Sunday, June 17, 2018

World Cup Soccer - My Favorite Sporting Event in the World

Funnily, I don't play soccer. Save for a short period during my school days when I was influenced by my stoic pal Koteswara Rao, or Koti, of the famous bow legs and dead serious disposition, to play football, I never did. All my energies were devoted to cricket. But surprisingly the one big row, the battle of wills, I had with my father was when I was in my fifth class or sixth class. Bitten by the soccer bug I wanted a soccer ball. Dad was adamant. No. I went on strike. I will buy the ball with my money. The battle lasted for a while before Mom convinced Dad to drive me to the shop. I had to bring out my savings and for Rs. 28, I bought a soccer ball. Nothing much came of it. I never threw such tantrums to buy myself cricket bats and made do with pieces of wood, so I guess that explains it.

But the soccer World Cup is the one sporting event that I cannot miss. In fact, when I got a job in Mumbai and was to join on some particular date, I sought permission to join 20 days later so I could watch the World Cup. Looking back I wonder when the bug bit me and I can recall as far back as the 1982 World Cup when Paulo Rossi of Italy made all the headlines and I lapped up all the news in the Hindu's sports pages with those pics.

In 1986 it got better. I was doing my Engineering and was studying for exams in the hostel when they telecast the games live from Mexico. I watched Brazil with its charismatic stars like Socrates who remains an all-time favorite, Zico and others. The way Socrates took his penalties, in such a casual manner (which cost him the finals also) still remains etched in my mind. Brazil became the team to cheer for ever since. But we got to witness live Diego Maradona's goal of the century against England as also the infamous Hand of God. Almost single handedly Maradona won the World Cup for Argentina and a lifelong love affair was born. Stars like Platini. Matthaus, Linekar made a mark - in my mind.

In 1990, Italy hosted the World Cup and I clearly remember the Sicilian Schillaci coming on as a  substitute and scoring goals - so many that he won the Golden Boot. But it was Germany that won the finals. But one cannot forget the 38 year old Roger Milla from Cameroon nor his famous celebrations nor the famous goal when he stole the all from Colombia's El Loco (Madman) Rene Higuita and scored. In many ways Cameroon and Milla stole everyone's hearts that event.

In 1994, the US hosted the World Cup and Brazil came well prepared. Their game was nothing like the showy game we saw earlier but very purposeful. Romario and Bebeto (one remembers his famous celebrations cradling his baby) clinically led Brazil to a victory over a defensive Italy. The film star like Roberto Baggio missed a famous penalty kick and gave Brazil the Cup. It was in this edition that the Columbian defender Escobar who scored an own goal while defending, was shot to death after his return to Columbia in a bar. It was a deeply saddening event espeically since Escobar was nicknamed as the Gentleman and promoted a clean style of play and manner.

In 1998, France hosted the tournament and defeated Brazil in the final - a final when Ronaldo was supposedly down with some illness and looked hardly a shadow of himself. Zidane scored twice and France won 3-0. Zidane was like nothing else I had ever seen - skill, maturity, a mesmerising presence. We saw glimpses of greatness when an 18 year old Micheal Owen set the stage on fire in short bursts.

In 2002, Japan hosted the World Cup and both Japan and Korea performed very well. Brazil beat Germany in the final - 2-0. Ronaldo scoring both and wiping away the memory of the previous World Cup. Brazil was a formidable side with Roberto Carlos, Ronaldino and several other greats.

In 2006 we saw Italy take on France in the final and won 5-3 on penalties but not before we saw the crazy red card to Zidane who head butted Materazzi. Interestingly both players were the goal scorers in normal time. After Zidane was sent off France never looked in the game. I don't remember much about the tournament.

In 2010 Spain which always promises so much finally won the World Cup. They had some great talent and they finally got it together. David Villa, Fabregas, Iniesta, Torres, Puyol, Casillas, Ramos. Iniesta scored in extra time and gave Spain the much needed win against the Netherlands.

In 2014, the World Cup went back to Brazil and Germany beat Argentina in the final with a 1-0 lead. We saw the horrible 7-1 drubbing Germany gave Brazil in the semi finals which was embarrassing even to watch. Argentina's Messi was a shadow of himself and could not make a mark on the biggest tournament in the World. The same goes for Cristiano Ronaldo who struggled with Portugal. That said, David Beckham and Wayne Rooney for England could not deliver at this stage.

But watching some of these characters over the years - Klose, Klinsmann, Milla, Baggio, Baresi, Socrates, Kahn, Higuita, Zidane, Beckham, Matthaus, Platini, Cafu, Rivaldo, Gascoigne, Batista apart from Socrates, Maradona, and others added so much more to life.

Now, watching the World Cup again, and watching what Ronaldo did the other day to equalize against Spain, brought all the magic back. I suddenly realized why this tournament is so much to me than any cricket tournament. It's just so much energy, so much skill that it draws you in 100%.

Looking forward to more with great anticipation. Thank you soccer World Cup. 

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