Brazil was the first post-nationalist World Cup, claimed Simon Kuper of the 2014 edition. The football writer had to retract his statement. “Maybe I have spoken a bit too early,” he said as the world sought to choose otherwise.
Sports festivals are never bereft of politics or economics as the newfound expression of astronomical expenditure comes with a whole lot of unfavourable headlines and nagging headaches. Russia’s head of state can do without both. A smoothly organised World Cup will definitely add to president Vladimir Putin‘s standing and Russia’s stature as far as geo-politics is concerned post the Crimean disturbance. Once the ball starts to bounce at the spruced up Luzhniki on Thursday, the grammar of politics will start pursuing a tangential narrative driven by consummate passion, nationalism and hero-worship.
Bombs can keep raining in Syria and Palestinians can keep suffering without water or electricity but the discourse will revolve around Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar’s strife for greatness alongside Joachim Loew’s imitation game to decode the hidden figures. Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan’s sudden show of fondness for things long gone by will be quickly erased out of public consciousness.
On Wednesday, multitude of ‘migrants’ from Arab lands painted the Red Square in green and red while megaphones churned out slogans for Egypt and Iran on Russia Day. The nationalism on show was coiffured, blow dried and disarmingly sensual as gender equality took a giant leap citing the beautiful game as an excuse of convenience in a faraway land. That’s what the World Cup jamboree brings with it for the citizens of nations caught between breaking stereotypes and adhering to them.
Football, on the field, will chart a course of its own, ignoring life beyond the byline. Loew’s Germans will seek invincibility and their fifth to scale the peak that they have always thought to be theirs. Even a 7-1 triumph over Brazil in 2014 is not enough to rest the case for them.
Tite’s Brazil are out to disperse a few myths that have sprung like weeds since that fateful evening at Belo Horizonte, disfiguring their Eden, forever.
Lionel Messi is bearing the cross alone in his third full-scale attempt. The last one excruciatingly fell short at the final hurdle. Sighs are still felt at the Maracana, they say. When Spain, where Messi draws unalloyed praise, is addressed with reverence as the potential winners in Russia, Argentina’s chances are spoken in hushed tones as silent prayers. But the Spaniards have been dealt a severe blow before the start.
Yet, amid all this, the exploding exuberance and getting ready for heartbreak as well is the life of a fan. For the neutral, though, the wait for that image of a lifetime makes it worthwhile.
Memories, like winter clothes, are now being taken out for airing. Pele’s pass to captain Carlos Alberto, Cruyff forcing a penalty in the very first minute, the raining of confetti on Mario Kempes at the Monumental, Zico’s torn shirt and Maradona’s second at the Azteca; all get one more chance to dress up for the party where someone like James Rodriguez may introduce himself like never before. Will it be Gabriel Jesus or Mo Salah this time?
Television will make the real world even more real, reaching more homes as progress in numbers are the only constant in our ever-expanding markets. VAR (Video Assistant Referee system), the newest face in the congress of actors, offers broadcasters even more opportunities to complicate simple things giving rise to more arguments than settling any.
So let’s tie the boots and pull up the socks and give it one more kick.