by Rahul Misra

The first match of the soccer World Cup had 6 goals being scored, one of them is still on the top-5-goals of the tournament list. If instead of a tourney, this was a book, you could easily break all proverbial rules and judge it by its cover… because the first match was just a small glimpse of the magic that would follow.

Let me remind you of what we’ve seen in the past fortnight. We’ve seen Germans playing a very uncharacteristic game, for once they’re not afraid to attack (it might have something to do with having a star striker as your coach!)… there has been a heavenly strike from Beckham playing in a team that’s drowning in mediocrity… Ronaldo, the joke of the first week, has come back to break the oft-spoken-about record… and of course, the 14-pass goal that Argentina thumped in. This has not been a World Cup where people defend before they attack, and by the way the matches have gone, this is a World Cup that will be won by goals scored and not goals saved.

And let’s not forget the Samba magic in the second half of Brazil Vs Japan… where every yellow shirt on the field seemed to be chanting…

“You’ve had your share of the fun,

Now let us show you how it’s done”

Their defence is porous, but then I’ve never seen a Brazilian team with a strong defence. They’ve got more of a “if you score 2, we’ll score 3” strategy going for them. And well, as they’ve shown on 5 previous occasions… it works!!

Even the minnows, the Africans and the Australians have played with grit, showing everyone how passion can translate to finesse. They’ve impressed us so much that we have Indian ministers citing their performance to further the reservation policy!! More of that somewhere else though, this is not the forum to start on that.

We couldn’t have asked for a more thrilling QF lineup: Germany and Argentina coming together for what most call the match-of-the-tournament, a resurgent France against Brazil lineup, the Italian defence pitted against Shevchenko’s magic, and a depleted Portugal (who played a 16-yellow-cards, 4-red-cards match to beat Holland) against England.

One thing’s for sure, some absolutely awesome matches await us, and one shouldn’t miss it for the world. After all, this fiesta happens only once in every 4 years, and when it does, the world stops.

Sporting Extrava-stanza

June 15, 2006

By Aparajith Ramnath

An avalanche of hype surrounds
This event, gargantuan in scale
That in excitement, fervour and skill abounds
Making others in comparison pale.

Say researchers, five out of seven
Or some such arcane fraction
Of people in the world will take in
At least a part of the action.

Says the fan, he will follow
Of the sixty-four, every clash
Were he to miss one, he’d feel hollow,
With only his teeth to gnash.

Say the TV networks, they will beam
Every goal netted, every tackle made
Every corner taken by every team
Every substitute drinking lemonade.

It is amidst such unabashed hyperbole
That the extravaganza kicks off
But what will it for the layman hold
Who can’t tell onside from off?
 
A number of intangibles, that is certain
For however much a layman one is
This tournament – and it doesn’t come often
Has an inexplicable fizz.

For who can remain unaffected
By the surge of unity that runs through
Row upon row of fans, united
Clad in the colours of the teams on view

As the band strikes up their anthems
And the players, hands on hearts
Sing proudly, and in tandem
With millions, in various parts?

By the ebb and flow of the game
As the ball criss-crosses the lush field
(Now here, now there, oh it’s back again!)
By the referee’s whistle as victory’s sealed?

By the sudden sensitisation
To thirty-two different cultures
To the style of play, the sense of tradition
With which each team on to the field ventures?

By the pot-pourri of opinions and accents
Of commentators stylish
As they chip in with their two cents'
Worth, these expert analysts?

So, getting back to hyperbole mode
(Notice how I am eloquent waxing?)
A species that can afford
A month to devote to the whizzing

Of ball from foot to goalpost
And comments and cheers around the ground
Might have a better idea than most
‘bout how happiness is to be found!

Club versus Country

May 20, 2006

by Aparajith Ramnath

As one who is little more than a casual follower of football, the World Cup is, by comparison, a big event for me – World Cup matches are the only football games I have any distinct memories of. Perhaps that's why South Korean striker Ahn Jung-Hwan's decisive goal that saw Italy exit the 2002 edition of the World Cup is still fresh in my memory. Well, not the goal itself, but the aftermath of it.

Perugia, the Italian club that Ahn played for, sacked him.

I remember being shocked at what seemed to me a display of rank immaturity. When you're on the field representing a team, you put all past associations and thoughts out of your mind and play for that team. When playing for Perugia, one expected to Ahn to be Perugian; when he played for South Korea, nothing less than South Korean. The episode seemed too ridiculous to be true, and sure enough, it was not quite so simple as all that.

"It has nothing to do with the goal he scored against Italy," said Perugia president Gaucci, according to a BBC Report (here). "He could have scored 10 and I wouldn't have felt offended. It was simply the comments he made.

"He said Korean football was superior to Italian football, when Italy is a footballing nation."

I haven't been able to locate the exact comments that Ahn made, if any, but even if he did claim Korean football to be superior to Italian football, well, that's just a matter of opinion, isn't it?

I was reminded of this incident upon reading recently some rather telling statistics about players representing clubs and countries. A report (here ) featured on espnstar.com informs us that according to accountancy firm Deloitte, upward of a hundred players who play for English clubs will be representing their native countries at WC 2006.

German clubs will contribute 70 players to the tournament.

70 players then, will be striving to score and save goals for their own countries – as they must – on fields where they might very probably have been scoring and saving goals for their German clubs until months ago.

As I have already indicated, I see no contradiction in this. When you play for a team on a particular day, you play for that team. That's the beauty of sport. At the same time, it is worthwhile examining the level of passion that players, fans and observers invest in their support of their teams at various levels. Clearly, football fans are passionate about their clubs to an extent that is unimaginable in some other sports. Look at cricket; the Indian fan who lifts an eyebrow as if to ask, "Do you imagine I have nothing better to do?" when you ask him the latest Ranji Trophy score, sits up all night in front of the telly to cheer the national team on against the West Indies. The hockey fan who cares two hoots about the Chennai Veerans or the Maratha Warriors will keep a close eye on the fortunes of the Indian team at the Olympics.

I am not well-read enough on the evolution of football as a sport to comment authoritatively on this, but this extreme enthusiasm for club as well as for country seems to be one of the defining features of the sport's following. It would be quite fascinating to undertake some day an analysis of how this came to be.

The Goal-Maker

May 13, 2006

Starting a series where we draw your attention to sidelights at the FIFA World Cup, perhaps one of the biggest sporting events on the planet. As usual, our focus will not necessarily be news, but "interesting asides."

by Aparajith Ramnath

The Süddeutsche Zeitung’s online version recently carried an interview with Helmuth Löhr, whose company Sportgeräte 2000 is the one manufacturing the goalposts for the upcoming FIFA World Cup. 

Some nuggets: apparently the goalposts are made of aluminium, and each one is welded in one piece, unlike those of other manufacturers. One of the concerns is that the dimensions of the goals should be perfectly standardised. According to Löhr, the stadium in Brussels had goal posts differing in height by 20 centimetres during the European Championships in 2000!

There are some things that we just accept are there, never wondering where they came from or how they came to be. Certainly, goalposts on a football field belong to this category. Which is why the interview with Löhr made for interesting reading. When the whistle goes off for the first match less than a month down the line, I think there's a good chance I will be thinking of batches of standardised goalposts being transported out of Hildesheim to twelve German cities!