Another week, another conversation. This time I welcome a terrifyingly well-informed team of Magnus Anderson, Al Ewing and Martin Skidmore to talk about something I (demonstrably, audibly) know very little about – the history, present and practice of comics criticism. Links and other clarifications to follow in the comments.
Here we are, at last.
Here we stand at the summit of Pop Football achievement, looking back at 63 matches: some wonderful, some perplexing, some illuminating, very few boring. We’ve heard so much pop, enjoyed so many marvellous moments, and we have 30 losing managers to thank for all their research and taste.
Never mind all that, though. Here at the summit we can also look forward, forward to the Big One. Two teams remain, two managers giving it one last best shot each. Matt DC’s Nigeria have powered through round after round; a drawn game in a tough group mars an otherwise-100% record, but they accelerated through the knockout stages and stand confident and consistent in the biggest game of all. Andrew W’s Germany have plotted an altogether mazier path to today; second to Ghana in their group, they found some form in beating the USA in the round of 16, then enjoyed winning two of the closest games in the tournament.
This match and this Championship close at midnight on Monday 14th June
There are no losers here. Each Pop World Cup manager set off on a crooked path some months ago, and to fall at the penultimate hurdle cannot be counted as shame. Rather, let’s doff our caps at the achievements of both these two. Carsmile Steve, whose management of Honduras will stand as a truly great example of underdoggery, both cheery and plucky. Weston, whose Cameroon teamtalks have brought an entirely new flavour to international Pop Football – and he’s going out just as he went in (and out) – in a bleeding great blaze of glory.
There’s a purity about the third place play-off: winning doesn’t mean so much, it’s pop football played for its own sake. Plus, of course, it’s an amuse bouche ahead of tomorrow’s main course.
This match closes at midnight on Sunday 13th June
The big story of this Pop World Cup, it’s been said, has been the exceptional performance of the African teams. Almost half of the quarter finalists, fully half of the semi-finalists, all drawn from Africa. Only one can make it into the final, though: the vagaries of the draw has meant that the great African showdown will take place right now, in the semis. Two unstoppable forces head to head here, Matt DC’s Nigeria, as strong and consistent a team as we’ve seen this time, against the more mercurial opposition of Weston Debevec’s Cameroon. Rivals and neighbours, this match must stand as a celebration of the genuinely great African pop we’ve heard throughout the tournament.
Please note that the time for voting on this match is one day shorter than usual: the semi-finals are timed to end together at midnight on Sunday 6th June
Touching distance, now. It’s the semi-finals and, of all the matches in the Pop World Cup, the semi-finals are the most tense. The stakes feel high: win, and you’ll soon savour the feeling of running out in the biggest pop football game of all; lose and you’ll join the club – that stupid club – of teams who’ve experienced the anti-climax of the third place play-off. Strange things can happen under this kind of pressure…
This match closes at midnight on Sunday 6th June
Can it be that this is the last of our Quarter Finals? So Soon? After this, just four games left in the PWC, and one of those is the third place play-off. We are moving so quickly towards the end of this particular road, and here in the commentary box we are enjoying the ride. Two teams who’ve weaved a mazy path through the tournament meet today to battle for the right to progress. On one hand, Weston Debevec’s Cameroon, stronger and stronger as the tournament progresses, the manager’s teamtalks drawing attention (and pressure) away from his consistently fine team. On the other, Alberto’s Spain team, perhaps as flexible as any in the whole PWC: there’s no way of knowing what formation will turn up on the day. Onwards!
This match closes at midnight on Thursday 27th May
Three quarters of the way through our four Quarters. The tunes, like our managers’ heartbeats, have been largely uptempo, and no-one wants to go home at this stage, not with glory so close. This match sees two of the juggernauts of the early rounds, MattDC’s Nigeria and Ben’s Ghana, meeting head-on along the Trans-West African Coastal Highway. Could be explosive.
This match closes at midnight on Wednesday 26th May.
Quarter Final number two, and things are rattling on apace. Battling for a coveted semi-final spot here are Chris R’s Korea Republic side who seem to have hit a convincing K-pop stride – or was it a K-pop peak? – and Germany, managed by Andrew F, who have shown real flexibility in style to get here and who (famously) must never be underestimated.
This match closes at midnight on Monday 24th May
If you can’t quite smell the greatest pop football prize of all yet, you can certainly hear it in the distance. For one of our managers, three more songs will take them through to the world championship.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Welcome to the first Quarter Final of the Pop World Cup 2008! First up, Iain F’s Netherlands, whose style so far has been mainly laidback pop slinkery. They take on Carsmile Steve’s Honduran reggaeton monster, growing in size with each opponent it devours. The HEAT is ON.
This match closes at midnight on Sunday 23rd May