I'm a little embarrassed for two separate reasons.
1--As much as I pride myself on writing as much as I possibly can about the World Cup long before the actual trophy gets anywhere near the actual winners, I did not know about the power of Panini World Cup stickers until this year--and this article from the Economist.
2--I'm a grown man...31 years old, and I still get a kick out of wasting my money on trading cards. I know I should be investing in stocks or mutual funds or at the very least in food and clothing. I don't trade the cards, I often forget all about them, I occasionally use them as book marks if the mood strikes. And yet, I buy them anyway, and this year, in honor of the World Cup I bought Panini trading cards as well (same cost as the stickers, but with a little more grown up feel...well..unless you're Mario Balotelli.
After the US' gritty comeback/shameful draw, I needed a pick me up before bed (especially as I would be out of station for the next several days and needed to open them now if I wanted to go to work with a clear conscious. But after a lackluster showing by my baseball card opening (read about that mediocrity here), I decided I needed to do it with a scotch (nothing fancy, just a snort of Glenfidditch).
A quick note, the cards are more complex than the stickers--which just feature players. These have 210 players plus 200 speciality cards--none of which I should assume to get as they tend to appear in 1 of every 7 packs rather than the 2 I bought. Opening the first packet feels like a thrilling new adventure, and kicks off with Kostas Mitroglou of Greece, Robbie Kruse of Australia (if he wasn't injured), and then a fuzzy Stephan Lichseiner of Switzerland, apparently he's a fan favorites, and fans like their players to be extra glossy. An Algerian forward (El Arbi Soudani, who did not get to join in the scoring party against Korea before I opened the pack) follows, then Ezequiel Garay of Argentina and finally Sergio Ramos of Spain.
I notice that the players have numbers at the bottom...I guess these are not just for collectors, but for people who pit cards against eachother in some sort of hybrid: "fantasy football/pokeman" battle. By those standards Ramos is the best card in the pack...though what exactly that means I have no idea...I appreciate the action oriented photography, the simplicity of the design and the depth of each squad, but I'm hoping the last pack has someone I really root for--an American? A Ghanaian, A French/Englishman? Okay alright...anything but Sepp Blatter.
Open the next pack and my prayers are answered: Laurent Koscielny...French...I have no idea who he is...and if there's a drawback to these cards it's that they have no stats or little details on the back. (hmm...Defender who subbed in at the end of their last match...,okay, now I know.)
My first true midfielder in Carlos Pena of Mexico, Yoichiro Kakitani of Japan, Italy's Stephan El Shaarawy (who, like Kruse) was too injured to make the squad this summer), and then...
Ahhh...there it is. Phil Jagielka (whose on an Everton squad I've been encouraged to plump for when the Premiership kicks off again) and the man I mocked at the top of the post...Super Mario himself. Now that IS a satisfying way to end the night of card opening...not least because I'm finishing up my scotch.
I spend a moment or two arranging players as to fill out an 11 man squad--though without a keeper I'm forced to put Robbie Kruse between the posts in a deck chair and hope our opposition is wildly off the mark. The rest of the squad seems to require a 3-2-2-2-1 arrangement with Ramos, Garay an Jagielka in back, Koscielny and Lichsteiner in fullback/defensive mid roles, Pena and Kakitani distributing in midfield, Soudani and Mitroglou running up as forwards and Super Mario as the obvious striker up top.
That's not a squad that breeds a lot of confidence...I doubt they'd do much damage to anyone but Mario Balotelli's fanbase, but it's nice to have a vested interest in a few squads. To cling to Soudani, Pena and Lichtsteiner as players to root for in the final round of matches--and farther if need be (note: I wrote this before the final matches so I obviously could not have known that...well...whatever happened did).
Cards are always my gateway to more knowledge, more nerdiness, more information in bite size nuggets. These cards with their lack of statistics, and inclusion of inactive players don't fit that perfectly, but that's alright, the stars are out, both in the sky and on my table. There's scotch in my bloodstream and hope in my heart. It's not a time to dwell on the missed opportunities of five hours ago, but the missed opportunities to come (though hopefully, those are outnumbered by converted opportunities). For now it's enough to picture the players on the pitch, and let my dreams do the rest.