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Drama, tragedy, irony and surprises at the Cup of Cups

Thursday, July 17th, 2014
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Just days before the first World Cup game on June 12 in Sao Paulo, as final touches were being given to stadiums, walls being painted at bus stations and chairs being polished at airport, the scene was looking very similar to an Indian wedding, where the bride’s house is a picture of chaos till the groom’s party arrives at the doorstep. And then they begin to play music and suddenly everything falls into place. It’s the best example of organized chaos.

That’s how Brazil was looking before the ball started rolling a month ago. But, as in Indian wedding the scene changes with the arrival of the bride, here too everything began playing to some invisible music after local hero Neymar sent the ball into the Croatian goal for the first time. Then the World Cup began to work like a well-oiled machine, with every cog working to perfection.

It was the most emotional world cup ever, with both winners and losers shedding tears in equal proportion.

The opening had its share of drama as the Brazilian team arrived with tears in their eyes. Several legs were trembling when 70,000 people sand the national anthem in one voice. Many had bitter taste in the mouth when some moneyed sections of the crowd threw curses at the Brazilian President, Dilma Rousseff. But as Brazil romped home 3-1, everything was forgiven.

Then it was a roller-coaster ride of football at its best. Played under falling rain of Amazon or the northeast sun baking their backs or chilly winds of Brazilian south, the World Cup was a goal feast, with 2.7 goals scored per game – the highest ever. New stars and new names emerged as some old reputations were destroyed and great expectations failed to materialize.

The World Cup saw a new world order emerge. Even before the tournament entered the knock-out stages, European football powers like Spain, Italy, England and Portugal had been sent home. And making their entry into the last of 16 were Colombia, Costa Rica, Nigeria, Ghana and Algeria. After the quarter-finals, even France and Belgium were on their way back, while South American powerhouses Brazil and Argentina were moving smoothly, looking all set for a dream final at the Maracana.

But the Cup of Cups needed a bit of tragedy too. That happened in the first semi-final, with Brazil losing the game to Germany 7-1. With that humiliation, Brazil also lost the awe it had. With 0-3 loss to Holland in the third place play-off, Brazil’s humiliation was complete. Only consolation for 200 million Brazilians was that their arch-rival, Argentina, lost the final to Germany.

But the irony of the final was that Lionel Messi, who failed to score in all the four knock-out games, got the Golden Ball Award for being the “best player of the tournament”, while Thomas Muller, James Rodriguez and Arjen Robben failed to make the cut. That made even Argentine great Maradona call the award a “marketing gimmick”.

And then there was a big surprise. Brazil lost the game on the pitch, but it won off it. Before the tournament, they were predicting that the World Cup would be a disaster, but by the time it ended on July 13, everyone had good things to say about the “Cup of Cups”. The stadiums were excellent, with perfect atmosphere. The flights had been on time and lines at airports short and quick. The hotels had been warm and efficient. And even the much-maligned taxi drivers were friendly and helpful.

But the biggest positive for Brazil in this World Cup has been its people. As they travelled across this country, several European journalists were wondering why the people are “so nice and always smiling”. Those who came here fearing robberies and mugging on the streets have gone back with the memories of singing, dancing and partying on the streets.

Of course, Brazil’s loss in the semi-finals brought down the people’s enthusiasm.  But all those who predicted chaos and violence in case of Brazil’s loss have been proven wrong. Brazil accepted the defeat with great dignity. Brazil lost the World Cup but it won over the world off the field.

In South Asian countries, we joke that in the end, everything will be fine and if it’s not fine, it’s not the end yet. But in Brazil, everything was fine even before the end.

Shobhan Saxena

Read also:

The best World Cup? It looks like so

In goals we trust 

When football comes home 

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