Russia is about to be invaded by 31 other countries. Yes – the World Cup is upon us. For the next month you will be expected to talk football morning, noon and night. There’s no let up until the final on July 15 at Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium (whose name, like ‘Las Vegas’ means ‘the meadows’). Do not go into those conversations unprepared – arm yourself with our collection of World Cup trivia.
The first World Cup. Embarrassment for the USA trainer Jack Coll, who during the semi-final against Argentina ran onto the pitch to attend to an injured player, dropped his bag, broke a bottle of chloroform and was knocked out by the fumes. Coll rather than the player had to be stretchered off.
As in 1930, the British teams declined to enter. Charles Sutcliffe of the FA explained that ‘England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland have quite enough to do in their own International Championship, which seems to me a far better World Championship than the one to be staged in Rome’. (Could we go back to this policy?)
The home players’ match fee for the final was £60. Contrast that with the £1,000 paid by Adidas to each man wearing their boots. The company even paid the money to those who painted three white stripes on their existing boots to make them look like an Adidas pair.
The last World Cup final not to feature a Bayern Munich player in either starting line-up.
Scotland scored first in their match against Brazil. Gordon Strachan remembers thinking: ‘Oh no, we’ve annoyed them now.’ Brazil duly won 4-1.
What everyone forgets about the Hand of God incident is that not even Maradona’s teammates had the brass neck to celebrate. Watch it again and you’ll see that at first none of them follow him on his celebratory run. ‘I told them, “Come and hug me, or the referee isn’t going to allow it,”‘ said the mendacious maestro. ‘Batista came over and asked me, “You knocked it in with your hand, right? Did you use your hand?” And I answered, “Shut the f*** up and keep on celebrating.”’
Forget Gazza’s tears, Gary Lineker was leaking at the other end. He didn’t admit it until 20 years later, but during England’s opening match against the Republic of Ireland, the striker soiled himself. He’d been unwell before the match, and when he stretched for a tackle in the second-half his bowels made a decision over which Lineker had no control. All he could do was sit on the ground and drag himself forward ‘like a dog’ in an attempt to clean things up. ‘I never found so much space in a game as I did that night after it happened,’ he said.
The last of Giuseppe Bergomi’s four World Cups for Italy – and in none of them did he appear during the qualifiers. In 1982 he was a late addition to the squad. Italy won that year, so qualified automatically for the 1986 tournament. As they did again in 1990, by virtue of being hosts. Then eight years later, at the age of 34, Bergomi received a surprise last-minute call-up.
2002, Japan and South Korea
Fastest World Cup goal ever – Hakan Sukur, Turkey, 10.89 seconds.
Switzerland became the only team ever to exit the World Cup without conceding a goal in open play (losing their last-16 match on penalties after a 0-0 draw). Argentina’s Leandro Cufré became the only player ever to be sent off after the final whistle of a World Cup game, for his part in the mass brawl following the quarter final against Germany (all the more impressive because he hadn’t even come on first – he’d watched the whole game from the subs’ bench). But of course what you really remember about the tournament is England are Jolly Dee, Neil and Christine Hamilton’s (inexplicably unofficial) World Cup song.
2010, South Africa
Denmark scored three goals, bringing their all-time tally to 27 – none of which have been scored from outside the penalty area. They’ve qualified again this year, as have their neighbours Sweden, which means we might be treated to a delightful quirk: when the two teams play each other, the TV graphic reads ‘SWE-DEN’, with the unused letters spelling ‘DEN-MARK’.
Strangest managerial edict of the tournament came from the home team’s Felipe Scolari: no ‘acrobatic’ sex. ‘The players can have normal sex during the World Cup,’ he announced. ‘Usually normal sex is done in a balanced way, but some like to perform acrobatics. We will put limits and survey the players.’ God knows what the team got up to before the semi-final against Germany, but they lost 7-1.
Mark Mason is the author of The Bluffer’s Guide to Football