The World Cup is almost upon us. Time will tell what Salut! Sunderland’s contributors will make of it. All offerings welcome. Pete Sixsmith always comes up with interesting aspects and at least we have a handful of players to keep our interest up: Jordan Pickford (pictured by his occasional driver, this site’s great friend and massive Sunderland supporter Barry Emmerson) will be there for England, as will the other Jordan, and we even have two not-quite-left-yet players, Wahbi Khazri (will he score for Tunisia against England?) and Costa Rica’s Bryan Oviedo making the trip to Russia.
Sixer wrote an outstanding series of World Cup memories when South Africa provided the setting in 2010. And he again wrote compellingly about his enjoyment of the 2014 event in Brazil. Here is another chance to see what impressed him so much …
I loved this World Cup. I thought it was brilliant and one of the best footballing experiences of my life.
I loved the final as well (Germany 1-0 Argentina). Two careful, thoughtful teams working each other out, searching and probing and looking for that elusive opportunity that would win the ultimate trophy for them.
I loved the winning goal by Mario Gotze, the quality of the pass by Andrea Schulle, the brilliant control with the chest and the immediate dispatch into the back of the net.
I loved Jerome Boateng who never appeared to put a foot wrong throughout the tournament. He was outstanding in the final and the contrast between him and his somewhat less disciplined brother, Kevin-Prince, is a testimony to Jerome and to the strength and discipline of the DFB and Bayern Munich.
I loved Manuel Neuer, as good a goalkeeper as I have seen in the 50 years I have been watching football. I loved seeing him standing next to Phillip Lahm as the anthems were sung and realising that he absolutely dwarfs his captain.
I loved the Argentina fans who kept up an incessant noise throughout the final and did their best to roar their team home.
The whole four weeks was just absolutely bloody marvellous with very few dull games and some absolutely fascinating ones that had great football, great drama and great finishes.
It was marvellous because of teams like Algeria, Costa Rica, Chile and Mexico playing open and exciting football compared to the stodgy fare that the likes of England and Italy served up – which is exactly why they scuttled off home before the postcards had arrived.
It was marvellous because I saw images of a whole country. I had never heard of huge cities like Fortaleza or Cuiaba and it was great the way that they appeared to embrace the whole tournament. Some of the stadiums were magnificent, particularly the one in Brasilia, while the Maracana shone on final night.
It was marvellous because it gave us time to look at ourselves and our game and to begin to think about why Khadira, Ozil and Mueller have progressed so much more than Cattermole, Gardener and Johnson since 2009.
It was marvellous because I saw players like James Rodriguez and Jose Gimenez and Kaylor Navas and DeAndre Yedlin and Divock Origi and wondered why our country does not turn out players like that and why they never seem to end up at Sunderland.
I waved goodbye to the old guard, the likes of Iniesta, Gerrard, Dempsey, Pirlo, Kompany and Drogba, all fine players but who will never see another World Cup as the younger men elbow them aside.
I enjoyed Gary Lineker who has become a very fine broadcaster and I was delighted that the urbane Mike Ingham got to describe the winning goal in his final broadcast on BBC radio – where the commentary is so much better than on TV. John Murray is the pick of the crop with Ian Dennis and Conor McNamara not far behind him.
There were negatives. Too many players exaggerating the effects of contact – none worse than Arjen Robben, who was, in the words of the Bard of Sheffield, John Shuttleworth, “Up and down like a bride’s nightie”.
Luis Suarez, wonderful player though he is, made a fool of himself yet again and then decamped to Nou Camp. Was his bite on Chiellini done in order to engineer a move away from England? Not a way for the Footballer of the Year to conduct himself.
England were as poor as any team in the tournament and the prospects for improvement are not great. Roy Hodgson can only work with what he has but I defy any England manager to create a team spirit even half as good as that built by Joachin Low. He was able to select German players who appeared for the national champions, a luxury that is not granted to Hodgson.
I thought I had got away without a single glimpse of Sepp Blatter. Unfortunately, he was there at the final, giving out the medals in what was the worst presentation ceremony I have ever seen. I felt sorry for the Argentine players who were made to wait and who did it with dignity.
And so it is over. Russia 2018 has an awful lot to live up to on and off the pitch …