Every narrative needs a good baddy, and with Argentina, Portugal, Spain and Colombia all knocked out in the round of 16, Uruguay are probably the biggest bunch of bastards left in the tournament, Neymar and co. notwithstanding.
Speaking of baddies, in our World Cup feature four years ago, Evans wrote that the Uruguayan striker Edison Cavani “looks like one of the baddies from Crocodile Dundee 2”. He (Evans) was quite pleased with that, but in truth Cavani looks more like Raspar Capac from Les Aventures de Tintin. (I am indebted to the French journalist Philippe Auclair for this suggestion.) Capac is an ancient Incan monarch whose mummy, having recently been disinterred, disappears in mysterious circumstances and proceeds to haunt the nightmares of Tintin, Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus. He’s a handful alright.
Anyway, after scoring two of the competition’s most sumptuous goals, Cavani/Capac had to hobble off injured against Portugal, and he’s reportedly out for the quarter-finals — in body if not in spirit. And who are Uruguay playing in their quarter-final? Only the fucking French! Surely this must all mean something.
It's tempting to say Uruguay's spirit surfer is Kelly Slater, who despite being injured for the last year has still somehow managed to make it all about him. But Slater's already taken (Brazil), and in any case you can read Slater into practically anything if you look hard enough.
Uruguay’s other talisman is that awful shite Luis Suárez. I don’t know of any pro surfer who has bitten a fellow pro surfer mid-heat. Hopefully Matt Warshaw’s reading and he can set us straight. I reckon Medina's maybe got it in his locker, but the J-Bay shark that had a sniff at Fanning is the closest analogue I can think of.
Thus far in this World Cup, Suárez has been excellent in terms of football though sedate in terms of outrageous villainy. This may change. He looks very similar, in the lower half of the face, to Frederico Morais.
"I don’t know of any pro surfer who has bitten a fellow pro surfer mid-heat. Hopefully Matt Warshaw’s reading and he can set us straight"
The only thing left to say about the Uruguyans is that they wear very tight shirts. I wonder if they know we can see their nipples? They're pretty much full-on rash vests.
Uruguay's spirit surfer is Frederico Morais. Not because he’s a bastard, but because he looks a bit like one.
For a moment or two in the France vs Argentina match, when Kyllian Mbappé broke from deep inside the French half, leaving one… two… three Argentinian players for dead, it looked a bit like a King of the Groms heat where only one surfer has reached puberty. That's how much better, how much stronger and faster, he was than his opponents.
In reality he was fifteen years younger than many of them. Imagine Bede Durbidge, then, in a race along a wave with Filipe Toledo, and you'll have some idea of the mismatch.
Argentina, to the bemusement of everyone, played what’s known in footy speak as a “high defensive line” — which, when your defenders are ageing and slow and the other team’s attackers are fucking rapid, is asking for trouble. It’s the surfing equivalent of being ridiculously undergunned, or waiting inside for the smaller ones on the biggest day of the year despite the likelihood of a getting caught out by a terrifyingly large set.
Uruguay, France’s next opponent, will not be so naive. They will come with the right quiver for the conditions, and even if they don’t surf particularly well, they’ll always be in the right spot.
France's spirit surfer is Filipe Toledo. Partly because of the speed and the youth and the outrageous natural talent; partly because, in spite of all that, and in spite of his nationality and associated prejudices, he's actually quite likeable; and partly because questions remain about his ability to win the cunt.
What’s up with the Russians, eh? They’re playing like men possessed. I would like to know what those boys have been having for breakfast. I would like to know what recipe they are using for their smoothies.
Acai bowls? Spirulina? Slater's Chia Pods? Are they drinking Purps by the gallon at half-time?
“The worst host-nation side since South Africa!” declared the pundits, Russian and non-Russian alike, in the build-up to the World Cup. “A national disgrace! They’ll never make it past the group stage…” etc. All of which was made to look a bit ridiculous when Russia smashed an admittedly not-great Saudi Arabia side 5-0 in the tournament’s opening match, scoring several quite lovely goals in the process.
Their star player and top scorer so far has been Denis Cheryshev, who also put away the winning penalty in their penalty shootout against Spain. That was after shrugging off the evil tactics of Sergio Ramos, who had taken the previous penalty and made a point of personally handing the ball to Cheryshev, in an “Oh, are you looking for the ball? I’ll get it mate! Aren’t I friendly?” sort of way. That was a very Slater-esque ploy. It looked like Ramos was saying something to him, too — maybe that he loved him, as Slater said to Irons just before that Pipe final in the early 2000s. It didn't work in either case.
The cynics have been quick to point out that after the first two group games, Russia had run a greater combined distance than any other team. Very suspicious, they suggested, what with the Russians’ being Russian and also extremely shit until about two weeks ago and everything. Then a story broke implicating Cheryshev, whose own father, himself a former Russian international, had apparently been quoted as saying his son was injected with growth hormones prior to the tournament. (Both Cheryshev jr and the Russian Football Union said this was the result of a mistranslation.)
"It looked like Ramos was saying something to him, too — maybe that he loved him, as Slater said to Irons just before the Pipe final"
All this spiteful innuendo is entirely without foundation, of course, and typical of the anti-Russian smear campaign being propagated by the western media.
Russia's spirit surfer is Neco Padaradtz. Padaratz once accused his wife of putting a curse on him, and cited this as his reason for quitting the tour in '98 (pre-drug suspension). That hits just the right note of craziness and paranoia.
Is there anything interesting to say about this Sweden side? They really are very boring.
“Sweden are organized and smart and rugged and just cynical enough to really have a shot at going all the way,” said American “soccer” writer Charles Boehm. “The walking manifestation of that sinking feeling that it's not going to be your day.” That was quite interesting, I suppose.
I am being harsh. I haven’t actually actually seen any Swedish games so far, largely for fear of being bored, just as I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch a Kanoa Igarashi heat unless he was competing against a surfer I really liked. Neco Padaratz, for instance.
"Even the Swedes sound thoroughly sick of the Swedes"
I have caught some of the post-match analysis, however, and it confirmed my impression that avoiding Sweden was the right call. The thing about football broadcasters is they’re not employed by Fifa, so there’s no Joe Turpel around to say, “what a fun match-up that was between Sweden and Switzerland”.
Even the Swedes, in the few fan interviews I’ve listened to, sound thoroughly sick of the Swedes, resigned to the fact that Sweden will play a joyless style of football that crushes the spirits not only of the opposition but also neutrals and indeed the Swedes themselves. Nor do they seem entirely convinced that the ends justify the means.
There are very few certainties in football, and in even fewer in this World Cup, but this Saturday’s quarter-final between Sweden and England being the most tortuously dull 120 minutes of football in living memory is about as nailed-on as they come.
Sweden's spirit surfer is Kanoa Igarashi. Maybe not rugged but certainly organized, smart and cynical, and while he might not be good enough to actually win anything, he's definitely good enough to knock your favourite surfer out.