Despite defeats there were hopes

Maswood Alam Khan | Published: June 30, 2018 21:37:21 | Updated: June 30, 2018 21:55:15

Every defeat, every loss teaches us a precious lesson on how to improve our performance the next time. To bear defeat with poise, to accept criticism with composure, to receive honours with humility -- these are marks of wisdom, dignity and graciousness. If one should relearn this lesson once again he or she must observe how Panamanians celebrated their defeats.

In Group G, Panama was defeated 1-2 by Tunisia in the World Cup match on Thursday in Saransk, Russia. Neither team advanced in the tournament. But they have in their bags some historical trophies. Tunisia managed its first World Cup win in 40 years and Panamanian footballers set their feet on World Cup grounds for the first time in their football history.  They might not have shone the brightest on the field, but they have warmed hearts of football fans.

Panama went home as the lowest-ranked team, but their chests are bursting with pride and their hearts were swelling with happiness as they have participated in the World Cup, striding many perilous hills and valleys only to qualify for attending this august gathering of sterling footballers filtered from thousands of aspirants from hundreds of football-crazy nations. It is their first appearance in the 88-year history of the World Cup and that is their golden feather, studded with glittering diamonds, pinned on their hats.

Panama didn't score the goal, still they celebrated after an own goal by Tunisia. Their only one certifiable goal was in their 6-1 defeat to England. It didn't matter that it came in a 6-1 blowout. It was an impressive shot from 37-year-old Panamanian footballer Felipe Abdiel Baloy Ramírez to celebrate that sent their nation into uproarious screams.

Now is the time for Panamanians to be more serious and brace themselves with hopes, toils and skills to leave brighter marks in the next World Cup!

Gloom pervaded England when Adnan Januzaj of Belgium curled in a left-footed spectacular shot in the second half. That single shot gave a second-string Belgium a 1-0 victory over a second-string England on Thursday night.

The Belgian victory over England was a continuation of their strong lead in the World Cup, joining Croatia and Uruguay as the only three teams to win all three games in the group stage. With their advancement, Belgium now face the tougher side of the knockout-round bracket, one that includes Brazil, Mexico, France, Argentina, Uruguay and Portugal.

A dull match indeed, it looked more like a friendly match on a Sunday with no spectators on the stadium than a World Cup event. Neither side looked eager to be aggressive. There were no goals in the first half and the only highlights of the half were the two Belgium yellows! It was a sad night for football lovers. English defeat now seems to have become a regular phenomenon in World Cups. Not a good omen for a nation, for the fatherland of William McGregor, the founder of the first organised Football League in the world in the Victorian era.

Thursday night watched football fans racing to the rulebook instead of bothering about victories or defeats. It was a night when hopes dawned despite defeats. In Group H, Japan was defeated 0-1 by Poland in Volgograd. No problem.

Japan went into the game knowing it needed to win or draw to assure advancement. Its hopes were seemingly dashed in the 59th minute when Poland went on top, as a poorly marked Jan Kacper Bednarek, the Polish footballer, raced forward and scored off the free kick by Rafa? Maciej Kurzawa, the Polish midfielder. Japan's elimination was almost guaranteed.

But Japan glowed with a glimmer of hope when they heard the news that Colombia had scored to take a 1-0 lead over Senegal. With both games ending 1-0, Colombia would win the group.

Senegal and Japan were deeply tied for the second spot. Both teams had 4 points, both had 4 goals scored and 4 goals conceded. So, now go to the "Rule Book" of "Fair Play". Who were the naughtier? Which team had the fewest yellow and red cards in the tournament? Japan had four yellows and Senegal six. So, Japan advances in the World Cup 2018 despite losing to Poland! A lesson for bullish footballers to learn that "Fair Play matters".

In the other match, Colombia beat Senegal, 1-0, sending all African nations to pack their bags for home. It was a night of tragedy for Senegal. Senegal were like Japan. They won once, tied once, and lost once. Japan advanced for their 'fairer play, and Senegal retreated for just one goal made by Yerry Fernando Mina González of Colombia. Was it the outcome of Murphy's law that postulates "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong"?

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