Brazil are my favourite team for their flair. Going by the way they played in the FIFA Confederations Cup last year, smashing everybody along the way including Spain in the final, they start as favourites for this year’s World Cup. Not to forget, they have Neymar.
I won’t leave Spain one bit, though. Spain would have done their home work. They will come back stronger. They would start as favourites alongwith Brazil.
Spain may be an old team but with their experience, they might fight back. But they have to be wary of Neymar when he starts firing. When you are on a roll, at home or away, you are unstoppable. With that kind of brilliance, they will be hard to stop. They have to play aggressive football.
I have never had a chance to watch the FIFA World Cup from close quarters. We used to watch a lot of football during our tours of England in 1982, 1986, 1990 — all World Cup years. I still remember Paolo Rossi scoring goals aplenty in the latter half of the 1982 edition to help Italy win the World Cup. Rossi was unbelievable in that World Cup. As much as I like Brazil, he was instrumental in Italy beating Brazil (second round). His ability to score in big matches has been a lasting memory.
For him to score that many goals — a hat-trick against Brazil, two in the semifinals and one in the final — was unbelievable.
By scoring that hat-trick, he broke Brazilian hearts. At that time, I was in England with the Indian team team. The noise that the Italians made, all the honking, Italian restaurants distributing free pizza...
Having said that, Diego Maradona’s exploits in 1986 are right up there. An absolute genius, a powerhouse of a player who won Argentina the World Cup single-handedly. Maradona’s 1986 and Rossi’s 1982 are my lasting memories of the World Cup.
Even though I have not watched a FIFA World Cup match at the stadium, I have met quite a few footballers. On one occasion, Viv Richards and I had gone to a bar in Cardiff and there were four Welsh players — Ian Rush, John Alridge, Mark Hughes and one more, I don’t remember. It was an enjoyable evening with the football greats.
(Ravi Shastri is a former India cricket captain. He spoke with G Krishnan)