All quiet on the World Cup front

Maswood Alam Khan | Published: July 07, 2018 21:13:23 | Updated: July 07, 2018 22:13:59

Belgium's Kevin De Bruyne scoring their second goal against Brazil in the FIFA World Cup 2018 quarterfinal in Kazan of Russia on July 6, 2018. -Reuters Photo

Brazil's defeat was a spectre they were not prepared to witness. Neither the stylistic virtuosity of football they were eager to learn. Taking defeat with grace was not an impression registered in the limbic system of their brain. They are under the spell of a blind faith that Brazil is the only magician of football after Pele had shown how to paint a masterpiece of art with footwork. Brazil is tied to their identity. They are Brazil supporters, as I am since my childhood.

On Friday night, my brain was so bleached that I couldn't write comments on my Facebook (FB) wall in English or in Bangla when the match was in full throttle with Brazil 0 and Belgium 2. I lost my composure and forgot my language. I wrote gibberish notes sometime in pidgin Hindi and sometime in Urdu. One of my comments: "mera matha ghoor raha hai, mere dimag khoi gaya. koee naatak intajaar kar raha hai?"

Defeat can be survived only if one avoids thinking about it; otherwise, feelings of grief, fear, and despair would drive a man livid. As the match was over, forgetting what I witnessed, I didn't wait a second to post on my FB wall a video of Belgium's full national anthem with a one-line comment: "Congratulation from the bottom of my heart to Belgium."

The weight of football history has moulded our mindset to call Brazil the illusionist of football and recognize Brazil as a byword for football. Brazil have won trophy after trophy in World Cups by exhibiting their style, substance and their indelible greatness. Those yellow jerseys resembling canaries were always intimidating to any team daring to fight against them.

But, Brazil are missing their entries into history. Why? Out of deference to Brazil, serious observers refrained from making comments that could hurt them after their ignominious defeat in the last World Cup. But no more! Brazil must polish their styles and reinvent their techniques if they are eager to keep their head high and their chin up in the arena of modern football.

An emerging lion in modern football, Belgium brilliantly knocked five-time winners Brazil out of the World Cup and reached the semi-finals for the first time since 1986. Belgium's spectacular U-turn from a 2-0 down to victory against Japan is working in everybody's mind and calculations. Their fifth straight win of the tournament is agitating the punters, fans, specialists and futurists to start guessing whether this bilingual (French and Flemish) nation, known to travellers as a popular destination for food and drink, is lifting this year's World Cup!

Brazil fell in the quarterfinals in 2006 and 2010, just as it has in Russia.

The first goal Belgium earned was a windfall, an own goal, as the ball flew off Fernandinho's arm and into the net. But the second one was beautifully crafted. Lukaku may never have played a better half than the opening 45 minutes. Lukaku, who scored four times at this tournament, did a spectacular job on Friday night. His gorgeous run that helped De Bruyne to make it 2-0 was a sight to behold, the striker receiving the ball inside his own half before turning and embarking on a superb run.

Impressive Belgium are now to face France, 2-0 winners over Uruguay, in a semi-final in St Petersburg next Tuesday.

In the other match on Friday night, it was almost a cakewalk for France to roll past Uruguay and head for semi-finals. Raphael Varane, France's central defender, opened the scoring in the first half after easily losing his marker, Matías Vecino, to plant a header off Antoine Griezmann's free kick into the Uruguayan goalpost. The worse was when Muslera, the Uruguayan goalkeeper, made a hash of saving a routine shot from Griezmann, the French forward, and then fumbled the ball into his own net. It was a game shorn of any drama.

After the first two matches of the quarterfinal round, Belgium and France have already punched their respective tickets to the semi-finals. Belgium has never won the World Cup, France has won it just once (in 1998).

Now the world will watch the semi-finals by four European sides for the first time since 2006. Lack of thrill and excitement will be palpably felt in the next few matches with upsets like Belgium's defeat of Brazil and growing number of giants already slain.

World Cup is gradually becoming European. Why not? Europe's supremacy in terms of finance, influence, and physicality has become too mountainous for countries in the South and other countries in Asia and Africa to compete.

The most interesting semi-final in Moscow would be held on Wednesday between the winners of Saturday's quarter-finals featuring Sweden and England and Russia against Croatia.

England believe that they have a real chance against Sweden with Jordan Pickford growing in stature, with Kane's ruthless scoring, with Raheem Sterling determined to turn his intelligent movement into something more substantial.  It's a big day for Sweden too. There have been two previous World Cup games between Sweden and England, both resulting in a draw.

Croatia must show their bravery against Russia. They would be hugely inspired by their enthusiastic fans who would gather in Sochi, wearing jerseys that will allow you to pick them out of a crowd. Russian players are practically national heroes now, especially after the game against Spain. Wherever they go they get plenty of kisses and attention.

All are quiet on the World Cup front with the departure of Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Spain Colombia and Uruguay. The departure of Japan is poignant and so was the departure of other teams which showed football promises of extraordinary heights.The frontier may, however, get noisy and boisterous once the semifinals start.

SOLILOQUY: Football is a beauty when there is suspense in it. Football requires perseverance, hard work and dedication. Football is an art players make with their feet.  "Football is the ballet of the masses" said Dmitri Shostakovich, a Russian composer and pianist who is regarded as one of the major composers of the 20th century.

But, this beautiful football has been so brutally commercialised and in many instances politicised that its beauty is fast fading away and its razzmatazz on a steep decline. FIFA was never above criticism. Nowadays, it is football emperors who play the game. They know how to captivate and cheat the fans on whose tickets are dependent their fortunes.

Beguiling fans are traumatised when their favourite club is sold without their consent. Business tycoons run football clubs as their most lucrative business. In the process the soul of football is being sold out.

Deep observers try to say that scores we look at the scoreboards are made not on the field but somewhere else where strategies are drawn who will be doing what jobs at what instrumental positions. Football at the hands of the rich is on the cusp of a tragedy!

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