Laid Bare


World Cup 2014

The fall of Spain; how Croatia got its groove back; four degrees of surprise from Australia.

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Croatia’s team relaxed in the buff, causing a scandal at home.

The same day that, in Chile, more than twenty previously unknown works by Pablo Neruda were discovered in the most unlikely of places—a drawer—Spain thought it was a good idea to continue their monarchy by changing the constitution so the prince could replace the abdicating king. I rejoiced at one and shrugged at the other. Fittingly, Chile beat Spain 2-0 yesterday.

Chile showed the extent to which Spain is past its sell-by date. Spain has become a product, a collection of starry names to sell to a depressed populace. The sales pitch used to work: they won the Euros in 2008, the World Cup in 2010, and the Euros again in 2012, an unprecedented streak. But what worked then never evolved into what will work now. Most of the players from 2008 were in Brazil in 2014: the goalkeeper Iker Casillas was benched by his club team for the majority of the past two seasons, yet started in this World Cup. His place was barely questioned. Of course he wanted to play: Spain has more than 50 percent unemployment for adults twenty-five and under; the players stood to win a bonus of 720,000 euros each if they won this World Cup. But yesterday their gaps on the field expanded like an opening wound. The players—and soon after them the ball itself—rolled around more and more slowly. They seemed to be playing uphill.

But there will be more than enough elegies and eulogies for Spain. Let me instead sing the praises of Chile, a team that’s been on the upswing for some time now. Their next and final match in the group stage will be against the Netherlands, with the two thus far undefeated teams vying for the top spot in the group. Coincidentally, both teams played Spain in the last World Cup, with Chile losing what was, like yesterday’s game, a must-win scenario, 2-0. Both Chile and the Netherlands have already qualified for the knockout rounds, so Monday’s game should be a formality—but one of them will likely end up playing Brazil in the next round. But given the way Brazil has been playing, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Then again, Brazil’s next opponent is Cameroon, and I’m less certain that the planet is round than I am that Brazil will beat Cameroon. Last night, the ghastly Cameroon team lost 0-4 to Croatia, who seems to have risen from the ashes of their opening game against Brazil last week. Let’s hear it for team bonding: after the loss to Brazil, the Croatian players took to swimming and chilling poolside, in the nude. It worked.

What else? Holland beat Australia. (You’re not surprised.) Australia was, at one point, in the lead. (You’re a little surprised.) Australia had possession of the ball nearly as often as Holland. (You’re surprised.) Australia’s Tim Cahill (who plays in New York!) scored a goal against Holland as good as Holland’s Robin van Persie’s goal against Spain. (Your head hurts.)

But that’s how this tournament goes. At any moment you may see something that will stick with you for the rest of your life. The rapid, mazy triangulations of Brazil’s 1982 team; Maradona’s slalom against wobbling phalanxes of English defenders; Roger Milla defying age and elevating Cameroon to dizzying heights with his goals, then teaching the world how to celebrate with style, shimmying with the corner flag.

Joy. This tournament keeps giving it, though it’s sometimes buried. Yesterday, in Rio’s historical Maracanã stadium, the camera would often capture the dejected faces of uniformed Spanish fans as the inevitability of loss and the end of an era settled on them. In the highest part of the stadium, a gigantic screen often shows video of the crowd. Whenever someone would notice he was onscreen—and it always took a few seconds or a nudge from someone—everything about him would change. He would rise to his feet and wave to everyone. His mouth would move with the passion of a song. Hello, hello, go go go.

Rowan Ricardo Phillips’s second book of poems, Heaven, will be published next year. He is the recipient of the 2013 small>PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award and a 2013 Whiting Writers’ Award.