Louis van Gaal said it all with a hint of a playful smile. The Netherlands’ draw for the World Cup was not easy, he said, with his characteristic bluntness, and it was no luck. Instead, it was “colorful”. That was a great word. Ecuador’s Sunlight Yellow, Qatar’s Rich Maroon, Senegal’s Dark Green and Burning Dutch Orange: Colorful.
He tried as hard as he could to hide his happiness. After all, just as he predicted that the dice would fall on him and his team – in graphic and utterly serious terms – he knew it would happen. Everyone wanted to draw the delicate offer of the best seeds by the Qatar host and a bay. Only his team was selected.
But Van’s leg is long on the fool’s tooth. He also knows that World Cup draws are not just bombastic, hollow and time-wasting and filled with content and Idris Elba. They are cynical. They are oral in nature. Often, that does not mean they appear on first reading.
Consider, for example, Spain and Germany, which were drawn together at the beginning of Group E. Their meeting will mark the end of the first week of the competition; This is the only time the two contenders, who are expected to win the tournament, will meet in the opening round to be crowned world champions. Both seemed to have drawn short straws.
Then the balls kept rolling, the names kept coming, and in fact the two landed on their feet. Japan will not be any stimulus and will not be satisfied with going quietly no matter what group fills Costa Rica or New Zealand. But no one has the resources or quality or heritage of Spain and Germany, and both will be confident of achieving it.
Or look at England advancing to the semi-finals in 2018 – and the final of the European Championships last summer – by beating Sweden, pale Germany and Ukraine, in regular time, in knockout games.
Its good fortune was that it was far richer than the elite in the geopolitical maneuvers of one of Iran, the United States and Scotland, Wales and Ukraine.
When asked about meeting the Americans, Iran’s Serbian coach Dragon Skosic said, “I like putting balls in the net more than flowers” when referring to the two countries exchanging bouquets. When they met in the 1998 tournament. “Football violates political things,” said his American teammate Greg Berholder.
But the group stage draw is not really a draw for the group stage: it is even a road map for the entire competition. If England are to win – as it is believed, this time, with more logic than a stopped clock – the slope will immediately rise vertically once the knockout stage begins. Senegal, the most complete team to send to a tournament in Africa for more than a decade, could wait in the last 16. Then it could be defending champions France in the quarterfinals. Whatever goes beyond that does not apply immediately.
Of course, there will be some teams that will rejoice in their fate: France, of course, will have little trouble with Denmark and Tunisia and Peru, Australia and the United Arab Emirates. Two South American rivals, Brazil and Argentina, are also optimistic.
Even the United States should not be dissatisfied. “We have a junior team at the World Cup,” Berholder said. “For us, this is an advantage. Guys are fearless.” England may be a convenient option to beat their team, but there is no reason to believe that the United States – returning after an eight-year hiatus – will not be able to hold on to second place.
And, of course, there will be teams that lose their role. Canada, for example, has reached this stage for the first time since 1986, with a team that is not really heavyweight, but it is somehow difficult: Croatia and Belgium finished second and third four years ago, while Morocco traveled through the difficult process of qualifying for Africa.
In the end, Van Cal is right: eight months ago, there was no way to know who was lucky and who was unlucky, including the smooth draw and what was the hardest. After all the luxuries and situations, video montages and marketing speeches have been embellished as mission statements, you can be sure that it will be colorful when it comes.