1 Day To Go - World Cup 2018

The anticipation has now reached fever pitch. Just one more visit to the land of nod and then the 21st edition of the greatest competition on the planet gets underway. Despite the predictably garish and jingoistic opening ceremony that awaits us all in Moscow tomorrow afternoon, with just 24 hours to go until the first whistle is blown I'm bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and eager to see what the next month will bring. 

Today I have the honour of delivering to you, my loyal readers, the very last installment of the 2018 World Cup Countdown. It's been a pretty wild 30 days of World Cup tales, trails and trivia from across the ages. For the very final solitary number in our countdown there's little else I can write about. This post will focus on an object. An object on the field of play in the game we all love. The one and only object that truly matters: the ball. 


The Brazuca, Brazil 2014

Right now the World Cup kit fanboys are still gushing over the 2018 Nigeria home shirt, and I'm sure some of them are waxing lyrical about Argentina or Denmark's latest hipster fashion accessory. But old Joolsy here likes nothing more than taking a look back at the World Cups of yesteryear and examining the evolution of the absolutely essential piece of equipment for any game of football. 

This design has become the 'classic' football used to portray the game across different media.

Ever since the 1970 World Cup finals in Mexico, German sportswear behemoth Adidas has exclusively produced the balls for each and every World Cup tournament. Up until the 70s a heady mixture of local manufacturers had produced the World Cup balls for each tournament, including household names such as Slazenger (England 1966) and some lesser-known father & son type outfits such as Allen (France 1938), Superball (Brazil 1950), Kost Sport (Switzerland 1954) and, lest we forget, Sydsvenska Läder och Remfabriken (Sweden 1958). 

In the World Cups of the 70's and 80's, variations on the classic 1970 Adidas Telstar design - latterly known as the Tango - kept ball design fairly consistent through those decades. So consistent in fact that this design has become the 'classic' football used to portray the game across different media. The Telstar emoji is case in point → ⚽. In fact, this black and white design was devised so that the ball would be clearly visible on the TVs of that time. 

For Mexico 1986 the ball was renamed the Azteca, then four-years later the Etrusco Unico, and then the Questra. The design and build of the ball fundamentally didn't change all that much during this period. Then cometh France 1998, and the World Cup ball got its first ever splash of colour – the red, white and blue of the Adidas Tricolore. For a large chunk of football gear aficionados, many of whom had their formative years in the 90s, the Tricolore remains a classic ball. A beautiful fusion of the retro designs of a byegone age and the colour-rich futuristic weirdness that was to dominate the World Cups of the 2000s. 


The Jabulani, South Africa 2010

Ball design in the new millennium became more experimental. The Brazuca and the Jabulani (pictured above) both featured bold flashes of colour and unique panel stitching designs. Used for South Africa 2010, the Jabulani was in fact so experimental that it caused a major controversy during the tournament with players (especially goalkeepers) complaining that the trajectory of the ball was unpredictable and erratic.

The new century began with the bold designs of 2002's Fevernova and 2006's Teamgeist - both of which represented a radical departure from the 32-panel designs that came before. Revolutionary new colour-ways and designs with thermally-bonded panels were all the rage, together with claims that these balls were rounder and more spherical than ever.

The outlandish claims being made in various places about 2018's Telstar 18 continue this long tradition of Adidas reinventing the wheel. These claims include, with varying degrees of truth that ultimately remain to be seen:

  • The design of the Telstar 18 will stop knuckle-ball free-kicks by reducing the dip and swerve players can put the ball (take note CR7).
  • Modelled on the original Telstar from 1970, the Telstar 18 features 'jigsaw' panels that reduce air turbulence. 
  • An NFC chip to connect with fans is built into every Telstar 18 that lets fans unlock exclusive content on their smartphone. 
  • The Telstar 18 design is influenced by Russia's urban landscapes.
  • At £129.99 for the official match version, the Telstar 18 represents good value for money. 

The Tricolore, France 1998 (Credit: Shine 2010, Flickr)

And with that my friends, I bid you farewell. Hoping you all have a smashing World Cup and that whichever team you support plays a blinder! I may make a re-appearance sometime during Russia 2018 but for now i'm off take a well-earned lay down and perhaps to imbibe a shot or two of celebratory водка. 

Share post:

2 Days To Go - World Cup 2018

2 days. 48 hours. 2880 minutes, give or take.

Whichever way you look at it, the 2018 FIFA World Cup is so close you can almost touch it. You can almost smell it. You can almost hear Robbie Williams rocking the pre-match ceremony with his repertoire of rip-roaring hits. I, for one, can’t bloody wait! 

Allow yourself to be pulled away from the first World Cup in Russia momentarily, for a stroll down memory lane, back to 2002 and the first World Cup to be held in Asia, unique not only for this, but for being the first finals to be held in two countries.

The first World Cup of the new Millennium, witnessed Japan and South Korea come together to host perhaps one of the most enthralling finals in recent memory.

The three R’s – Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and Ronaldo - ensured Brazil reigned supreme, the latter hitting eight goals en route to Seleção clinching their fifth crown against Germany in what had become the anticipated final following early exits for Portugal, Argentina and France, all of whom were made to feel the wrath of a nation at having to board the first flight home.

Undoubtedly though, best ever World Cup finishes for Senegal, Turkey, and co-hosts South Korea means we’ll look back on the finals in 2002 as the year the underdogs well and truly prospered.

Diouf, Diao and Diop dazzle for debutants

Papa Bouba Diop. (Not sure about you but I just love saying the name Papa-Bouba-Diop). And so did about every Senegalese alive after the midfielder enforcer, unknown to the footballing universe prior to this match, bundled in the winner to shock France, the World Champions, in the opening game and set the tone for what was to come.

Their refreshing brand of carefree football saw everyone’s new second team comfortably seal their passage through the group as (unbeaten) runners-up to Denmark, and onto meet another Scandinavian outfit, Sweden, in the last 16. 

A golden goal from Henri Camara put pay to the Swedes as the new ‘kids on the block’ made light work of performing on the world stage to make it to the Quarter Finals. 

Yet, as we know, all good things eventually come to an end. Diao, Diouf, Diop and co. had captivated millions but their incredible run was ended by another unfamiliar name who also happened to find themselves in uncharted territory.

Plucky Turkey fly home heroes

In only their second ever finals, Turkey were welcomed home National heroes after coming all so close to becoming World Cup finalists. Only, Brazil, the eventual World Champs, stopped Rüştü Reçber and his comrades from pulling off what would have been the most stupendous story in finals history, narrowly defeating them in the last four.

Of course, there was no disgrace to succumbing to Brazil, who had also prevailed in the Group C opener between the two sides earlier on in the competition. A runners-up spot was owed much to a win over China and a draw with Costa Rica. 

Also en route, Turkey spoilt the party for co-hosts Japan, a victory by a goal to nil enough to seal a quarter final berth and a showdown with Senegal, who were sweeping aside opposition at will. 

But while everybody focused on what Senegal had brought to the competition, the dogged Turks weren’t perturbed one iota and were busy writing their own script. 

A 1-0 victory in extra time saw them advance to the last four and though they were denied at the final hurdle, a victory in the third place play off helped to soften the blow.

Co-hosts caught up in conspiracy chaos

The co-hosts were the opponents for Turkey in the match for third place but whereas Senegal and Turkey were adulated for their efforts, the same cannot be said for South Korea, whose run to the semi-finals was overshadowed by controversy.

To be fair, the group stage passed without much incident at all, wins against Poland and Portugal and a draw with the USA saw South Korea top their group, much to the delight of the home fans. But all hell was to break loose from here on in.

Supporters of both Italy and Spain still to this day writhe at injustices in their respective knockout games with the co-hosts. And, well, you could say they have a point.

In the last 16 encounter with Italy, Ecuadorian referee Byron Moreno allowed a number of vigorous fouls to go unpunished throughout, leaving Guus Hiddink’s men with the freedom to persist with their unsettling tactic. He then went on to disallow what appeared to be a perfectly legitimate goal for the Azzurri and then proceeded to issue Francesco Totti a red card for diving. 

A golden goal compounded the Italian’s’ misery and led to all sorts of allegations of a conspiracy theory, which featured the officials helping to pave the way for South Korea to progress as far as possible (without it becoming too noticeable) as a way of further boosting FIFA’s profile in Asia.

Albeit they found themselves in the quarter finals and it was the turn of Spain this time to spit feathers. Egyptian ref Gamal Al-Ghandour ruled out not one but two goals, again for no clear reason, while the Spain attack seemed incapable of staying onside, the linesman raising his flag when he see fit.

There probably would’ve been riots in streets across Europe had Germany been the next to fall at the perceived dirty hands of the refs and co-hosts but Michael Ballack put a stop to their dubious looking run once and for all. 

Whether they were fortuitous or given a helping hand or two, the tournament is looked back on fondly by South Korea who rejoiced in their best ever World Cup campaign. Just don’t mention the finals on the streets of Madrid or Milan, will you now. 

Share post:

3 Days To Go - World Cup 2018

I don't know about you but I'm like a kid at Christmas just now. My wall chart is already up because it's only 3 days left until it all kicks off in Russia!

But before we get there let's cast our eyes back to the final of the last tournament. Played out between Germany and Argentina in Rio de Janeiro's famous Maracana stadiumover three billion people tuned in to watch the World Cup Final. Truly incredible.

Bb160821 Bb084

Can the Russians recreate the party atmosphere that the Brazilians had in 2014?

An unprecedented amount of money has already been spent on sponsorship deals as well as preparations for the tournament in Russia itself. The World Cup truly is the greatest sporting event on the planet!

With the rise of streaming services and faster internet connections, accessibility for watching World Cup matches has never been easier and this year's tournament is expected to see a boost in viewing figures for that very reason - and in some cases for free.

The Russians will be hoping to steal the spotlight this summer and good luck to them!

Share post:

4 Days To Go - World Cup 2018

Russia are hosting their first World Cup this summer, but did you know that their best ever finish in the tournament came in 1966 when they finished in the number four spot. Back in the day they were called the Soviet Union and didn't just have players from what we know as modern day Russia but also from countries such as the Ukraine and Georgia.

Led by coach Nikolai Morozov the Soviet Union were drafted into a group containing North Korea, Italy and Chile and went on to win every group match. 

Soviet Union's 1966 World Cup

Group 4

•    Soviet Union 3 - 0 North Korea •    Soviet Union 1 - 0 Italy
•    Soviet Union 2 - 1 Chile

Quarter Final

•    Soviet Union 2 - 1 Hungary

Semi Final

•    West Germany 2 - 1 Soviet Union

Third Place Playoff

•    Portugal 2 - 1 Soviet Union

Perhaps their most famous player was Moscow-born goalkeeper Lev Yashin. Not only a solid shot stopper he was known for his tenacious approach to goalkeeping, which would see him rush out of his goal to discombobulate oncoming attackers. He remains one of Russia's most famous sons and helped guide his country to their best position ever at the 1966 World Cup.

Lev Yashin

Lev Yashin, known as the "Black Spider" due to his goalkeeper prowess and his dark attire. Source: Kroon, Ron / Anefo - Nationaal Archief, Den Haag

Building on their excellent record in the group games they went on to defeat Hungary in the quarter finals only to come unstuck against a strong West Germany side in the semis who went on to the final against England.

Unfortunately for the Soviets they came up against Eusebio's Portugal in the third place playoff and went on to the lose the match 2-1.

It's unlikely that the Russians will be able to do one better this year, or even match the performances of their 1966 Soviet team, but they'll have plenty of home support behind them and could cause a few upsets!

Share post:

5 Days To Go - World Cup 2018

Happy weekend, one and all. The last football-free weekend in our household for a while, yours too I’d imagine!

5 days to wait for the first whistle to sound at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, where two of the 32 competing nations will then face-off one month later in the 2018 final. 

What are the chances of the hosts playing out the showpiece event then? Odds of 50/1 certainly suggest they’ll have to go some. And a lack of goals may be an issue, what with the absence of Aleksandr Kokorin and all. 

If only they had Oleg Salenko in their ranks, eh!

Sorry Jools, who?

Bb940624 Bb053

Salenko (above) is the holder of, you might have guessed, another World Cup record. He managed to hit the back of the net five times in one game, Russia’s 6-1 demolition of Cameroon at USA ’94. FIVE TIMES! 

And despite Russia’s exit at the group stage, his five-goal haul and penalty against Sweden in the match prior, was enough to well and truly carve his name in the history books, sharing the prestigious Golden Boot prize with Hristo Stoichkov of Bulgaria.

1994 Golden Boot (Shared Winner)

Salenko – 6 goals, 3 games

Stoichkov – 6 goals, 7 games

Up to now, former Valencia and Rangers man Salenko, remains the only player to bizarrely combine winning the Golden Boot with group stage elimination. Meanwhile, his 6 goal glut for his country was never added to, injury and illness curtailing his career.

Another day, another record then, one I suspect won’t be touched for some time. Jools is signing out now but tune back in tomorrow for the next installment of my soon-to-be redundant countdown which will also feature our dear friends and hosts this year, Russia.

Share post: