Gideon Rachman

France's Benzema celebrates after scoring the second goal for the team during their World Cup qualifying playoff match against Ukraine at the Stade de France Reuters

If any country is in need of a morale booster, it is surely France. President Hollande’s popularity ratings are in the low 20s. The economy is shrinking. The country’s credit-rating has just been downgraded again. The far-right is on the rise. And a crazed gunman is on the loose in Paris. But amid all this gloom, something good has happened. And the positive news has come from an unlikely source, the national football team. Last night “les Bleus” overcame the odds and notched up the 3-0 victory they needed to defeat Ukraine and get to the World Cup in Brazil. Even the high-brow “Le Monde” had the footballing triumph as its banner headline, this morning. Read more

Gideon Rachman

Ferenc Puskas (left) and Billy Wright lead out the Hungarian and English teams (Getty)

My colleague Peter Chapman has a theory that the English working classes realised that it was all up with Empire three years before the upper-classes. The moment of toffish disillusionment came with the Suez crisis of 1956. But, for the working man, the turning point was the England v Hungary football match at Wembley in 1953. England lost 6-3 to a Puskas-inspired Hungary. It was not just that England lost their proud record of never having lost an international match at home. It was also that they were hammered. Humiliated.

For me, however, the realisation that the sun had set on our footballing empire came 20 years later – with the England v Poland World Cup qualifying match of October 1973. England failed to get to the World Cup for the first time ever. That is why a World Cup qualifier against Poland, this Tuesday night, which England must win to get to Brazil 2014, is redolent with nostalgia and fear. Read more

Michael Steen

Own goal?

A still from the ad (click to watch)

A woman footballer walks down some stairs into a brightly lit cellar, carrying a dirty ball. She bounces the ball, strikes, and it lands perfectly in a high-end Miele washing machine as an unseen crowd cheers. The woman (whose face and head we never see) sets the wash cycle to “leather” and sits on top of the washing machine while the ball is washed.

The voiceover says: “Clean[1] ball in Sweden. The European women’s championship on ZDF.”

 Read more

Euro 2012: Football and politics in Poland and Ukraine

With the European football championship reaching its climax this week, we look at how Poland and Ukraine have fared by hosting the tournament. Neil Buckley, east Europe editor, Jan Cienski, Warsaw correspondent and Simon Kuper, the FT columnist covering the tournament, join Gideon Rachman.

Roula Khalaf

As with every eruption of violence in Egypt since the downfall of the Mubarak regime a year ago, the events at a football match on Wednesday evening were the result of the absence of an effective police force and the political failure of the generals who have let this state of affairs persist. Read more

Gideon Rachman

The original Socrates died thousands of years ago after being forced to drink hemlock. The modern version died yesterday, aged 57, after an intestinal infection. Socrates was captain of the Brazilian football team, but looked charmingly like an Athenian philosopher. His fantastic performances in the 1982 World Cup also provoked one of the great lines in football commentary - “And Socrates scores a goal that sums up the philosophy of Brazilian football.” A shame that he won’t be around when the World Cup is played in Brazil in 2014.

Gideon Rachman

I usually turn to the sports pages for some light relief from the cares of the world. But the euro-crisis is not so easy to get away from. Reading an account of Arsenal’s preparations for their away game in Germany tonight, I saw that their revered manager, Arsene Wenger, is thinking about more than the state of Jack Wilshere’s ankle. At yesterday’s press conference, he mused  – “I believe that Europe overall, as a unit, is going towards a massive crisis, which nobody really expects now. I am convinced that Europe will go into a huge financial crisis within the next three weeks or three months and maybe that will put everything into perspective again.” Read more

Gideon Rachman

I once had a near miss with Sepp Blatter. I found myself sitting next to him at a lunch and, searching for a topic of conversation, was about to introduce myself as the author of The Economist’s survey of world football. But, as I began speaking, I remembered that I had finished the article by describing detailed accusations of corruption against Blatter himself.

So, rather than complete the anecdote, I came to a mumbling halt. The whole conversation was a bit of a nightmare. Blatter is  charmless – boring, self-important and drippingly insincere. Still, in one sense, you have to admire him. He is an incredible survivor.  Read more

Gideon Rachman

Life in much of Europe is still pretty sweet. Yesterday, the Duomo in Milan shimmered in the sunshine. The atmosphere of serenity was disrupted only by the thousands of drunk, chanting German football fans who had gathered in the piazza, ahead of Schalke’s game that night against Inter Milan, the champions of Europe. But I was inclined to put a positive spin on this scene. What a tribute to the prosperity of the old continent that thousands of ordinary German oafs have the time and money to buzz off to Milan in the middle of the week, to watch a football match. Read more

Gideon Rachman

I have just flown back into London from Dubai to find the city covered in snow and in a slough of depression, after England’s failure to get the World Cup in 2018. Russia got the nod. And Qatar, incredibly (given the heat there in summer) will host the 2022 World Cup.

The best comment so far was an e-mail I received from a colleague, shortly after the verdict was announced: “Russia get 2018 World Cup; just what a game accused of corruption needs.” Still, at least, nobody would ever associate Qatar with corruption.

Actually, I think it was probably the accusations of corruption in FIFA – emanating from the BBC and the Sunday Times of London – that finally did for the English bid. You don’t have to worry about that sort of thing in Russia, where from time to time investigative journalists are murdered or beaten up. Read more