We are one

FOOTBALL FEVER

Football fan RHINUSMITA KAKOTY LAHKAR becomes nostalgic as she gears up for the big event. She calls it a a month of late night television, midnight snacks and endless debates

There are world cups and there are world cups and there is the mother and grandmother and godfather of all world cups ­– the FIFA World Cup. Organized by FIFA (the Fédération Internationale de Football Association), the soccer world cup takes place every four years with 32 national teams competing for that one golden trophy with billions of people watching worldwide, every heart beating as one.

Football was never my game. In those sunny, heady days of childhood, it was cricket that we kids played in our Ambari bye-lane and it was Ravi Shastri and Boris Becker who got us swooning. And then suddenly it was 1986. There came a phenomenon named Diego Maradona and with him came another game to my life, and what a game it is! And that year and every four years after that, one month mid-year became a month of late night television, midnight snacks and endless debates.

Diego Maradona apparently did leave an impact only on me. About one in every 25 boys born that week were named Diego. He was lucky, Diego, and his ‘hand of gold’ must have given the English many sleepless nights and perhaps still does. Maradona later said, “I was waiting for my teammates to embrace me, and no one came… I told them, ‘Come hug me, or the referee isn’t going to allow it.” As every second of the game proves us, as the ‘hand of god’ goal proves, football or soccer is definitely NOT cricket. The ‘hand of god’ goal was followed by what was named ‘Goal of the century’ and this match made Diego Maradona heartthrob of millions of fans across the globe. Argentina went on to win the world cup that year beating Germany in the finals with Maradona getting the Golden Ball. I do not know what else it did, but it certainly brought football into Holy Child Convent where we girls discussed nothing else those days.

What is it about the Soccer World cup that makes it so special? First held in 1930, it was hugely because of the efforts of the FIFA president Jules Rimet. The inaugural tournament was held in Uruguay with just 13 teams. Today, it is 32-team final tournament preceded by a two-year qualifying process, involving almost 200 teams from all over the world. The original world cup, named Jules Rimmet cup in honour of him, was awarded to Brazil permanently in 1970 when they won it for the third time. (I remember my friend in school, Elie Kotoki, telling me that her sister, Julie, was named after Jules Rimmet by their father. That is the power of the soccer world cup.)

And now that I have moved on to Brazil, how do I leave out Pele? A man who inspired hundreds and thousands of young men and women in choosing football as a career and converted many thousand others into diehard Brazil fans. If Maradona had the hand of god, Pele was god. Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as the black Pearl, Pele joined the Brazilian national football team at 16. He is the all-time top goal scorer for Brazil with 77 goals and won three FIFA world cups, 1958, 1962 and 1970, the only player in the world to do so. At 17 years and 239 days, he is the youngest goal scorer in world cup history (Brazil vs Wales, 1958) and at 17 years and 244 days, he is the youngest hat-trick goal scorer (Brazil vs France, 1958).

There have been 19 World Cup till date and eight different national teams have lifted the trophy. Brazil won five times, Italy four, West Germany three, Argentina and Uruguay two each; and England, France, and Spain one title each. Germany leads in the runner-up position by being 2nd four times. Both Brazil and Germany have reached the finals the maximum number of times, that is 7. Brazil is the only country which has played in each and every world cup. Germany has played the maximum number of matches, 99, while Brazil has won the maximum number of matches, that is 68, including the inaugural match this year.

I have spoken of Pele and Maradona and if I leave out Ronaldo, the ‘Phenomenon’ here, it will be a sacrilege. Although Ronaldo was a part of the Brazilian squad that won the 1994 FIFA World Cup, he was just warming the bench hoping and perhaps praying for a chance to be on the field. Perhaps if he was let loose, that final would have been much less boring than it was. However, he made up for it in 1998, when he received the Golden Ball. In 2002, he won his second world cup, scoring twice in the final, and received the Golden Boot. In 2006, Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima became the highest goal scorer in World Cup history with 15.

Soccer, as I mentioned earlier, is NOT cricket. This is a game best described as passionate and heart racing. Fans throng the stadia from world over and those not present there are present in front of their screens. Elbowing, tripping, jabbing, and even kissing are all part of the game. This was best showcased in perhaps the most notorious final of all time, the Spain vs Netherlands final of 2010, in which both teams concentrated more in beating each other up than scoring goals. But it is this passion that keeps us awake at midnight and beyond, even when our country is not playing. It is this passion that makes us cry when under-than-underdogs, Spain, manages to beat Germany to reach the finals, it is this passion that gives Shakira’s voice the edge in Waka Waka, it is perhaps this passion that made Marcelo gift Croatia a sweet own goal in 11 minutes of the 2014 inaugural match, it is this passion that makes 6 muscular Croatia players surround the Japanese referee who in turn gifted a penalty kick to Neymar.

Tonight we begin the journey of passion on the 20th FIFA world Cup, 2014. It is now 3 am at night. With both boys tucked in bed, I am munching on Bikaji bhujia and Oreo cookies and sipping tea as I watch Neymar shaking the hands of the referee before he leaves the field. I am, as I have been in all previous years, glued to the screen, covered with a blanket, one with the players, with the crowd, with the coaches. Maradona, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Messi…the list of players who have made me cry and shout and swear is endless…and as the first match ends with the third Brazilian goal during extra time, this is me, a passionate football fan saying, ‘We are One, Ole Ola’…Let the games begin!!!

Rhinusmita Kakoty Lahkar

Rhinusmita Kakoty Lahkar

Rhinusmita Kakoty Lahkar started off as a reporter cum copyeditor for the magazine North East Sun. She has been an editor with Tata McGraw-Hill and have also been associated as a freelance with publishing houses like Rupa, OUP, Wisdom Tree, Viva. She has been deputy coordinator with Centre for Science and Environment. She is passionate about sports, books and movies.