The World Cup is objectively the best sporting event. But you already knew that. What you didn't know is how much about the World Cup there is to hate. This preview will ignore the tournament's many virtues and instead focus on a first XI of flaws.
Hoo boy. Here we go: Fifa's (alleged) malfeasance in awarding this tournament to Russia in 2010 is now an eight-year-old chicken coming home to roost. And that chicken is one ugly f—ing bird. Where to begin? With homophobia? Sergei Skripal? State-sanctioned doping? We better start with racism. After all, at which other tournament will the days before kick off be filled with headlines like 'How will Fifa handle racist incidents?' (Since Fifa's involved, I'm guessing the answer to that question is 'extremely poorly'.) We should also talk a little about the murderous kleptocracy the footballing world will be doing its damnedest to ignore for a month. When journalists are elaborately faking their deaths to prove a point there's probably something rotten going on. And then there's the fight clubs. Yeah, you heard, the fight clubs. Apparently there's a new breed of football hooligan in Russia, groups of fans who head into the woods and brawl with other teams' supporters in organised bouts that have neither rules nor referees. That may sound a figment of someone's imagination but, unlike Brad Pitt's character in Fight Club, those forest fights are very real. Spoiler alert.
Are you ready to see players mime a TV screen at the referee when they receive a decision they dislike? The video assistant referee may create that unseemly sight, and it may spoil the essence of football by stopping the one sport that actually flows continually, but at least all decisions reviewed will eventually be rendered correct. What's that? The final of the A-League last month was decided by a goal that shouldn't have stood due to a VAR flaw? And Fifa's head of technology says he is "sweating" because he is "unsure if everything works". Oh.
The build-up to plenty of recent sporting events has been dominated by negative stories. Think slum-clearing in Brazil, or human-rights abuses in Beijing, or those Greek sprinters' wild and possibly-faked motorcycle crash before Athens. But, generally, once the actual sport starts, all is forgiven and forgotten. Not on this occasion. Not when the first 48 matches are shaping to be this dull. With world rankings being used to determine each team's seeding for the first time, the eight groups appear largely lopsided and literally every game will be the same: one side dominating possession and chances while the other sit deep and attempt to hit on the counter. Where's the Group of Death? Or even the Group of Nagging Pain? Also, how much vodka do you need to drink before believing Russia were randomly drawn into what analytics website FiveThirtyEight calculated was the weakest group in modern World Cup history? With the game's governing body and the host nation both beset by corruption, such fortune does seem a tad suspicious.
At least, after surviving the slog of the group stages, we should then be treated to some exciting football. But only if the knockout rounds are completely different from four years ago. How many of those games, aside from Brazil's hilarious capitulation against Germany, does anyone remember? Remove that outlier, remove the defence-optional third-place playoff, and from the round-of-16 on there were five draws with 16 goals scored in normal time, good for an average of 1.1 goals a game. Fast-kickin', low-scorin' and ties? You bet.
Ah, yes. Brazil's capitulation. Let's pause one last time to inhale the sweet fumes of Brazil being pumped 7-1 by Germany in the semifinals of their own damn tournament. Seven. Goals. To. One. Lordy. Nothing that amusing will happen in Russia. Because - and stop me if you've heard this before - Brazil are stacked with talent and justifiably favourites to win the World Cup. So boring. Why can't we have a once-in-a-lifetime humiliation at every major tournament? That doesn't seem too much to ask.
Hands up who's watching every game, with kick-offs scheduled for 12am, 3am and 6am. I didn't think so. June, along with every other month, is a rugby month. Things Kiwi sport fans are thinking about at this time of year: All Blacks, Barrett brothers, boomfa, go the boys. Things they aren't: footy tournaments on the other side of the world.
What's the point of pencilling in every result on a piece of paper in 2018, when typing 'world cup' into Google will instantly give you that information and more? If you're over the age of 16 and still sticking a tacky poster to your lounge wall, take a good, long look in the mirror, then go download an app or something. And, yes, I will absolutely be sticking a tacky poster to my lounge wall.
There's not much in football. Which is a good thing. Nothing like a bit of diving and biting to add intrigue. So it was highly disappointing to see the captains of France, Australia and Denmark unite to write a letter pleading for Peru captain Paolo Guerrero's drug ban to be overturned so he could participate in their group. Guerrero, let's remember, used cocaine, which is not performance-enhancing and definitely not at all fun, but is still a banned substance. Won't someone think of the children?
It's easy to tell how fizzing the tabloids are for the biennial tradition of bashing their own team. The press couldn't wait for England to even step on the plane before tearing down Raheem Sterling, after he had the temerity to get a tattoo on his leg while also being black. Although, as has been pointed out on Twitter, all the pearl-clutching will be absolutely worthwhile if Jamie Vardy uses Sterling's newly-inked gun in a highly-choreographed goal celebration.
Man's best friend? More like a tournament's worst enemy. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I regret to inform you that Russia is back on its bulls**t, repeating the mass culls of stray dogs that took place before the 2016 Winter Olympics, slaughters intended to make Sochi more media- and visitor-friendly. Who cares if Russia's strays have learned to obey traffic lights and often commute into cities by train, knowing to hop on the first and last carriages for the least-crowded journeys? They may sound like very good dogs but they're actually a scourge and must be exterminated.
Even the most curmudgeonly of curmudgeons couldn't find fault with the World Cup final, right? Welp. When Brazil and another team walk out under the world's spotlight at Luzhniki Stadium on July 15, they will be doing so at a venue where a bunch of Spartak Moscow fans were crushed to death in 1982. How many? Who knows. The Soviet Union did its best to conceal the casualties, with initial newspaper reports suggesting "some spectators were injured" and relatives of the dead claiming they were threatened with prison if they publicly discussed the tragedy. It took until Gorbachev's glasnost seven years later before the official death toll was revealed to be 66. Other investigations, however, estimated as many as 350 people were killed. And on that rosy note…enjoy the games, everybody.