The prayers are the work of the Bishop of Croydon, Nick Baines, who appears to have steered clear of accusations of football tribalism by avoiding asking for divine intervention in England's campaign. (Seems strange to me – if the Church of England isn't there to secure miracles for Stevie G and co, what is it there for?) There are two prayers calling for God's general blessing for the World Cup, and another for non-football fans frustrated by the tournament's month-long hegemony. Here's the first of the three:
Lord of all the nations, who played the cosmos into being,I particularly like the first line, with the idea that God "played the cosmos into being" – sounds like God created the universe with a classy through ball (or perhaps a deft one-two with JC, though I may be getting theologically confused with that one).
guide, guard and protect all who work or play in the World Cup.
May all find in this competition a source of celebration,
an experience of common humanity and
a growing attitude of generous sportsmanship to others.
All of which had me thinking – what are we doing for readers looking forward to the World Cup? Well, if the Church of England can offer prayers, we can offer some cold, rationalist analysis. So here goes (non-England fans will have to forgive the focus of this one, I'm afraid).
Group stages: Empiricism has historically played an important role in rationalism, and looking at Group C, where England will come up against the USA, Algeria and Slovenia, it would be very difficult to present a rational argument, based on past experience, statistics and the quality of players available, for England failing to progress. So we say, put aside your irrational fears, rejoice or despair at the sheer number of live games available during the groups, and look forward to England's assault on the knock-out stages.
Last 16: With the work of Enlightenment figures such as David Hume and John Stuart Mill reassuring us of England's safe passage from Group C, our thoughts turn to potential opponents in the first knock-out round. Consultation with our office wallchart (kindly provided by a printing company, who have clearly anticipated their clients' main focus in the coming weeks), and further application of rational analysis, tells us that England, if they win Group C, will likely face Serbia, Australia or Ghana. (Here's a link to the Daily Mirror's downloadable wallchart, should you feel like consulting one). None would represent an easy game (after all, are there, err, y'know, any easy games, Gary?), but if we're keeping things rational, England should have the players and the Italian tactical nous to see off those opponents. A second-placed finish in Group C (which would frankly already mean that rationalism has let us down) might leave England facing arch-rivals Germany – a daunting prospect, but with the Germans missing some key players and lacking a credible strike-force, it's possible they could be overcome (not that you should ever, um, write the Germans off, Alan).
Quarter finals: So we've seen off all-comers and the quarter-finals beckon. Irrational superstition and blunt historical fact would suggest that penalty shoot-out ignominy awaits, but we're supposed to be analysing things rationally, aren't we. The most likely scenario has England facing France – past winners, sure, but they're only in the tournament by virtue of a Thierry Henry handball, and they've arguably become somthing of a joke under manager Raymond Domenech, who was last seen by many international fans proposing to his girlfriend live on TV immediately after his side had been eliminated from Euro 2008. He also has a tendency to use astrology to help him pick his side (Scorpios are out of luck, apparently) so, if this is about rationality, we're backing Fabio's cool calculation to win the day and see England through to a first semi-final since Euro '96.
Semi-finals: Potential opponents become increasingly hard to call at this point, but they could include Italy, Spain, Holland or Brazil. Sorry, rationalism can't help anymore.
Time to start praying, perhaps?