Delighted to welcome William Birdthistle to the Conspiracy, and very much looking forward, as the VC’s resident soccer fanatic, to read what he has to say about the Most Exciting Event on Planet Earth, which begins (be still, my heart!!) tomorrow.  Herewith my take on the questions on all lips:

1.  Is John Oliver right about FIFA?  Are they really that bad?

A:  Yes!  FIFA is, as Oliver says, “comically grotesque.”  The decision to hold the 2022 World Cup in Qatar may be (from my lips to God’s ears) the Final Straw – an act so venal, so obviously corrupt, that it might cause the world to rise up and say “ENOUGH!!”  Though I doubt it.

2.  So how can you follow the World Cup and add more dough to their overfilled coffers?

A:  Because soccer is the greatest game ever invented, and because the passion and the thrill of combat between national teams is simply unparalleled.

3.  Really?

A:  Yes.

4.  How’s the USA team going to fare this time around?

A:  A damned good question!  My prediction: better than expected.  While the pundits (you know who you are) are making fun of the team’s rather limited expectations this time around, the fact is we are in a true Group of Death:  Ghana (good), Portugal (very good), and Germany (really, really good).  Getting out of this group — two teams will emerge from a 3-game round robin to enter the “knockout phase,” where it’s win or go home — would be a spectacular result for the US, and I think there’s a 50/50 chance that we’ll accomplish that.  The most recent tune-up game (against Nigeria) showed a team that was well-organized, inventive, and skillful, and if we get a good result against Ghana (a win, or at least a draw) things could get damned interesting in the next couple of games.

5.  Can the US team win?

No.  Although soccer appears to be a sport in which caprice and luck play a large role, the fact is the better teams actually win, generally speaking, in a tournament like this.  There are really only 4 teams that can win this thing:  Argentina, Brazil, Spain, and Germany.  Dark horses and Cinderellas are great fun, and there will surely be several who make an appearance over the next few weeks – Belgium, Bosnia, England could turn in outstanding performances – but they’ll get only as far as the semifinals, and then the pressure, not to mention the greater skill and composure of the really great teams, will overwhelm them.  My heart is with Argentina, but my head says Spain.

6.  So what’s the deal with Leo Messi?  Will he lead Argentina to victory?

I hope so.  Messi is a magician and an artist of the highest caliber, and it would be a wonderful capstone to what has been a remarkable career were he to lead his national team to the trophy.  But the pressure – the “burden of being Lionel Messi” – may be simply too great for him to bear.

7. Aren’t you going to say anything about all the non-soccer news that has dominated the headlines up to this point, regarding logistical problems, protests over the money being spent, and all that?
A: No.