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Steve Braunias' FIFA World Cup Diary: Day One - 3 days to kickoff

Jun 10, 2014 Sport



One of the great pleasures of the World Cup is its exhibition of amazing faces. There are faces from nightmares, faces of rare and tender sweetness, faces of knaves and fools and horses – every four years, 32 nations bring unto the world the faces of their footballing elite.

Liam Gallagher provides a useful preview of the World Cup with his recent assessment of England’s star striker Wayne Rooney. He said: “He looks like a fucking balloon with a fucking Weetabix crushed on top.”

What to make of Australia’s most famous player, 34-year-old veteran Tim Cahill? Again, we turn to Oasis, for Noel Gallagher’s response: “He’s got one of those faces you want to slap, hasn’t he? I don’t know, there’s just something about him. I would love to kick him right in the bollocks.”

We may not see too much of Rooney or Cahill. Neither England or Australia are likely to go very far in the tournament. We will very likely see a lot of Neymar. The expectation is that Brazil will win the World Cup and that Neymar will win it for them.

He’s very good. He’s 22. He plays for Barcelona. But we will have to reckon with Neymar’s face. It’s a sensual face, confident and successful – in Brazil, his face advertises perfume, cars, banks, a phone company, soft drinks, deodorant and car batteries.

Car batteries! But it’s a stupid face. He looks venal, joyless, scheming, out for what he can get. It’s a face in a rap video, just another douche bragging about his wealth.

His hair says more than his face. From his fan club: “Neymar uses a hair straightener (aka flat iron) to get his hair in layers including his crest for the Mohawk hairstyle. Neymar has curly hair but keeps his hair straightened all the time. To get your hair like Neymar, you must use a hair straightener, even if you have straight hair as the hair straightener helps to define the layers. Neymar also has very light hair that he keeps tousled…”

It goes on, and on, blathering and vain and unlovable. Cristiano Ronaldo is the vainest of them all, the Narcissus from Portugal, but his face reveals much else than self-love.

It’s not even self-love; the secret of his success as the world’s most expressive footballer is written all over his face. He’s self-obsessed. His genius demands it. He’s acutely aware that at any given moment he might be called on to do something brilliant. Hell is other footballers; he is the god of his own beautiful heaven.

Argentina’s captain, Lionel Messi, is the greatest player of the age. What to read in Messi’s face? What does it conjure, what desires does it prompt? You can look at it from every angle, ask it any question. But the same answer keeps coming back. Nothing. Messi has a nothing face.

It’s devoid of love, cunning, ego, rage, happiness, culture – it’s a blank canvas with a big nose sticking out of it. You can’t even draw on that blank canvas. It just washes off, nothing sticks to it.

It’s a face you can’t remember at the very second you’re looking at it. What if Argentina win the World Cup? When Messi holds the trophy aloft, and the watching world look at his face, will it forget the whole thing ever happened?

There’s a 26-year-old schoolteacher in the western Herat province of Afghanistan who looks a lot like Messi. Abdul Karim recently featured in the world press because of his “uncanny resemblance”. But he doesn’t actually look anything like Messi, because his photograph shows someone alert, someone thinking, something alive – the lights are on, someone’s at home.

Karim is present, engaged, teaching geography in the dust of Afghanistan. Messi – millionaire, artist, hero – is absent in his own life. Man without a face.

Or is his face elsewhere? We talk about footballers who have their brains in their feet; is that where Messi keeps his face? A soulful, beautiful face, tucked in his socks?

But there are so many other faces in their proper places at the World Cup. Faces from Europe, Africa, Asia, the Americas, workers in a democratic union of 11 players, individuals engaged in a triumph of the will, sad faces, savage faces, faces who inspire love, awe, dread, rage, respect, fear – their eyes on the ball, the eyes of the world on their faces. Anyway, Liam Gallagher was right.


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