That world of the World Cup returns

Great show: Diego Maradona celebrating Argentina’s victory in the 1986 Mexico edition.

Great show: Diego Maradona celebrating Argentina’s victory in the 1986 Mexico edition.

THE hits just keep coming. Malaysians have never had it so good (or so bad, depending on your perspective) since the seismic events of May 9.

The change of government, politics, exposures of corruption scandals and the fulfilment of election promises have ensured a never-ending news cycle for the majority of us.

No other news event, with the possible exception of the Trump-Kim summit, has dominated local headlines. But that is about to change.

For one glorious month, starting last night, the eve of Hari Raya, Malaysians will be glued to the biggest sporting event in the world.

The FIFA World Cup is the only global spectacle that unites all of us, regardless of race or gender.

The World Cup always brings back happy memories. Fans my age will remember Adidas Rummenigge and Puma King boots, the Panini album, Gillette rulebooks, Sunshine bread cards and Ovaltine stickers.

We don’t have any of that stuff now, but the cheesy anthems and Vuvuzelas from previous editions are still around. I know a friend who has taken a month off (the final is on July 15) to watch EVERY single match.

Most of us don’t put our lives on hold like that, but I do know of friends and colleagues who have taken leave to catch some key matches from the 64 games that will be played at 12 venues.

And of course, there are the lucky few who have obtained tickets and will be heading to Russia to join the hundreds of thousands.

There should not be many spotting red eyes turning out for work in this World Cup as a large number of matches will kick off between 8pm and 11pm.

There are a few starting at 2am.

Nevertheless, the difference in time zone is certainly much better compared to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil when Malaysians had to stay up till the wee hours to catch games.

Russia has set aside a budget of US$12-US$14bil (RM47.8bil-RM55.8bil) to stage the event, making this the most expensive World Cup ever.

But the bookies around the world are expected to make a bigger killing. Malaysia is no different because bookies are extra busy during this period.

The exact figure is in dispute, but industry insiders believe that illegal bookies taking bets on the greatest show in the world rake in more than RM1bil in one month!

Punters love the World Cup because of the endless betting possibilities and the bookies are laughing all the way to the bank because it’s a one-month sporting extravaganza that nets them the most amount of money.

The competition has already drawn the interest of the police who are keeping a close eye on bookies and illegal betting.

Despite the best of policing, it will be impossible to wipe out illegal sports betting. No thanks to technology that has given the average bookie a new lease of life.

If in the past bets were taken over the phone via scraps of paper (evidence that the police look for), now punters do not even need to meet their bookies.

Everything – from the moment you place your bet to collection of money – is done electronically.

As usual, technology also has its upside.

In this respect, the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system made its World Cup debut yesterday. Despite its controversial introduction in club football, I believe it is the least disruptive way of settling disputes on the football field.

Its scope is limited to correcting the clear and obvious error in four categories: goals, penalties, red cards and issues of mistaken identity.

It can only address issues when the referee’s interpretation becomes subjective and possibly flawed.

It would be interesting to speculate how the game’s history would have been different if VAR had been introduced before 2018.

Every World Cup is unique, but it’s been a long time since we’ve had a really great final. The last, truly memorable final was in 1986 when a Diego Maradona-inspired Argentina beat West Germany.

But would Argentina have actually made the final if VAR had confirmed Maradona’s blatant handball goal in the quarter-finals match against England?

Nostalgia has hit me big time and like the hundreds of millions of fans around the world, I’ve been bitten by the football bug. Who will win the cup?

That’s the beauty of the event because in theory, all 32 teams have the chance of lifting the trophy in Moscow on July 15.

Three teams stand out when it comes to ruling the rostrum – Brazil, Germany and Italy. They have held the world champion mantle 13 out of the 20 times the competition has been played. Italy, though, are out of the world Cup this time.

Personally though, I would like to see a first-timer, like Belgium or Portugal lift the trophy.

The writer would like to wish Selamat Hari Raya to The Star readers and happy World Cup watching!

brian cup

Brian Martin

Brian Martin

Brian Martin, executive editor of The Star, would like to come clean. He has vested interest in the proposed assessment rate hike since he’s a resident of Kuala Lumpur.