Best World Cup ever!” Yes, you are allowed to exclaim that with utmost glee and truly mean it. Anyone who tells you otherwise is merely being cynical while trying to impose one’s perspective on you — which, ethically, is not the best thing to do. They are allowed to differ, but not to shove opinions down your throats. So, yes, it is indeed permissible and not the least bit ridiculous for someone to feel that the summer in Russia was the best summer of their lives.
On paper, it was to be a tournament of the biggest, baddest boys in international football with Germany, the reigning champions; Spain, a side looking more and more like the all-conquering armada of 2008-12; Portugal, the reigning European Champions; Belgium with their golden generation; France with all their electrifying pool of young talent and Argentina with a outlandish creature leading a bunch of clumsy humans.
England were there too, surrounded with a kind of hype seldom associated with the Three Lions. They’ll tell you it was all because of how the English side looked promising even without a Steven Gerrard or a Frank Lampard or a David Beckham, but deep down, one could tell that to some extent, the claim was utter nonsense. With the likes of Panama and Tunisia in one’s group, one is likely to feel as confident as a bird of its flight. But thanks to the Croats, it all ended for England like an old wife’s tale.
And now that we have mentioned them, it is only fitting that Croatia be given the credit that they deserve and that it be acknowledged they were the team who gave this World Cup its romantic charm. Of course, there were other nations who were narrating their own Cinderella stories in Russia.
Iceland would be the first name of that lot followed by Sweden, who topped a group that had Germany in it. The hosts Russia, who transformed their countrymen’s jeers to mirth as they toppled Spain in the round of 16 and Japan, who almost sent Belgium back home and charmed the world with their innocence and dutifulness, constantly pulled even the non-footballing populations to join the revelry.
But while most of these stories halted midway, Croatia’s narrative carried on.
The checkered shirts brought together unprecedented numbers of romantics to cherish in their tale, and that is exactly what made this summer in Russia the most beautiful one.
The best stories are the ones where someone takes the prize, while the other wins hearts. In Russia, France took the revered golden cup even as the heavens wept for the Croats.
As Les Bleus lifted their second World Cup trophy in Moscow, a lesson was learned, which said that being one with the underdogs is bound to beget pain and hurt more often than joy and glory.
Yet it also taught us that we’re allowed to dream and be unabashed while we do that. After a month of rivalry, drama and antics, it all came down to one picture: of football uniting nations, people, hearts, and ultimately souls.
There were shadows, of course, amidst the sunshine. Sexism being one of the darkest shades. Four years later, perhaps, it will be another lesson for the organisers – for curbing something that shouldn’t have spoiled the beauty of it all.