The Winner Takes It All

We have just witnessed another edition of the FIFA World Cup which is often dubbed as the greatest show on earth. Every time the FIFA World Cup comes around in 4 years, my world also comes to a standstill as I remain glued to the TV and forego all my routine responsibilities and obligations. During this time I get to know and learn about many things not just about soccer or sports but also about the multi-dimensional facets of life itself. Every time a goal is scored we get to witness the most spectacular form of human ecstasy and hysteria. Many players give their all and play in the field as if they are playing their last game of life. Winning is everything because they know that they are playing for their country and the whole world is watching.  

But in the pursuit of glory, some unworthy elements also come out in the forefront. And it is really disgusting to see world renowned players getting involved in theatrics just to hoodwink the referee and get an advantage. These players should never forget that they are world icons revered by millions around the world. So when millions see them involved in such cheap gimmicks in the greatest show on earth, it really sets a bad precedent. Being world icons, it should be their utmost effort to play with the real spirit of sportsmanship and decency. After all it is only a game and in the end there can be only one winner and so somebody has to lose.  

Right after the 1990 World Cup, Diego Maradona said “every match was like a final”. And in the run-up to the 1994 World Cup, Lothar Matheaus also said “every match has become more and more like a battle”. And judging by the spectacle and drama that we get to witness, nobody can argue with them. For many players and fans, every match is literally their Third World War and they just cannot afford to be on the losing side. I guess it is this desperation which brings in more excitement into every match. For many people watching and supporting their national team playing in the greatest show on earth, it would be akin to watching their teams playing in a football field fitted with land mines all over. This is so because the desire to see their national team win and the horror of seeing their team lose is so enormous that it surpasses anything that we can imagine. Or for that matter even if your country is not playing, if you are supporting a certain team you also feel the same emotions at winning and losing. This is the reason why some even commit suicide when their favorite team loses even if it is not their national team.  

The same players who play in the World Cup also play in various clubs around the world. And if we are to make a comparison between World Cup matches and Club Football matches, we may even say that club football is much more free-flowing, faster and in a way superior in class. This maybe because club football takes place all round the year and the players are so used to practicing and playing with their same teammates all round the year. And these same players usually take leave from their respective clubs and join their national teams just some few weeks or months before the start of a World Cup.  

However, there is something magical and undeniable about the feeling that the World Cup generates every 4 years. For many around the world it is the ultimate tournament. Unlike club football which takes place round the clock, the World Cup comes around only once in 4 years and so if a team is unable to perform well in an edition, it has to wait for another 4 years to try again. So here, one is playing against time and age also. In club football, players from different nationalities are brought together to play for a team and so the spirit and the element of patriotism is not there. But in the case of the World Cup it is country versus country and so the spirit and element of patriotism comes alive. And when it comes to patriotism and playing for one’s country, it certainly generates a whole new level of emotion and excitement. One may be able to change his football club but one cannot change one’s nationality easily as most people are actually proud of their nationality. I guess these are some of the reasons which make the world cup much more special and exciting than club football even though generally the same players who dominate club football also dominate the world cup.  

My earliest world cup memories go back to the 1990 tournament. I did not get to witness the 1986 world cup mainly because of three reasons. Firstly, in 1986 my parents or for that matter majority of our neighbors did not own television. Secondly, even if my parents did own a TV in 1986, I guess I would still be very young to develop any interest in the game since I had not even reached high school then. Thirdly, even if I had any particular interest in the game I guess I would still be too young to forgo sound sleep and stay awake to witness midnight matches.  

But by the time the 1990 World Cup came, I was already in high school and I had also come to know what an impact Diego Maradona created in Mexico four years earlier. In the run-up to the 1990 tournament, all the sports magazines, sports tabloids and TV documentaries were full of speculations whether Maradona would be able to recreate what he did in Mexico 4 years earlier. Witnessing all these wild speculations and reports on the greatest footballer on the planet I somehow developed a liking and great interest in the little stocky player and Argentina. In other words I became a diehard fan of Maradona and Argentina. And it is a love affair which has continued to this day. I still have a soft corner for Argentina and every time a FIFA World Cup comes around in 4 years, my loyalty and support automatically shifts to Argentina.  

It was again under this foundational background that I began my journey of witnessing the 2018 World Cup. My interest, my support and my loyalty was definitely with Argentina this time also. In the last many editions of the world cup, Argentina always started as one of the pre-tournament favorites to lift the trophy but it failed to live up to its own expectations and that of its fans. And in the bygone tournaments the one team who had been spoiling the Argentine dream time and again was Germany. In 1990 I saw Germany beat Argentina through a dubious penalty in the final. Sixteen years later in 2006 it was again Germany who beat Argentina on penalties after the two were tied one-one after playing for 120 minutes. Again in 2010 despite being coached by the legendary Diego Maradona, Argentina was totally humiliated 4-0 by their formidable opponent Germany yet again. Four years later in 2014, when many were hoping that an Argentina led by Lionel Messi would ultimately lift the coveted trophy, it was again Germany who spoiled their party and crushed their dream again.  

All these previous episodes have somehow made me to wonder whether Argentina has a bad omen when it comes to playing against Germany in the world cup. So this time around when Germany was eliminated in the group stage itself, I thought that maybe this time Argentina would not have any bad omen against it and would probably shine in the tournament. But it was not to be. In the absence of Germany, it would be Croatia and France who humiliate my favourite team. Croatia beat Argentina 3-0 in the group stage and France beat Argentina 4-3 in the round of 16 and the irony was that both these two teams who humiliated my favorite team reached the final and played a match worthy of a world cup final.  

During world cups, we have a tendency of making a great deal about the best players in the world and in the process we fail to take due regards about the best teams in the world. But ultimately football is a team game and not an individual game and so even if there are some outstanding players in a certain team if his teammates are unable to provide him with the needed support, it will not end on the winning side. I guess this is the reason why countries like Germany, Italy and Brazil are so successful at big tournaments because they are able to play as a team and not over-dependent on one or two star players. We witnessed this phenomenon very clearly again in this year’s tournament. Argentina have Messi, Portugal Ronaldo and Brazil Neymar but they could not deliver much because their teams as a whole were not at par with other teams like France, Croatia or Belgium.  

But then again if one wants to witness human emotion, human ecstasy and human hysteria at its best and most dramatic level, I guess there can be no other better avenue than the FIFA World Cup. The spirit of “Do or Die”, the spirit of “All for One and One for All”, the spirit of “Once in a Lifetime Opportunity”, the spirit of “Everyman For Himself” and the spirit of “The Winner Takes It All” are all displayed splendidly every time a FIFA World Cup comes around in 4 years and this year’s was no exception. Certainly, great shows like the FIFA World Cup are superb platforms to rid the world of issues like racism and other evils and promote the spirit of humanity to a whole new level. Yes, once a goal is scored in your favour you can go out and embrace anybody whether he is black or white. This is what the world cup is all about.  

In the latest ranking released by FIFA, Germany and Brazil still top the list. And even my favorite Argentina is ranked way above the two finalists France and Croatia. But whatever the ranking, it is now certainly France who has the world at its feet because after all …”The Winner Takes It All”…