No football pundit, no legend and no professional analyst of the beautiful game came close to predicting what might unravel over the course of the month in the illustrious former Soviet Union. During the group stages, a person I was talking to remarked that “football is such a stupid game, twenty-two guys fighting it out for a ball. What is the entire hype about?” For anyone with corresponding views regarding the same, football isn’t just a sport, it’s a way of life and the 4 billion people who make it the most viewed sport in the world prove just the same. If anyone has opened this article for mere facts and statistics or to be able to comprehend who might win the upcoming matches, might as well close it already because we’re going to discuss the spirit of the game and how it empowered the underdogs to slay not one but many Goliath’s.
At a World cup where Portugal’s Ronaldo and Argentina’s Messi were expected to be the luminaries, a young Kylian Mbappe stunned the world with his brace ousting the two time world champions Argentina in front of a frustrated and disappointed Maradona. As of the reigning champions, the curse of the champions struck yet again with Germany being the fourth victim out of the last five world cups. From France in 2002 to Germany in 2018 major upsets have been witnessed with the champions even failing to go any further than the group stages. What lead to such great teams with such an affluent history and comparatively better structure of the game in their countries to losing? The quadrennial event has witnessed plenty of upsets since its inception in 1930 but not these many in a single year. The first blow came when Iceland, a country with a population of a mere 3.34 lakh people, held the La Albiceleste (The White and Sky-Blues) to a draw ,with the famous ‘Viking Clap’ featuring at a World Cup for the very first time. To put things into perspective, even Goa has a population of 18.2 lakhs. The next blow at the hands of Mexico lead to the heartbreak of Germans around the world hoping to see Joachim Löw’s men pull off another amazing campaign. As Billie Jean King, a tennis legend once said –
“A champion is afraid of losing. Everyone else is afraid of winning.”
The fear of losing took a toll on the champions and no wonder they were sent packing away after not a very long stint at the world cup. Argentina was further humiliated by an abundantly talented French side which brought up the recurrent question of Messi ever being able to lead his side to any international glory? Ronaldo fans couldn’t rejoice for long either because a little later the same day Portugal had to bow out to Uruguay after an awe-inspiring performance by Edison Cavani. The hosts, Russia didn’t want stay behind, causing one of the biggest upsets of the competition. They held the 2010 champions Spain to a draw till extra time ahead of beating them on penalties as their all time best performance ever in the tournament. Before all this could sink in, the competition was no longer about the great and the invincible. It was about the underdogs, the dark horses and the long shots.
If they can, can India? :
It was in the year 1950 that India had qualified for the World Cup in Brazil. Not to take anything away from the amazing team that won the Asian Games the following year, they had qualified primarily because right after the
World War not many countries were financially strong enough to send teams for the World Cup. Nevertheless, India never left for Brazil. The question ‘what if they had?’ still bemuses Indian fans. The reason most people think is that the Indian team didn’t have shoes or enough resources to send a team that far. Yes, India played barefoot, but that is a myth. The AIFF at that time gave more importance to Olympics than World Cups and just two years later a barefooted Indian team was bashed by Yugoslavia 10-1 in the 1952 Olympics. We can’t do anything about the past but India sure does have a shot at the 2026 World Cup, the number of participating teams having been increased to 48. This World Cup has turned out to be a major wake up call for the champions and at the same time a hope for teams like India that they can do it too. The day an Indian captain won’t have to ask fans to fill stadiums over the internet, is the day India will stand any chance of being there at the biggest stage, among the best in the world. Let’s hope and pray that day comes soon!
About the Author:
The author is a student of law at UILS, a national level shooter and an avid MUN’er.