FIFA World Cup

Neymar's Brazil, Low's reigning champs: Where do the favourites stand ahead of World Cup

Brazil have won 17 out of 21 matches under Tite. Neymar has scored in wins against Croatia and Austria.

The phoney war is over and most of the big guns have arrived in Russia ahead of the start of the World Cup on Thursday. Let’s take a look at how the favourites are shaping up.

Brazil

In 2014, Brazil were being widely tipped for success on home soil but their campaign unravelled in spectacular fashion with a 7-1 semi-final defeat to eventual winners Germany. Now the five-time champions look the real deal again. Coach Tite has transformed their fortunes and they are confident mood.

The absence of the injured Dani Alves at right-back is a blow but Neymar has proven his fitness in recent friendly matches, scoring in wins against Croatia and Austria. His goal in Vienna on Sunday, after his first start following a foot operation three months ago, was stunning.

Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus has been the most prolific goalscorer during Tite’s time in charge, in which the team have won 17 out of 21 matches.

“We are handling the expectation. It’s good. We are going to challenge ourselves,” said the coach after Sunday’s final warm-up game. “There is only one little detail. A new stage begins now.”

Germany

Germany are the holders and their reputation as a team that always delivers on the big stage tempers the doubts arising from their performances in recent friendlies.

Joachim Loew’s side went five games without a win before labouring to a 2-1 victory over Saudi Arabia in their final warm-up in Leverkusen on Friday.

The fact that first-choice goalkeeper Manuel Neuer has hardly played since September after injury is a concern but the Germans have made at least the semi-finals in each of the past four World Cups and are bound to feature prominently again in Russia.

And their recent friendly results? “I am conscious of the fact that in friendly matches it is not necessarily about the result,” coach Loew – who has left Manchester City’s Leroy Sane behind – reminded Kicker.

Spain

Like Brazil, Spain have come to Russia with something to prove after a poor showing in 2014, when they were knocked out in the group stage.

They are yet to lose in two years under Julen Lopetegui, completing their preparations with a 1-0 win over Tunisia on Saturday in Krasnodar.

It was not the most convincing performance but Iago Aspas advanced his case for a starting role in attack in Friday’s Group B opener against Portugal with a late winner.

Rodrigo of Valencia and the bruising Diego Costa are the other options up front for Lopetegui.

The coach has overseen changes but there are still likely to be as many as seven starters against Portugal who also started the 2-0 defeat against Italy at Euro 2016.

“Whatever we happen to do in this World Cup will depend on the answers we give on the field. We are going with a ticket to play three matches and the rest we have to earn,” Lopetegui told El Pais.

France

Optimism has been growing in France about the prospects of Les Bleus, but Saturday’s 1-1 draw with the United States was a timely reminder for Didier Deschamps’ side that they still have work to do.

They needed a late Kylian Mbappe goal to earn a draw in their final friendly, which followed wins against Ireland and Italy. Sports daily L’Equipe called it a “cold blast” before the French travelled to Russia on Sunday.

Paul Pogba’s performance in that game was a boost, though, and Deschamps appears to have found a formation that suits him.

A diamond midfield accommodates Pogba and allows Antoine Griezmann to play just behind Mbappe and Olivier Giroud up front, but there is maybe a worry in goal, where Hugo Lloris no longer looks so reliable.

Nevertheless, they are capable of reaching the last four.

Argentina

Argentina are lucky to be in Russia at all after a chaotic qualifying campaign and their build-up to the finals has been far from smooth.

The cancellation of last week’s friendly against Israel in Jerusalem brought bad publicity and also denied Jorge Sampaoli’s side much-needed match practice.

The build-up has been further hampered by the loss to injury of Manuel Lanzini and critics say Argentina are relying solely on Lionel Messi for success.

That may be unfair though. Sampaoli has talent in his squad, including the exciting Giovani Lo Celso in midfield and an attack also featuring Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero, Paulo Dybala and Angel Di Maria.

However, even if they manage to win a challenging group, Spain could lie in wait in the quarter-finals for the 2014 runners-up.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.