2-6: What If...?

[00:00:01] Announcer: There’s gonna be another goal here. Two-nil! That is it! Germany are going home from this World Cup. 

[00:00:13] David Goldblatt: Welcome back to Game of Our Lives. I'm David Goldblatt and that my friends is the sweet sound of Germany, yes Germany, losing to South Korea two nil and for the first time since 1938 heading home before the knockout stages of a World Cup. With me to share the joy and the schadenfreude is Al Jazeera journalist Tony Karon and producer Raja Shah. 

[00:00:36] RS: Hey David. 

[00:00:37] TK: Guttentag. 

[00:00:38] DG: Tony did Germany's early departure bring you the kind of deep profound football joy that it brought me? 

[00:00:45] TK: Well it did it brought mixed emotions though because on the one hand as somebody who's followed the game for decades you know this is nothing we've seen in our lifetime. And that is thrilling because it reminds us that nothing is settled in a football match and at a World Cup. And that's fantastic because it keeps us interested. On the other hand we do know that when a political idea is projected onto a football team in this case the idea of German success through integrating immigrants, then when that team fails, like what happened to France a few years ago, the far right jumps on that as a way of bashing immigrants and saying you see it doesn't work. 

[00:01:21] DG: And are we seeing any examples of that is that happening yet? 

[00:01:24] TK: Absolutely. The final whistle had hardly gone when the spokesperson for the AFD the Alternative for Deutschland, the far right anti immigrant party, tweets basically this is on Ozil and Erdogan must be happy. He's blaming this on Turkey. 

[00:01:39] DG: Extraordinary just immediately it becomes a kind of lightning conductor for these wider political and ethnic issues and it does strike me- Germany is returning home not merely in a very different state sporting wise from a World Cup but back to a very different Germany. In 2014 they returned as champions, Merkel's rule seemed secure, placid, the great bastion of kind of liberalism and sense in European politics and the German economy is still doing OK it's lording it over Europe. And here four years later Merkel is very close to losing power. Certainly massively weakened, forced hugely on the defensive by the migration crisis and the response of a lot of the public to the migration crisis in Germany. It's a completely different feel for this German team. I think once they get beyond ethnic finger pointing is there anything you saw Tony that made you think it wasn't a surprise that they went out the way they did? 

[00:02:40] TK: Well the one thing you could point to is that there's a precedent here. It's become almost common almost traditional that a European country that wins the World Cup fails to get out of the group stage at the following World Cup. We've seen that happen to France. We've seen that happen to Spain. We've seen that happen to Italy. So this is some- you know this is not untraditional. And you think in some ways there's a motivation issue. It's like you've reached that emotional peak to win it the first time, how do you get there the second time? And you could see there was a real complacency in this German team, a real expectation that things will go their way because they always do. And suddenly it was like panic stations because oh, they’re not. 

[00:03:18] DG: I must say I took particular pleasure from Manuel Neuer playing in midfield and looking like he was absolutely loving it right at the end and then being caught on the ball and being completely out foxed and giving a goal away. 

[00:03:31] TK: Absolutely. 

[00:03:33] DG: Now I derived an extraordinary amount of joy and pleasure from Germany losing but Mexican fans had a much more vested interest in South Korea winning. I mean they were relying on that to actually get them through to the next round. As a consequence we have had across the globe outpourings of solidarity between Mexicans and Koreans. 

[00:03:53] RS: Hang on, I’ve got a clip.

(Mexican fans chanting in Mexico City)

[00:04:05] DG: That is Mexican fans serenading the South Korean embassy in Mexico City and my Spanish isn't too great, but even I can work out they're chanting “Koreans, brothers, now you are Mexican.” And I believe they called out the ambassador of South Korea and required him to drink quite a few tequila shots in celebration. Raja did you manage to set your alarm this time? Get up and watch some games? 

[00:04:31] RS: Yes. Well now I've apparently become one of those people who lies in bed and holds their phone about a foot above their face watching the end of a football match early in the morning so this is what you've done to me. 

[00:04:40] DG: Okay do that but be careful about your neck strength. I worry about your neck strength. 

[00:04:48] RS: Thank you for your concern David. Well what can I say everybody loves the underdog. And there was a similar dynamic going on the day before, it seemed like all of Twitter was pulling for Nigeria over Argentina and we watched the game in the office here as well. Hang on I think I have a recording of that. 

[00:04:58] DG: Yeah let's hear it. 

[00:05:03] Graelyn Brashear: Hey can I ask you to do something? If you're rooting for Nigeria, can you just shout Nigeria really quickly? 

[00:05:07] Al Jazeera staff: NIGERIA! 

[00:05:10] GB: And if you're rooting for Argentina can you shout Argentina on 3? 1 2 3. 

[00:05:14] One person: Argentina! 

[00:05:17] RS: That's our colleague Tupac. Of course he had the last laugh with Argentina going ahead in the 86th minute two one. 

[00:05:26] RS: But you know I, it does make me wonder why does everybody seem to hate Argentina so much?  

[00:05:32] DG: Dude I do not hate Argentina. 

[00:05:34] TK: Oh I do. 

[00:05:37] DG: I love Argentina. I love Argentina. There is nowhere in this world that is so amazing to watch a game of football as Argentina. That said recognize I'm not the norm. I mean partly it's people love Nigeria man. Everybody wanted an African team to make it and they had a chance and they've got great shirts and we wanted to see them go through. You know so there's that side. In Latin America of course Argentinians both you know in everyday life as well as football, let's say have a little bit of a reputation as the kind of most arrogant and stuck up dudes on the continent. 

[00:06:13] TK: Absolutely. 

[00:06:14] DG: The people who basically believe in inverted commas you know the most European the most advanced the most white is the kind of subtext and that really gets up people's noses. 

[00:06:23] RS: I see. 

[00:06:24] DG: On the other hand you know as an outsider I like their kind of you know I like that strut but I can understand if you're a neighbor it would like seriously get on your nerves. 

[00:06:35] TK: Well I hang out a lot in Brooklyn with the neighbors i.e. Chileans. So that would be my first reason for hating Argentina. Well it does go all the way back to the 1978 World Cup where you know the dictatorship's team playing this really thuggish football. Holland you know really getting kicked off the pitch for that win never really bought it. I didn't get behind the England thing. I mean I'm fine with Maradona taking revenge for Islas Malvinas. No problem with that. But I do also have that sense as you say, the rest of Latin America crystallized for me in a conversation I once had with a very white very blonde Argentinian who said to me, I ask all my Colombian friends why do you hate us so much? And my Colombian friend said because you think you're better than us. And then I say, but we are. 

[00:07:22] DG: OK Argentinian arrogance in a nutshell. And Argentinian arrogance I'm afraid to say, as we know got their way past Nigeria knocked them out and left Senegal as the only African team left in this tournament. We are recording this show just minutes after the conclusion of Poland Japan and Senegal Colombia. And Senegal tragically level on points with Japan but losing one nil to Colombia are out. There are no Africans left in the 2018 World Cup. Tony, how is that making you feel? 

[00:07:58] TK: Well it's a little heartbreaking. You know I wouldn't say there are no Africans left, it's only the African diaspora left in the World Cup and there's actually plenty of African diaspora representatives including Colombia. But that said you know the one takeaway I watched that goal go in. I watched how things were set up in that corner. The goalkeeper is way out of position. The guy guarding the post is literally guarding the post. He's not guarding the space. 

[00:08:23] DG: This is Colombia's goal against Senegal right you're talking about. 

[00:08:28] TK: Right yes exactly. He's not guarding the space inside the post which is actually what he's meant to be protecting. But it really strikes me you know if you look at that Senegal team and you have these top tier talents from the Premier League from La Liga in all positions except the goalkeeper. Khadim N'Diaye plays his professional football at a team called Horoya in the Guinea capital of Conakry. So basically you're coming to the World Cup with outfield players that are top tier, can match anyone in the world and a goalkeeper who is really way out of his league. You know I'm sorry to say that really does play in sometimes. You know every time the goalkeeper was challenged with a high ball or whatever. Sometimes he pulled off marvelous saves. Often he looked like really really vulnerable. 

[00:09:12] DG: That said for all of the faults of Senegal and their goalkeeper you know the game in the end it seems is determined in the Poland Japan game. The Poles take a lead and that leaves the situation where the Japanese just need to keep it that way and they know they are going through on the fair play rules. Same number of points, goal differences Senegal. Same head to head. Fewer yellow cards. And you know this is like Gijan 1982 when the Austrians and the West Germans play out a game that excludes the Algerians and the game basically stops. You know the Japanese are playing walking football for 15 minutes and the Poles have got their goal and their win to take home and it's like everybody’s... 

[00:9:55] TK: That's a little too, I mean I know what you're saying but that's a little too conspiratorial because fair play to Japan they play really great attractive attacking football for the most part and they matched Senegal. They drew two two with Senegal that should never have happened. Senegal's fate was in its own hands. It didn't take the moment. We have to take that away. Senegal should have beaten Japan and it didn't. And that's why it's not in the next round. 

[00:10:21] DG: But Columbia went out and won it and no doubt newly elected president Duque in Colombia will be celebrating, indeed declaring a national holiday to accommodate the inevitable bacchanalian rebels that accompany a Colombian victory in the World Cup. Bigger even than the celebration party a week or so ago for President Duque himself recently elected. Colombia is one of those countries where the schedule of its presidential elections seems to be inevitably coincide with the World Cup. So too in Mexico, where every 12 years the federal elections for the president coincide with the World Cup. Except there is a big difference this year in Mexico. It looks as if the candidate of the left is going to win the federal presidency of Mexico. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, known otherwise as AMLO A M L O is the leftist candidate in this election. Now what if Mexico had actually gone out at this stage? What if the South Koreans had failed to score those goals? Is it possible to imagine that the depression, the disappointment in Mexico might have affected the national mood? AMLO let's be honest is 20 points ahead, but football can do funny things. And we do have precedent for this. Raja hit the lights, give us some background music. 

[00:11:46] RS: All right David. 

[00:11:55] Newsreel: But what are England's chances in Mexico? When happy news visited the England squad….
[00:12:00] David Goldblatt: So, in 1970 I am four and a half I'm coming up for five and the first color television that I saw was an advert for Campbell's cream of tomato soup.
[00:12:12] Campbell's jingle: Campbell’s in the cupboards like money in the bank..
[00:12:17] DG: The red of that soup on that big screen is still with me. The aesthetic intensity of that advert for me was something else. That redness though has its moment in the 1970 World Cup. For me the first game that I can remember watching on television and watching with my father is the quarterfinal between West Germany and England.
[00:12:45] Football Commentator: (football commentator).
[00:12:48] DG: And England are playing in red and those two reds are incredibly fixed in my mind they kind of transport me to our living room in Ruislip on the edge of London in 1970. My father so obsessed with the World Cup this time around that he's experimenting with having two televisions on in the room simultaneously, checking out different coverage from different channels of the same game. Or where they've got two games playing simultaneously trying to watch both at the same time.
[00:13:22] DG: I can remember my father screaming at the television. I didn't understand until later why. And now, having watched the game which is an extraordinary game, England go two nil up they’re two nil up early in the second half and they're the world champions and they seem to have the Germans under control and okay they've lost to Brazil earlier on in the tournament but suddenly this looks like the England that won the 1966 World Cup. And maybe they're going through to the semifinals. And maybe they're going to win it. And the Germans come back. And they are fantastic team you know.
[00:13:58] DG: This is a team of Beckenbauer, Mueller, and the Germans make it back to two all and then we're into extra time. It's close you know. Both are really it's a great game of football it's end to end and I can remember my father in a state and I still didn't really understand why though I sort of got it that maybe we were going to lose and ...
[00:14:21] Football Commentator: (football commentator)
[00:14:28] DG: An amazing goal wins it for Germany in the hundred and eighth minute from Gerd Mueller, a flying volley. The shape of his body is a sort of extraordinary triangle as he kind of fires it home, past Peter Bonetti.
[00:14:42] Football Commentator: (football commentator)
[00:14:53] DG: That all left these deep traces in my mind and as I've gone back to that game I've understood something of the kind of the despair and the shock of England, the world champions, going out. How that must’ve felt. And amazingly I came across a comment on that game in the memoirs of Harold Wilson who was the prime minister at the time the Labour prime minister who'd been in power since 1964. And the game, which was played on a Sunday, is four days before the 1970 UK general election which is being held on the Thursday I think.
[00:15:32] DG: And Wilson says in his memoirs that he thought that the mood of gloom that enveloped England after that game, the sense of defeat, the sense of a kind of a turning point, the end of something depressed the turnout. Depressed the turnout so much that come Thursday the Labour Party, who in many of the polls were anywhere between five and nine percent ahead, lose the election narrowly to Edward Heath's conservatives.
[00:16:03] Newsreel: ... Yet still a substantial swing to the conservatives there in Newcastle.
[00:16:10] DG: Now there were other things going on that week. There was a deep swing in a way away from the Labour Party after six years in power. There was terrible weather that week, as often there is in July in England which certainly depressed the turnout and there was very bad economic data midweek which also seemed to shift a lot of votes. But I can't help thinking in retrospect what a moment that was and maybe, just maybe, Wilson was right.
[00:16:41] Newsreel: And the Labour government is defeated and Edward Heath is the next prime minister of the country.
[00:16:47] DG: And what, what kind of brings me back to it again and again is a counterfactual question. Edward Heath was in power for four very turbulent years. His minister of education in that era was an unknown but rising Conservative MP called Margaret Thatcher. By the time 1975 came around and Heath was deposed as the leader of the Conservative Party and Thatcher won the election. She was a long shot then. She was an outsider. No one thought she was going to get it. And the only reason that she'd managed to get anywhere near that election and that victory is that she'd had four solid years as a cabinet minister.
[00:17:32] DG: Just maybe if Heath hadn't been elected and Mrs. Thatcher hadn't had her four years in the cabinet just maybe when it came round to a change of leadership Thatcher wouldn't have made it. That's not to say of course that this Conservative Party wouldn't have moved to the right, that Britain wouldn't have experienced the sort of profound industrial and political restructuring that happened in the 1980s. But maybe it wouldn't have been her at the helm.

[00:18:03] RS: Good thing we have a backing band just sitting around in the studio all the time. 

[00:18:06] DG: I should have more flights of fancy we can then have them back again. 

[00:18:11] RS: But what do you guys think? I mean this last minute escape yesterday. Does that have a chance of affecting the Mexico election on Sunday? 

[00:18:20] DG: To be honest I think AMLO is so far ahead and the mood in Mexico is so strong for some kind of change given the disastrous course of Calderon's militarization of the war on drugs. Not to mention the rest of the problems Mexico is suffering. I think he's virtually unstoppable. What about you Tony? 

[00:18:38] TK: Yeah agreed. I think football, we can't have a football determinism theory of history. Football can make a difference to the national mood in a marginal election when it's really tight. I don't think the Mexican election is very tight at the moment as you say. AMLO has a very significant lead and they're winning so I don't think it's going to be you know I don't think even going out would have necessarily changed things. 

[00:19:00] DG: Sure though the interesting the interesting thing to note here is that traditionally the front runner in the Mexican presidential elections hires the Azteca for the evening of the election for their celebration party. And I think certainly Calderon hired it, Pena Nieto hired it. And this time around AMLO's hired it. So although football in the end isn't going to transform his political campaign it is interesting that the only place in Mexico that you can celebrate a presidential victory is in the home of Mexican football in the Azteca in Mexico City. 

[00:19:39] DG: We'll be keeping an eye on the Mexican presidential elections this week but the main thing we'll be watching, well it will be the football. 

[00:19:47] (What to watch bumper plays). 

[00:19:51] RS: So the knockout phase begins this Saturday. There’s going to be like eight games in four days. I'm going to do my best to take it all in. But as usual I am curious to hear what you guys are especially excited about. David why don't we start with you? What are you going to be watching? 

[00:20:04] DG: I'm looking forward to Russia Spain. I think that's going to be really interesting. I'm interested to see how the Russians respond to being swatted aside by the Uruguayans. I think it's really important in determining the sort of wider mood and feel of this World Cup and if Russia lose I wonder if the kind of wider feel good factor and holiday style policing that is going on in World Cup cities might dissipate somewhat. I'm also interested to see what Spain have really got going for them at this stage you know they're getting old they're not as fast as they used to be but they have the master of the dark arts and I love the thought that Sergio Ramos, master of the dark footballing arts will be taking on Russia, the master of every other dark art. So that's the that's the confrontation for me. Tony, what about you man? 

[00:20:55] TK: I guess France Argentina would be top of my list right now. Well firstly you know from the point of view of Africa, we don't have any sides left anymore but we have African diaspora teams left in the last 16. And of course France Colombia Brazil are all very strongly representative of the African diaspora. I think that what's going to be really interesting to see is this kind of manic Argentina. It's done this twice now. It's scraped through by the skin of its teeth twice now. This absolutely emotionally draining frenzied efforts to really scrape by. I don't think that's going to work against a well drilled side. The question is France hasn't looked like a particularly well drilled side or the well drilled side it should be. So it's quite an even contest. As a football spectacle I think it's going to be very exciting. 

[00:21:46] DG: We'll be watching all of that. But once again people let me tell you we are recording this against the clock. Belgium England is going to be kicking off just about an hour from now. So I am going to love you and leave you and head off with my usual rush of adrenaline fueled unreasonable and unwarranted optimism about the England team. This show has been a production of Al Jazeera's Jetty Studios. It's recorded at the Sound Town Studios in Bristol UK. The music is by Bang Data. Subscribe to the show if you haven't already at Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. Follow us on Twitter at Game of Our Lives. It just remains to say thank you so much for the Pan African source of wisdom Tony Karon. 

[00:22:31] TK: Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will. 

[00:22:33] DG: And the indefatigable and imperturbable Raja Shah. 

[00:22:37] RS: Thanks David. 

[00:22:38] DG: I'm David Goldblatt and we'll see you on Tuesday. 

[00:22:45] RS: Good thing we had that marimba player just hanging around. 

[00:22:49] DG: Sorry say that again?? 

[00:22:53] RS: I said good thing we had that marimba player just sitting around here. 

[00:22:58] DG: What?