Humdinger or brain-bendingly appalling?

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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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