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Kicking in the fever: FIFA World Cup 2018

Kicking in the fever: FIFA World Cup 2018
Highlights

From the agony of defeat to the ecstasy of victory – and everything else in between – the World Cup is truly one of a kind. That quote best describes...

From the agony of defeat to the ecstasy of victory – and everything else in between – the World Cup is truly one of a kind. That quote best describes the one sport that brings the entire world to a standstill for the entire period the war for global supremacy of the beautiful game is being waged, irrespective of in which part of the universe, the biggest and most watched sport spectacle is underway.

In terms of viewership, it surpasses the mother of all events, the Olympics, by several notches, which gives an insurmountable distinction to the FIFA World Cup and makes it the most popular sport on the planet.

Come Thursday and all roads will lead to Russia where a dozen venues spread over 11 cities will host 64 matches of the showpiece event’s XXI edition with the grand finale slated to be held at the iconic Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 15. With an approximate seating capacity of 81,006, the stadium has been renovated at a cost of $410 million.

It is a different matter altogether that in the run up to the mega event, a whole lot of controversies dogged the organising committee as also officials of the world governing body with regard to alleged corruption in winning the bid and a vociferous opposition to Russia being picked as the host.

To the die-hard fan, however, it makes no difference because once the first whistle is sounded it is action time, one that will transport them to a fantasy world the memories of which, including the highs and lows, will remain vivid till the next edition or perhaps for their lifetime.

With the D-Day round the corner and bookies all set to make a killing, as would punters and ‘gamblers’ all over the world, the passionate fan and former players are already involved in the herculean task of picking their winners, unmindful of the eventual outcome.

Not surprisingly, the pre-event favourites will be the very teams that have tasted the euphoria of being world champions, earlier on.

Well, most would bet big on Brazil, Spain, France and the Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina besides the unbridled Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, which is yet to have its name inscribed on the trophy.
The ‘Country of soccer’ as the Brazilians would love to be revered will be on top of the ladder for a majority of fans.

The surprise in the pack seems to be France, which, quite apparently, is thriving on the fact that media glare is more on the Ronaldos, Messis and Neymars and on how they could ‘steer’ their respective teams to the cherished goals. The first two are possibly having their last chance of achieving the ultimate glory for any footballer.

Germany, bidding to become only the second nation after Brazil to successfully retain the trophy, will be lurking in the shadows and looking to seize any opportunity coming their way to flummox the opposition ranks at their own game. One can never discount their prospects given that the onus of the team is not on the shoulders of any one individual, like in the case of most contenders eyeing the pie.

On that specific count, it should surprise no one in particular if the Germans make history, all over again. The quintessential football expert and the Indian observer who ‘lives’ the beautiful game, Novy Kapadia gives no chance to either Argentina (caught in the Israeli gaffe) or Portugal, whatsoever. He opines that it could be France that could corner glory as it boasts of the all-round talent that translates to a cohesive winning unit.

His arguments appear quite logical, particularly when the world will be watching the exploits of the game’s superstars, the Frenchmen can go about their job with customary verve. On his part, the flamboyant Bhaichung Bhutia is hoping for an Argentine triumph ‘purely for the sake of Messi’. Former India captain Victor Amalraj contends that although there can never be a clear favourite in any World Cup, this time it could be a close battle between Germany, Brazil, France, Spain and Argentina.

A sad thing about the Russian Jamboree will be the absence of the ever-dangerous Italians (for the first time since 1958) and the Dutch, who had failed to score over West Germany in the trailblazing 1974 final despite magnificence of Johan Cryuff’s ‘Total football’ that was conquered by the studious methodology adopted by Franz Anton Beckenbauer.

The sparkle, in a way, will be missing, although others in contention will bring in their own versions of creative excellence, thanks to some outstanding individuals like Mohd Salah, whose being in the playing squad of Egypt still remains uncertain. Brazil must still be sulking and smarting after the 17 rout that they were subject to by the possessed and on the rampage Germans four years back. Russia provides the best possible occasion for them to make good the embarrassment and go all-out for an unbelievable sixth success.

An in-form Marcelo and Neymar on the left flank and midfielder Paulinho can be a destructive force and one that could unnerve the finest of defenders on their day. Tite will be praying that his prized posses sion and costliest player on earth, the mercurial 26year-old will recover completely and provide the inspiration the team needs desperately on match days.

Although, quite a few are pitching in for England and the enigmatic Spaniards, it looks seemingly improbable of either winning the trophy for a second time, at least not in this edition. The frontrunners will be Germany, Brazil, France and Argentina in that order.

Dark horses come in the form of Belgium, Uruguay, Poland and Costa Rica, who are capable of pulling off an upset or two with their own brand of unorthodox, unpredictable but winning techniques.

Meanwhile, a rational estimate based on the relative strengths, weaknesses and proven material indicates that there may not be a new champion on July 15. It will be one from among the eight that been there and done that, the reversals here and there, notwithstanding. 14

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