At every one of these, soccer sets its tone for the coming four years. The World Cup really is just like your high-school graduation, just more sodden.
Here are a few of things they got right. (Read those quickly. Good news is boring.) Also, a few of things that weren’t. Spend some more time there.
It will help put everything about your unbearably empty post-World Cup life in perspective.
The United States: As cool (i.e. emotionally stunted) Canadians, it’s always a delight to watch our pal, the U.S., and her sudden, wild bursts of enthusiasm. The U.S. is the friend who heard Stairway to Heaven in line at a Starbucks, and a week later she’s downloaded the entire Zeppelin back catalogue and bought a doubleneck Gibson guitar. The U.S. went bonkers over the World Cup here. Her team was essentially playing a variety of rugby, but it was still a lot of fun to watch. Good job, Team USA. Good jo … okay, calm down.
Goalkeepers: An elite ’keeper must have two attributes – be tall and look reasonably non-ridiculous wearing Day-Glo. It’s a low bar. This time around, through a confluence of athleticism, good fortune and a ball that flew true, they became the stars of the tournament. Yet nonetheless, they got into the gig because they were no good with the ball at their feet. This is heartening proof that God-given talent, or the lack thereof, is not a roadblock to success.
Transportation infrastructure: Good news, fellow taxpayers – this turns out to be a waste of money. Brazil has no viable rail system. The roads are in ruin. Traffic is insane. You’d be safer walking to work over the roofs of stalled cars, because the sidewalks are awash in kamikaze cyclists. And yet, we all managed to get around somehow. Thousands of traumatized World Cup visitors will now return to their native countries, get back in their cars and turn their own commute into a Brazilified version of Mad Max – hopefully without the leather pants.
Body shaming: You’d like to spend more time at Copacabana or Ipanema, but it makes you feel bad about yourself. In the morning, the whole of Rio is out at the beach jogging or doing pull-ups or playing volleyball with their feet. Everyone’s exercising. EVERYONE. And you’re schlumpfing around like a de-shelled turtle. You’ll be better when you get home (i.e. No, you won’t). Everything’s going to change (i.e. Nothing’s going to change).
Losers: Some of the most admirable sides here were the ones who had exactly zero shot at making an impact, and went for it anyway. My personal game of the tournament was Iran sticking its chin in the chest of Argentina, and giving the finalists their toughest test thus far. That effort proved there are all sorts of ways to win.
The niceties: A hand up after you’ve knocked someone down. The jersey exchange. Opposing goalkeepers walking arm in arm to the net as they’re about to start the penalty shootout. Arjen Robben having a sideline chat with, and then embracing, Costa Rican manager Jorge Luis Pinto mid-game. There is no sport that so values small gestures of chivalry and respect as this one, and especially on this stage. It’s enough to give you faith.
Nickname creativity: Past generations gave us Jairzinho, Vava, Zizinho and Baltazar. Those are nicknames. This time around, we got Fred, Jo, Bernard and James. Those are things you call your cat. Hulk is also not a nickname. It’s an observation. If this trend continues, in eight years’ time, the Brazilian team will be full of guys named Stumpy and Hates To Pass.
Arm folding: Once you start thinking about how to do this, it becomes impossible. That occurred to hundreds of millions of us at the beginning of every game. As the starting lineups were announced, each player was shown turned solemnly to face the audience while crossing his arms over his chest like John Wayne channelling Marty Feldman. Hand tucked into armpit? Over forearm? Under bicep? Two of three? Who knows. If the goal was to have them project toughness, at the next World Cup they should turn to camera holding a broken beer bottle.
Goal celebrations: Hey, I’m okay if you want to point up and thank God, and he’s all, “I’m a little busy in Syria, but hey, thanks for the acknowledgment.” It’s another thing when the whole roster, including physiotherapists and press attachés, needs to gather on the sideline and reinterpret the entire final scene from West Side Story.
Mick Jagger: He loves soccer. Soccer hates him. The human shar pei who fronts the Stones is a notorious jinx. In local argot, a pe frio (cold foot). Brazil begged him good humoredly not to come over and pull for the Selecao. He did anyway. They suffered the greatest humiliation in sports history. How droll. If he comes here again, he will doubtless be murdered before he gets out of the airport.
Tears: Everyone loves a sensitive sort at work. Mostly from a distance. One teary workplace meltdown? Sure. I’m here for you. Two? It’s time to talk to HR about someone better suited to dealing with this sort of issue. This was the tournament in which everyone went all wobbly, all the time, and for any sort of reason. Lose? Cry. Win? Cry. Draw? Still crying. You understand it’s a heightened emotional environment, but there is still something to be said for stoicism in the face of professional disappointment.
Now, having just revisited my pre- and mid-tournament predictions, I’m off somewhere for a good whimper. Some things you just never get over.