FIFA U17 World Cup final: The triumph of football and sportsmanship
The final day of the FIFA U17 World Cup summed up the entire 22-day tournament.
Contrasting the euphoria and the joyous occasion; the cacophony and the whistles stood Youssoff Koita numbed, shocked and dejected. As a wave of yellow swept past the Salt Lake Stadium and the calls of passion knew no bounds, the goalkeeper from Mali remained a forlorn figure as he pummeled to the ground in anguish, agony writ large on his face.
With the chants for a Brazilian victory surging louder and louder, it must have been a quiet Saturday night for Koita henceforth the 55th minute of the match, that would determine the third-placed team of the FIFA U17 World Cup.
It was meant to be easy. Very easy. When Alan attempted a weak shot at the goal, he would have been aware that it was not a day when Brazil were at their competitive best. A below-par performance so far had ensured that the 56,422 spectators had quickly shifted their gazes to the lesser-hyped team of Mali, who had emerged a stronger unit and who had done well to refute Brazil a chance.
Till then. As Koita failed to latch onto an easy pass and saw in horror the ball eluding his outstretched attempts to nestle comfortably into the net, a pandemonium broke out across the galleries and over the stands as the City of Joy erupted in raptures.
'Brazil should have been in the final. There is no football World Cup final without Brazil. They should have been playing.'
As a silent murmur of unfulfilled wishes panned out, the team from South America were in the midst of frantic scenes, celebrating a goal they knew they did not deserve.
Often, one keeps getting asked as to why one spends hours glued to the television sets, following each scoreline in a manner befitting a maniac. What do we derive from it? It is, after all, the players who churn out the performances. Why then does a loss or a win affect and impact us so much? How do sports benefit the TV-watching audience, who spend hours of their time thinking out varied excuses to miss the all-essential meeting or the customary dinner with the better half? What purpose does it serve?
This question does need serious pondering but if you would have been present at the Yuva Bharati Krirangan on 28th October 2017, the answer would have unravelled itself, through an act that seemed so ordinary but within which was layered the powerful answer.
After Alan had run riot across the length and the breadth of the stadium, he witnessed the shaken and exasperated body of Koita lying flat on his face - unamused with himself and guilty to look the world in the eye again. Lying helpless. In a motionless motion. Drained out of all energy and motivation to carry on.
The goal-scorer emerged from the huddle of his teammates, who had pledged to wreak havoc, and silently walked over in the direction of the aghast opponent. In a moment, all rivalries evaporated as he offered a friendly hand and comforting words to Koita; hugging him and inspiring him on to get on with the game with renewed zeal. For a second, the football pitch resonated with ties of brotherhood and sportsmanship; of oneness and humanity.
The people of Kolkata, who had till then been divided over their Mohun Bagan and East Bengal arguments and fanaticism, stopped, stared and showered the heartiest applause upon the kids. A bunch of teenagers very humbly proved that the fierceness of sports should always transcend into an everlasting bond of friendship. And therein lies its beauty.
It was time. Time for the all-important final between England and Spain. It had been Brazil that had received Kolkata's unanimous support in the previous game and it was Spain's turn to be engulfed in their blessings now.
The yellow and green quickly gave way to the dash of red and yellow, presenting the Salt Lake Stadium in a perfectly colour coordinated zone. 'Spain had to win it. England had defeated Brazil and so they could not lift the Cup. They just could not.'
Indeed, strange are the ways of fans and it was decided that as the local favourite Brazil had been battered by England in the semi-finals of the World Cup, the fan support should shift towards Spain. And that is how it had seemed, with the prayers for one team strongly favouring the other.
But ten minutes into the game and opinions shifted; choices swayed. Spain's skills were matched power to power by England. If Spain had intensity, England had speed. If Spain had guile, England had quality.
Displaying why it is counted as the Football City of India, the citizens of Kolkata refused to remain caught up in their determined will to see Spain lift aloft the trophy and slowly but surely embraced the team they had minutely held a grudge against. Each move was debated and each goal was widely cheered.
When Spain scored, it was hoped that England would score too. The pendulum on the field shifted by the minute and off it, it shifted even faster. As England rose like a Phoenix to brush aside the 2-0 deficit to claim the title with the scoreline reading 5-2, the 66,684 strong crowd ended up chanting England's name with enthusiasm and elation; in jubilation and coarse mindlessness. As the players completed their victorious sprint across the stadium, accepting the city's adulation towards them, little would they have known that to start with, it was Spain and not them that was being rooted for.
And this is where the city triumphed.
This is where the country triumphed.
And most importantly, this is where the beautiful sport of football triumphed.