Humdinger or brain-bendingly appalling?

The. World. Cup. Final.

Four of the most magical words in the English language.

For players, the very apex of their careers, the occasion they’ve been dreaming about since they first toe-poked a spheroid in a back alley, on a balmy beach, or around a disused electricity substation.

For fans, the very thought of it produces a jolt of pure ecstasy up the spine. A match they’ve been looking forward to for four years. A game they wouldn’t miss even if The Saturdays (or, er… the Chippendales) rang up and asked if they fancied bobbing round for a bubble bath.

The best match ever.

Except… it quite often isn’t. As frequent viewers know, football matches are regularly brain-bendingly appalling experiences. And the World Cup Final, despite being contested by the two top international sides, is no exception. And why should it be?

In a way, the match suffers a little from New Year’s Eve syndrome. Everyone expects it to be terrific fun, ordering in extra port and Scotch eggs and making a special sixties playlist on their iPod.

But then somebody adds ketamine to the punch, and you end up watching Jools Holland’s Hootenanny alone in your bedroom through a veil of terrified tears.

You can’t enforce merriment, and you can’t enforce a belter of a World Cup Final. It just has to happen.

So what odds a humdinger on Sunday? History offers a few lessons. While we shouldn’t expect a blinder to follow a thrilling tournament, the odds are definitely improved.

Brazil in 1970 played the best fancy keep-ball anyone had ever witnessed, and saved the best until the end, when they unleashed aesthetically-delightful merry hell on Italy.

1986, arguably the greatest tournament of them all, bowed out with a suitably enjoyable centrepiece, a 3-2 ding-dong-o-rama between Argentina and Germany.

1982, equally, was a boisterous blast of a summer with an enjoyable conclusion (Italy 3 Germany 1), and 2006 a rollercoaster competition that kept its biggest thrill – Zidane’s mental headbutt – for the last dance.

Meanwhile, 1990’s snoozefest concluded with a crime against humanity of an endgame that made most viewers claw at their own eyes and bay for mercy. 2002’s Japan-and-Korea carnival had a bubbly personality, but concluded with a dull date between Brazil and Germany.

1998, was a true mixed bag of a tournament, and often extremely poor, but is rescued in the collective memory by its newsworthy and thrilling final, as Les Blues overcame a weirdly out of sorts Brazil to send the usually nonchalant host nation apesh*t.

All of which suggests that we shouldn’t expect too much on Sunday night. 2010 has been a groundbreaking tournament with uniquely enthusiastic hosts.

It started tediously with a record amount of low-scoring meetings in the first round of group clashes, then picked up significantly, before dipping again a little in the round of 16.

The quarters and semis were decent. But South Africa went out early, too many big teams played poorly, and - bizarrely - Germany were the only team displaying any flair.

History will judge 2010 as an ‘average’ World Cup, so our bet is on a routine 2-1 or 1-0 final rather than a thriller. But an average World Cup is still better than any other sporting event on the planet by a country mile, and football’s all about the unexpected. So bring on a classic, Holland and Spain. It’s been a blast.

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