“Football is a pleasure that hurts,” wrote Eduardo Galeano warmly in his book, Football in Sun and Shadow. The final of the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia demonstrated these beautiful lines.
The Croatian team, after the defeat at the hands of the magnificent French, was in pain and looked dejected. The players looked withdrawn and hurt. After all, one doesn’t play the final of the World Cup daily, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and if one is really lucky, he may play twice.
The Croatians played hard and beautifully throughout the tournament, but the French exuberance proved a bit too much for them. The French broke their impregnable defence, shook their tremendous self-belief and with it, their resilience too broke down.
In the end, they were left with tears, agony and a bit of desperation. But the nation with 40 million population, with so many of their players’ childhood ravaged in war and political turmoil, won every heart.
Sports always portray two tales — one of triumph, ecstasy and jubilation, the other depicts defeat, gloom, anguish and regret. A sport is like life — seldom certain and always unscripted. Football World Cup even transcends life, often life may throw you a second chance, but football World Cup may never do. Croatian players must have realized that after the game. But they can go home with pride and their head held high.
The French squad played like champions, as champions always do, as if there is no tomorrow. In sport, one has to stay in present, always. They played as a team and relished each other’s success.
This French team was not built around one big player, in-fact each of them rose to the occasion; they made every chance count and secured a place for themselves in the annals of history. As a team, France enriched the mass pagan of football world\wide. This team proved the French adage right, “Artist is nothing without the gift; gift is nothing without the work”.
The FIFA World Cup 2018 proved a spectacle of a lifetime. From old to young, rich to poor, everyone across the planet was engrossed in the skill, speed, tactics, saves and goals on display for 32 days. The event was truly an absorbing and entertaining one, as a sporting event should be.
The fans will cherish the memories for life. Kylian Mbappé adorned this edition with his rapid pace against Argentina — fans must have definitely relished it and will remember it forever. Penalty misses from Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo made us aware that they can err too. No matter how great and revered a star is, football is a team game, this World Cup taught us again.
An individual brilliance is an advantage, but not a recipe for success. Modest, diminutive and levelheaded, N’Golo Kante was omnipresent for France, as a midfielder in football should be. Luka Modrić ran miles after miles, like a never tiring stallion. Belgium squad proved why a maven of this game calls this team ‘golden generation of this small nation’.
Gareth Southgate and his 23 virtually young men kept their nation on a tenterhook. Their performance reinvigorated the long cherished British dream and resuscitated their hope. Englishmen even started to believe that it was coming home (even though a bit prematurely and in the end it proved a chimera).
Spain must have felt, after their early exit, there is more to football than possession of the ball. The winner of the last edition, Germany was humbled by perseverance of Mexico; the determined South Korea accounted for the mighty Germans and bolted the door of their comeback. And it meant the German dream of winning back-to-back titles would have to wait.
Iceland proved that it’s not about the size of the population, but it’s about the character of the denizen. Japan illustrated the fruits that single-minded dedication and sheer hard work can bear.
Brazil was made to realize that reputation and past laurels can be dark looming clouds that impede sunlight of glory. For African nations, this edition was a failure, but they can take heart from the fact that 12 members of the French squad had African origin.
Football quietly moved to the 21st century with the introduction of VAR technology. Football is truly a global sport and certainly, dare I say, a harbinger of a secular world.