack to have.
If he produces something similar in 2014, then at the age of 36—which he turns three days before the tournament gets underway—then Miroslav Klose will claim his own personal fairy tale.
England Win a Penalty Shootout
So it wouldn't be a fairy tale to everybody, but to England supporters it would feel close enough.
Since they've been involved in penalty shootouts on the international stage, they have been the bane of England's existence. Defeats by West Germany (1990), Germany (1996), Argentina (1998), Portugal (2004 and 2006) and Italy (2012) have all been forthcoming, with only Spain (1996) succumbing to the Three Lions by similar means.
There's no two ways about it, England's record is just awful.
In what is football's greatest case of mind over matter, too often England brains have turned to piles of mush; where has the English version of Andreas Moeller or Portugal's Ricardo been? Someone who confidently, nay arrogantly, strolls up to the ball and plants it with consummate assurance into the back of the net?
Even the Three Lions most reliable penalty-takers—Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard—have been found wanting down the years, and as those years roll on, it can only place a greater negative effect on the entire psyche of a nation.
For invariably, when extra time is over, England fans bow their heads and think of what might have been. Defeat is the only expectation.
Therefore, once, just once, wouldn't it be nice if England could reach a penalty shootout and actually win.
It doesn't matter who against, it doesn't matter if they strike five perfect penalties or win 1-0 with a bobbler that squirms underneath a goalkeeper's body; it would just be nice to blooming win one.
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