When Mario Fernandes's equaliser only four minutes before extra time kept alive host Russia's chance of an unexpected semi-final berth in the World Cup, the goal scorer became an instant hero and celebrity. It sent the Russian fans into wild jubilation. But providence had stored more surprises for followers of the game across the world. There were drama and suspense all the way right from the beginning of the penalty shootout. The weak shot by the first Russian shooter was neutralised by the brilliant save of the first Croatian shot. Now was the time for Fernandes, a Brazilian born naturalised ace striker playing for CSKA Moscow, to take his heroics to an immortal level. But he shot wide of the post and thus bury the soaring hope of the host's place in the semi-final.
The man who was credited with the distinction of equalising and living the dreams of success-hungry Russians thus put off the light he lit. This is how football turns the table on an individual player and a team so unexpectedly that those correspond to the twists and turns in human life. The unrestrained euphoria and agony in turn remind the rise and fall of civilization as well as the transformation life goes through.
There is a broad unanimity among both experts and common football followers that the WC in Russia has been the most attractive ever. One of the most striking reasons is the unheralded football nations' coming forward to narrow the gap between the levels of the game's prowess among nations. Or, else how can a South Korean team send a superpower of football Gernmany packing home? How Japan take lead -not only once but twice -- against a strong and fancied Belgium team? Although Japan lost the match, its courage and application will be remembered all the same.
Then the suspense held till the last minute around which time goals scored by one or the other team settled the ties in a most dramatic fashion added spice to this year's competition. In the first round, this happened quite a few times and even in the quarter final the trend continued to fill the competition with suspense and thrill. Of course, penalties and video referral system called video referee assistance (VRA) actually increased the tension among the players and crowd. Only rarely did the referees prove wrong but when they did, it proved at certain times to be the defining moment of the match. Thus this WC had everything -uncertainty, turn and twist, surprises, suspense, frustration, thrill, last minute shy of relief, jubilation and what not?
Football captured the imagination of the global population which found in it a common element to get involved forgetting many of the mundane issues and routine work. There indeed lies the strength, enchanting power and appeal of football. No other game exposes the vicissitudes of life with its many colours and shades, tears of sorrow and joy, anguish and pure joy. Here is a stage where heroes are born and icons fall. Imagine how two of the all-time great footballers Messi and Ronaldo faded and new stars like Kylian Embappe, Luka Modric and Hazard took the centre stage. Although Ronaldo began with a bang only to fade out, Messi was a pale shadow of his true self.
The most shining star Embappe has shown how to conduct himself. He has his feet planted on earth. When a question was asked to him about his possible achievement of the Ballon D'or, the young French striker remarked that the important thing is to win the World Cup not the individual title. This is where collective success as a team matters most for the game of football. Individual brilliance can wait -although at times it acts as the Midas touch --but not the cup of joy that can be shared with teammates and the nation.
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