The World Cup is nothing short of a battleground for the 32 competing national teams. But the event is also a battleground for two very different adversaries - sports equipment manufacturers Nike and Adidas, whose fight takes place not on the pitch, but in the media.
The winner of this corporate fracas is the viewer, as the soccer equipment wars are the reason for the tremendously entertaining - and phenomenally expensive - football advertisements that flood television and the net during the World Cup.
This year, Nike's epic advertisement Write The Future (Nikesoccer.com) comes out on top. Possibly the greatest soccer ad of all time, the three-minute spot shows four football legends looking at possible futures for themselves as they play a World Cup game. The ad, which is set to Dutch prog rock band Focus's manic Hocus Pocus, was directed by 24 Grams and Babel director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. He's interviewed down the page in a behind-the-scenes video at http://adweek.blogs.com/adfreak/soccer/. 'Whatever they do in the present will have consequences in the future,' Inarritu comments on his portrayals of Wayne Rooney (England), Ronaldinho (Brazil, but mysteriously not on the squad this year), Fabio Cannavaro (Italy) and Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal).
Adidas' entry Star Wars Cantina (available on YouTube) is fun but less impressive. Adidas transports viewers back to the legendary Mos Eisley Cantina from Star Wars. Two aliens try to persuade David Beckham to play for Jabba The Hutt's team. Cue a parody of the film's opening lines about a galaxy far far away - Beckham played for LA Galaxy during his stint in the United States. But football is kept to a minimum and the ad doesn't make a lot of sense.
In 2002, Nike was also on top with an energetic pair of videos called The Secret Tournament and Rematch (nikefootball.com). These featured Eric Cantona refereeing a tough fight club-style soccer competition in the bowels of a cargo ship. The video was brilliantly edited to a remix of Elvis Presley's infectious A Little Less Conversation. The ad was directed by Monty Python's Terry Gilliam, and behind the scenes information can be found at smart.co.uk/dreams/tgnike.htm. The site also features stills from the film set in Rome's Filmhouse Studios.
Cantona turns up again in the gladiatorial footballers versus monsters Nike ad Good Vs Evil (YouTube) in which he scores a goal against a dragon-like creature with a flaming football.