No African team will survive the group stages (Ivory Coast, the continent’s best hopes, are in a hellishly tough group), while England will crash out in the quarter-finals on penalties.
But I’m struggling to get enthusiastic about it – as is now becoming sadly normal, Scotland are not there. Call me parochial, and I know it’s a four-yearly football spectacle with no rival, but without a home team to cheer on there’s little to keep me interested.
It’s like domestic football – the English league just can’t arouse any interest in me, and the Scottish league – rubbish though it often is – has a more authentic, human relevance to it.
Not only are there unlikely to be changes to the established order of leading teams at the World Cup, who remain a good distance ahead of the rest, but there are too few little teams there to add interest. Honduras are about as fresh as it gets, and my usual default of “really nice countries I’ve been to” would throw up only Australia or New Zealand, neither of whom by themselves make me want to throw myself headlong into following the tournament. Of course I’ve been to and loved many other countries, but the USA are unsupportable until they call football by its proper name and stop playing sports that only they play, I have no interest in supporting England, and my fond memories of places like Slovenia and Slovakia are somewhat waning over time.
There is, of course, North Korea, that great parody of a dictatorship who are so wacky they’re more comical than sinister, and it will be interesting to see how they cope in their first World Cup appearance in forty-four years; and how many of their players take the opportunity to defect. It’s almost tempting to support them, but that would be more glib more than anything else.
But above all, not having a TV is a good reason not to watch. No doubt there’ll be some matches online and I could watch them in pubs, but without Scotland it’s doubtful I’ll make any particular effort to track what’s going on in South Africa.
Of course, the group stages could be astonishingly packed with drama, shocks and breathtaking performances, and I’ll belatedly throw myself behind whatever fashionable, headline-making team emerges.
Somehow, though, I doubt it.
But as a final thought – this is very, very cool: a brilliant interactive World Cup calendar.