The Slow Start
Indifference. Mild curiosity. A slow warming-up. An unexpected result. A goal-fest. Permutations & Combinations. Knockouts. A full-throttled dive. Is that the life-cycle of a football fan during every major football tournament? If not every, at least some? The ones like Russia 2018, which has started slowly before erupting into a full-throttled, chaotic, unpredictably brilliant street fight.
Like an irritable colleague at work, or a classmate at school, who tries to be overtly friendly, wanting to grab attention before settling down to reveal true colors. Then by the end of your time together, turns out to be a close confidant – something you never thought was possible.
Russia 2018 came at you with little warning and at full force – there was not too much of a chatter on TV or even social media before the tournament kicked off – and it did kick off with a gallant yet morbid 5-0 mauling of Saudi Arabia by the hosts. Once the opening game was out of the way, the tournament hit TV sets and attention spans at the rate of three – on some days a mind-boggling four – games per day.
It was a bit like the IPL, in that you would struggle to remember who played whom a day before, and whose games are coming up a day later. One would shudder to think what would happen once the tournament expands to accommodate 48 teams.
The Party Kicks Off
Nevertheless, once the party kicked-off in Russia, it well and truly did.
Like the resplendent candy-colored domes of Saint Basil’s Cathedral – what will be the lasting image of this tournament – the World Cup has been a feast for the senses, shunning predictability and completely embracing chaos as it chugged along.
There has been an emphatic denial of individual star-power, as seen in the early demise of the likes of Argentina, Portugal and to a lesser extent, Egypt and Serbia. There has been a continuation of European dominance, as is witnessed every single time, with six out of 8 quarter-finalists coming from there.
However, it is not that the Asians or the Africans have failed to impress. Senegal thrilled the audience to take 4 points from a tough group, before going out on the slimmest of margins, finding themselves on the wrong side of the fair play charts. Japan made it to the last 16, and almost pulled off a dream win over Belgium, going up 2-0, before the Belgians broke their hearts with a cold-hearted dagger swipe with extra time within touching distance.
Most of all, this has been a World Cup of firsts. It is the first ever instance that the mighty ‘Die Mannschaft’ have crashed out of the group stages. Needing a win with the time running out, they saw themselves humbled by South Korea. A shootout victory for England however, took the cake away. Let that sink in. England managed to hold their nerve and win a penalty shootout, something they have never done in World Cup history.
The Pause and Withdrawal Symptoms
After exactly 3 weeks of pulsating, madcap action, the tournament takes a pause as the last eight teams try to catch their breath. And you, having started off as a somewhat reluctant observer, are now completely glued, struggling to fill in the void of a game-less evening.
Withdrawal symptoms have begun to strike and you already wonder what you would do once the remaining eight games start drying up. You wonder if you really want teams to keep crashing out of the tournament, or can they just continue playing?
That is obviously not possible, but thankfully there is Wimbledon, there is a little of Cricket, and so life will go on. For the moment though, as you catch your breath along with the players, you know this is the beautiful lull before a storm is about to hit. When it does hit, it will be breathtaking. Over to the quarterfinals!