Spirit of a beautiful game
Before the first kick of the ball at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor last Sunday, football fanatics from around the globe did not know what to expect from the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar. Many had their apprehensions and rightly so. After all, the World Cup, one of the biggest sporting spectacles, is being hosted in the Middle East and in the winter for the first time in history. But, Qatar 2022 has been off to an eventful start, much like the previous editions of the global tournament.
The first few days saw a dreadful World Cup debut for the host — with lop-sided contests, an epic upset that will be remembered for years to come, late goals, tournament-ending nasty injuries, huge chunks of stoppage time — the whole nine yards. If all these ingredients make for a trailer of things to come in the remainder of the competition, audiences might be in for another action-packed ride.
With Qatar becoming just the third Asian nation – after South Korea and Japan – to host the showpiece, there has been plenty of interest in teams representing the continent. Who doesn’t love an underdog story, that too in an event of such magnitude? While Qatar and Iran were simply outclassed by superior opponents in Ecuador and England respectively, Saudi Arabia not only restored the continent’s pride, but also produced one of the biggest upsets in the World Cup’s 92-year history. Egged on by thousands of fans who crossed the border and were clad in green in Lusail, Saudi Arabia recorded a stunning 2-1 victory over tournament favourite Argentina, a result beyond its wildest dreams. Herve Renard’s Saudi Arabia team and its supporters “prayed” for miracles and miracles arrived.
To top it off, in yet another reminder of the underdogs outsmarting the Goliaths of the game, Japan registered a triumphant victory over Germany on Wednesday, thanks to a one-two punch of late goals from substitute players that provided a much needed emotional wallop for Asian football. The four-time champion Germany might have expected a run-of-the-mill victory against the Asian country, but was reminded of its 2018 World Cup debacle when it had to bow out in the group stage.
About 3,000 miles away in India, millions of ardent football fans were united in reverie, although for a different reason. Glued to their televisions or laptops or mobile phones in the second half of workdays, fans were in for a bitter viewing experience as the official broadcaster of the tournament failed to cope with the traffic and live up to expectations.
A number of people took to social media to express their anger and disappointment, while all they got in return was an apology from the broadcaster for the “inconvenience caused”. It will be a miracle if the fans can maintain their composure during such nail biting sporting events. Such grievances aside, the idea of football as a panacea for the humdrum of modern times, is not lost on anyone.
The game’s reputation for throwing fans for a loop was there for all to see as Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen made a comeback in a match against Tunisia, about 17 months after suffering a cardiac arrest on the pitch during the European Championship 2020 last year. It is not for nothing that football is referred to by many as the ‘beautiful game’.