World Cup 2014 has so far been the high-octane festival of football frenzy we’ve all been anticipating – with all the drama, action andshocking twists-to-the-tale (and the waiting!) of a Game of Thrones season. We’ve seen seriously inspired play from some of the underdogs of the tournament, who have gone on to become giant-killers (the stuff of legends!), and then again, have cheered on theever-reliable and ever-brilliant Messis and old-order messiahs of soccer. Those unencumbered by loyalties of the land are probably the ones having the best time this WC – free to love the lion-hearted young challengers and the old-time aristos alike, for sheer love of the game alone. For this tournament has shaped up to be a whole different ball-game altogether from all initial logical predictions, as legacy takes a back-seat to sheer heart, guts and emotion. Ask some of the dear departed biggies – England, Italy, Portugal and defending champions Spain – all back home after failing to make it past even the Group stage. The so-called Groups of Death quite ended up as the graveyard of underperforming champions.
Winning is all about how legendarily awesome you can be on D-Day, how much you can hold against the best in the world and how much higher you take the level of play to. That has certainly been the spirit on display from the ‘lesser’ teams this tournament. What a firestorm of a fight these guys have put on! Ghana refused to cow down to Germany – # 2 and No. 1 contender for the cup according to pundits – resulting in a draw. Rank #3 and soccer numerouno Brazil could not get past the defense and brilliant goal-keeping of #20 Mexico for a clear win. While Costa Rica (#28) went on to beat higher-ranked teams Uruguay (#7) and Italy (#9) in back to back matches, and Netherlands (#15) gave the 2010 WC champs Spain a sound thumping with their 5-1 win! South and Central American rising stars Chile and Costa Rica have been the biggest surprises of the season, and Columbia has been a real treat to watch – winning all their Group matches and notching up a win against Uruguay (2-0) in the Round of 16. While the likes of Iran and Ghana have crashed out and wereultimately bested by bigger teams, they did win over the hearts of many a soccer fan with superb shows worthy of The Game at its grandest.
Post the group matches and all the beautiful unpredictability brought in by the challengers, the knock-out matches fell back to the expected pattern of big teams surging ahead, but not without a good fight. Even hard-core loyalists will admit that the underdogs, both absolute and relative, have put up much better shows this WC, without a fraction of the strength, bonafide heroes and backing that a Brazil/ Argentina/ Germany enjoys. First, it was Brazil who had a really narrow escape, beating Chile in a thrilling shoot-out (1-1, Penalty Score 3-2). Then we had Netherlands snatching victory over Mexico in a last-minute twist of fate and heroics (last 10 mins to be precise!). Another cup favourite Argentina moved a step closer with their win over the Swiss army, thanks to the magic of a few good men and that killer pass from Messi to Di Maria. Results might say that the mighty Germans beat the unknown Algerians by 2-1 to move on to the Quarter finals of the WC 2014, but for lovers of the game, it would always be about what transpired in those incredible 120 minutes in between – something which even top punters would not have predicted for Algeria up against Deutschland, and which came with the tough odds and emotions of winning the Euro-Millions lottery on a first attempt. It took the likes of Neuer to step out of the line many a time to clear the ball, and it took the mighty Lahm to literally hold onto the shorts of Algerian footballers to notch up the win. In the end everyone remembers the winners, but the likes of Mbolhi, Halliche, Slimani, Feghoulli did go on that day from mere men to hailed heroes who held their own and then some, against a much stronger Cup-contender.
And therein lies the beauty of this World Cup. The ‘guts for glory’ embodiment has made the Road to Rio a very interesting, unpredictable and emotional roller-coaster of a ride – part luck, part heroics, part discipline and determination, but mostly the best entertainment out there. Fortune favours the brave, and the brave it is that shall rule. Viva la Mundial!