It is metaphorically coincidental that the first day of the soccer World Cup and the last day of the league stage saw self-goals by two teams, one of which did not qualify for the pre-quarter final stage. Brazil went down through an act of inadvertent suicide against Croatia but bounced back to win the game handsomely, with Neymar displaying skills that were reminiscent of Garrincha in 1958 and 1962.
Ghana, which were the other offender and were banking on an improbable victory against Portugal in order to qualify for the next stage, were not so lucky. Nor were the Portuguese, who, despite being a fancied team, could not somewhat recover from the 0-4 defeat at the hands of the Germans. However, there is no metaphor in the self-slaughter from a star Uruguayan — Luis Suárez — who did not give up the bestial habit of biting opponents, and has now been expelled from the Cup.
One thing is palpably obvious this time and it is that there are no minnows who can be taken for granted. The United States have demonstrated again they are no pushover in soccer as even Germany, world champions thrice, could not defeat them by more than one goal. The upshot of this has been that in all the eight groups one had to wait till the last match to know who the qualifiers for the next round would be — Russia or Algeria? Ivory Coast or Greece?
Secondly, despite the early exit of soccer giants Italy, Spain and England, Europe and South America are more or less evenly balanced, with an equal chance of the Cup going to either of the two continents. From 1962 to 2006 the Cup alternated between Europe and South America, the rhythm being broken by the victory of Spain in 2010 after the Italian win in the previous tournament. Till the other day, Cameroon was the best soccer side in Africa. Now the position was been taken over by Algeria and Nigeria, whose performance is particularly creditable, given the turbulent political atmosphere prevailing in the north African country. The sad aspect has been that Asia’s challenge ended a bit too early, but a question may be raised as to why there were just three teams from the world’s largest continent.
Sport is meant to be a great leveller and the World Cup is living up to this reputation in the cultural sense too. Who would have imagined that despite the rise of neo-Right parties in Europe France would have four Muslim players, one of whom, Karim Benzema, has been the team’s biggest performer. Similar is the case of Germany’s Mesut Ozil. But there is a bit of a problem here for them and many others. For the first time since 1986 the holy month of Ramzan has overlapped with the Cup. Will they fast between sunrise and sunset? A tough decision.