It’s done and dusted. France took home the glory, and the drudgery of routine daily life is upon us again after the analysts have all but wrapped up.
Looking back at the month-long FIFA World Cup in Russia, there is much that is worth taking away from this remarkable tournament, over and above the moments of football brilliance – and some of stupidity, no doubt.
- It truly was a ‘world’ cup: While there are only 193 member nations in the United Nations, 209 teams competed to reach the final 32 in the qualification process. Initial estimates for television are that over 3.4 billion people across the world have watched the tournament at some stage. And this does not take into account those who watched on social media. Next time around in 2022, when the qualification is extended to 48 nations, expect a further explosion in numbers.
- Hats off to the pluralism of the teams: Donald Trump and others of his ilk, including some right wing Indian leaders, may lash out against immigration, but it was great to see the strength which the teams drew from their migrant communities. Belgium in the semi-final had five such players. England drew on their talent pool from Caribbean backgrounds to represent their country. The champions France, it has been famously claimed, is a team that is 80% African and 50% Muslim. Is it not obvious that a shared love of sport increases acceptance and promotes tolerance? Barriers break down when players – as well as supporters – go through the highs and lows of the game together, celebrating successes and commiserating at the losses.
- It was the teams that won, not star players: There were celebrities galore – Ronaldo from Portugal (who has just switched clubs for a fee of 100 million euro), Messi from Argentina, Neymar from Brazil. But it was when the players worked as a team that the brilliance shone through (France, Croatia, Belgium). Even England, who had an excellent World Cup, left their established players at home and brought in a young team unfazed by egos.
- The energy of youth: France’s squad was the second youngest in the tournament, and the energy displayed by Kylian Mbappé was simply electrifying. Brilliant, fearless, talented and a delight to watch. The youthful Daniel Arzanni, a firecracker from Australia, dazzled all with his brief appearance at the games. Exciting times are in store for the game, without a doubt.
- Dangerous to rest on past glory: There is always someone hungrier than you are, it has been said. It was amazing to see previous greats unceremoniously booted out from the tournament. This year, immediate past champions Germany did not even get out of the group stage; the 2010 winners Spain lost to Chile and Netherlands in the group stage in 2014. Based on past experience, there may not be many takers for a bet on France for World Cup 2022. Perhaps the lesson here is the need for teams to rethink, restrategise and realign after each milestone is successfully conquered: nothing wilts faster than laurels that have been rested upon.
It was a few magical days of a beautiful game, which had the whole world fired up – and the late nights and early mornings were well worth it. Oh, and blessed is the person who discovered coffee.