France win the final, Croatia win the hearts

Maswood Alam Khan | Published: July 16, 2018 21:54:17 | Updated: July 17, 2018 21:15:33


Massive crowds in Paris celebrating France's FIFA World Cup victory on July 15, 2018. -Reuters Photo

Congratulations to France for winning the trophy, 20 years after their first world title, with great players and bright future! They've impressed throughout the tournament. Their defenders, midfielders and forwards have all risen to the occasion. Their 'Dear' Didier Claude Deschamps is now crowned as only the third man after Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer to win the world title both as a player and as a coach. Love to Kylian Mbappe, the youngest player since Pele, who has been showing new magic of new football!

Commiserations and congratulations to Croatia for not winning the final and yet for winning the hearts of billions! They have played an excellent tournament with an extraordinary team who have gifted their country the pride and the world a truly fantastic football, who came back every time they went behind and only failed to do so on Sunday due perhaps to two controversial goals -- rather two gifted goals as millions of spectators on the internet are moaning out of frustrations.

Croatia have played a fluid high-tempo brand of football and are deemed the most entertaining team in the tournament along with Belgium.

So many alleged murderers are set free every day in courts of law because the judge is convinced that the murder was not deliberate or coolheaded. Football referees are poor judges to interpret what is deliberate, a handball or what is intentional, a foul. A hand that reflexively springs up to accidentally touch a ball or a hand that an opponent intentionally makes the ball touch, is a foul that is corollary of a tackle or a push not strong enough to fell an opponent who yet pretends pain, must not be adjudged unfair demanding penalty or red card.

Video Assistant Referee (VAR) is sophisticated enough to detect a 'feather touch' looking like a 'grabbing' or a 'delicate push' seeming like a 'punch from a boxer', but not intelligent enough to detect the neurological effects or to interpret the psychological frames of a human.

If VAR must be in place, only neurologists and psychologists with cool brain and composed mind should be assigned to review an incident on the pitch, not an agitated and tired football referee under any circumstance.

The result of the final was declared the moment 'death penalty' was awarded to Croatia. There was a clear element of bias in the referee decision. It certainly was not a firm decision the Argentinian referee, NéstorPitana, took with a clear mind if one considers the length of time he spent analysing the replays. Later, Croatia Manager Zlatko Dalic said, "With respect to V.A.R., when it goes in your favour, it's good. When it doesn't go in your favour, it's bad."

With the penalty goal scored the entire complexity of the match was changed with one side crippled and the other side boosted. That 2-1 lead established the entire context and complexion for that second half. If Croatia led 1-0 at halftime France would have had to play to score, not to counter. Morally devastated Croatia could conceive four more goals with their broken state of mind. But they roared and bounced back scoring two sweat-soaked goals. That was an extraordinary feat on the part of Croatia!

France were deserving champions to any critical football analyst who saw their performances throughout the tournament. France were an exceptional team that scored four times in a final. They have sealed second World Cup triumph. It was a day for them to celebrate a new generation of heroes, and to hope it will not be 20 more years before they can do it again. They have shown a prodigious football. They had a divine chance to redeem their losses to Portugal in the 2016 European Championship final and to Italy in the 2006 World Cup final.

It was possible because France believe in team spirit, not in any individual player's merit. They champion diversity. Their multiracial team speaks a huge volume about their resolve to overcome divisions on race, colour and religion. For the last one month, France appeared as 'one people' thanks to World Cup.

France were lucky too. They were ahead before any of their own players had managed a single attempt at goal thanks to Mandzukic of Croatia who gifted them an own goal. It was the 53rd own goal in the history of the World Cup since a Mexican player, Manuel Rosas, did the same blunder against Chile in 1930. France were fortunate as they were awarded a penalty because of a borderline VAR decision that will be debated for the next 100 years.

It was a splendid match and this one was certainly not lacking some dramatic blunders. The blunder that flowered smiles on spectators' drawn-down faces and gave the Croatians a lifeline was staged by France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, who tapped a clearance off a pressuring Mandzukic and then into his own net, leaving Mandzukic running in delirious ecstasy with the ball close to his bosom, just like a kid holding a fish that suddenly jumped onto his lap.

A great majority of Bangladeshi supported Croatia not for they wanted to root for an underdog. Croatia reached the FIFA World Cup Final overcoming every obstacle and showing exceptional qualities. Their tenacity and their stamina to bounce back can be compared only with Belgium. But the luck went against them in the key moments of the first half when the game took shape. No team was shrouded in so much misfortunes. The misfortune was stark when the ball skimmed off top of Mandzukic's head to his own goal while he was straining to clear Griezmann's cross in an attempt to help his team's defence. The VAR-aided penalty doubled down their misfortune.

New records entered football history. Croatia's Luka Modric won the Golden Ball as the tournament's best player, and Kylian Mbappé was honoured as the tournament's best young player. England's Harry Kane won the Golden Boot as the tournament's top scorer.

The 2018 World Cup will go down as one of the most successful in history. Nearly half the entire world's population have watched the World Cup in Russia, which cost the host country almost US$ 14 billion. This most prestigious sporting mega-event in the world is often assumed by potential host countries as highly profitable. Current research, however, suggests that the economic growth experienced by a host nation due to the World Cup event is lower than expectations. Economists believe, the World Cup cannot bring profits in the short run, but is beneficial to a host country in the long run.

Gratitude to Russia to host such a grand World Cup!

At the end of the day, the presentation ceremony was heart-fulfilling with all presidents gracing the podium: FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, Russia's president, Vladimir V. Putin, Croatia's president, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic; and France's president, Emmanuel Macron.

At one stage during the presentation, a steady rain that turned into a downpour showered all those present in the field open to sky, as if, something cool from the heaven was thrown. Confetti mingled with rain greeted the champions, runners-up, dignitaries in rhymes.

A crowd heavy with Croatians and neutral Russian fans greeted all heroes, referees, executives and workers present in the ceremony with loud cheers. The only exception was Nestor Pitana, the referee of the final match, who was booed with the loudest shrieking.

The eight major planets of the Solar System can never align. The last time they appeared even in the same part of the sky was over 1,000 years ago, in the year AD 949, and they won't manage it again until May 06, 2492. The last decent display was in April 2002, when Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, Venus and Mercury were strung above the western horizon like a celestial necklace, with a crescent moon as its central jewel.

Crazy football fans believe once every four years, planets get aligned in the shape of a stadium for onlookers from the other worlds to peep into what is happening in the World Cup on Earth!

Sunday was the day to say goodbye to World Cup 2018. Days and nights were spent living in bubbles of excitements. There would be no more gossips, no more burning the midnight oil. No more we are going to hear those sounds of chanting and singing, those rhythmic national anthems, those drums, those fog horns, those firecrackers.

Kudos to 1.0 billion spectators that included hopeful young children who dream of becoming soccer stars and older people who have watched a lifetime of games. Thanks to France and Croatia for presenting us an exciting final. Thanks to all the 32 teams involved in the World Cup and all the people in those teams. Thanks to the people who sorted out the administrative functioning of such a large tournament. Thanks to fans, commentators and media. Thank you!

Just the other day it started and it's over before we know it. We have watched 64 games in the blink of an eye. Pain we feel when World Cup ends. World Cup kept us so engaged and engrossed that for the last one month we were too busy to feel even pains of living. Saying goodbye to this event after staying in its warm glow makes us feel empty inside. The story of World Cup is saying hello on the opening moment and goodbye on the closing until we meet once again after four years. After we have shared so many memories and created so much a strong bond with an event saying goodbye is heart-breaking. We should not lament because it is over. We should feel happy because it happened. When the curtain falls, it is time to get off.

William Shakespeare said: "Farewell! God knows when we shall meet again." True. We don't know whether we can see the World Cup 2022. Many of the billion spectators may have to say goodbye to this world.

Let us say in Russian: "Do svidaniya s Rossiyey 2018!" (Goodbye to Russia 2018!)

maswood@hotmail.com

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