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FIFA WORLD CUP 2022: notes from the margins

Big things are talked about when they happen and will continue to be talked about for years and years thereafter. Small things live the life of a water bubble. So let’s talk about them before they are forgotten.By the way, small things about big people can sometimes be more interesting than the known things about them.

Let’s begin with Cristiano Ronaldo, who is one of the greatest football players the world has ever seen. His team, Portugal, was playing against Ghana at the Group stage. In the 65th minute the Portugal captain scored a goal from the penalty spot and gave his team the lead. With that penalty, Ronaldo became the first player in the World Cup history to have scored in each of the five World Cup finals in which he has played. He knew what he had achieved, and his happy grin said it all. This, if not a great deal more, shows his remarkable fitness and consistency of form. This is a record that may stay for a long time.

Now, it’s another matter that quite a few thought that it was a dubious penalty. The Ghanaian defender,Salisu,did tackle the Portuguese captain from behind but it wasn’t very reckless or forceful. So if the latter fell on the ground, the tackle might not have been the sole cause. In fact, some thought it was a skillful dive. At least did Wayne Roonie, the well-known former Manchester United and England star forward, although he didn’t say it in so many words. He kind of insinuated this. The former Portuguese great, Luis Figo, didn’t think there was a case for the penalty award.

When the referee pointed to the penalty spot, the Ghanaian players did protest but sure about his decision, the referee ignored their claim. He did not think it necessary to make use of VAR, although quite a few felt that he should have. The VAR officials did not intervene with the proceedings – surprisingly, at least some might have thought.

As far as I am concerned, it was quite understandable. Think of this, which is part of the cricket folklore. Once W.G. Grace, the legendary cricketer was out to the first ball he faced but he showed no signs of returning to the pavilion. In utter disbelief, the poor bowler complained to the umpire. Completely unfazed, the great man told the bowler, “Look, people have come to see W.G. Grace batting, not W.G. Grace out!” Such was the power of this logic that the bowler didn’t wait for the umpire’s verdict and quietly walked back to the bowling mark to bowl to Dr. Grace.

Likewise, one could say, people, apart from the Ghanaians on that day, would like to watch Ronaldo take a penalty. If once in a while it’s a dubious penalty, so be it!

What happened in the 54th minute during Portugal’s next match at the Group stage, involving Ronaldo was even more interesting. Bruno Fernandes took a free kick against Uruguay and Ronaldo jumped high and the ball entered the net. Ronaldo celebrated his second goal in this edition of the World cup and Bruno joined him. Or was he, as the Captain of the team, celebrating Bruno’s goal, knowing it wasn’t his? But that’s unusual. The Captain, like other players in the team, rush to the goal scorer to celebrate the goal. But here, Ronaldo didn’t rush to Bruno. He celebrated and Bruno joined him. This means he wanted everyone to know that he had scored the goal. But soon it became known that the goal had been credited to Bruno.

Now, was it a genuine error on the part of Ronaldo that he had believed that he had headed the ball into the Uruguay goal? Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches, so goes the saying. Likewise, we could say that the head knows what it hits or what hits it. So the head surely knew it hadn’t had any contact the ball. Maybe, it’s different with the hair and the head didn’t know what the hair knew? Maybe Ronaldo thought his hair had deflected the ball into the net, if not his head? In any case, the video made it clear that the ball hadn’t touched Ronaldo’s head or hair.

R.K. Narayan, the celebrated writer, was right about what the lives of great men tell us: we should make our lives sublime, i.e., not great!

When the Argentina- Poland match ended, with Poland losing 0-2, there was this curious sight: both teams celebrating! Robert Lewandowski, the Polish captain and the winner of the best Men’s player of the year award for 2020 and 2021, left the field happy, despite having a poor match, and said these memorable words: “it’s a happy defeat.”You lose a crucial World Cup match and call it a “happy defeat”! The expressionwould gladden the heart of a semanticist. What, he would wonder, was the context which gave meaning to that oxymoron?

Actually they were celebrating two different things: Argentina, their victory over Poland and the consequent progress to the next round, i.e., the pre-quarterfinal round. Poland was celebrating their advancement to the pre-quarterfinal round. Saudi Arabia’s 90th-minute goal had done them a good turn. They now had a better goal difference with respect to Mexico, who had won against Saudi Arabia but that last minute goal by Al-Dawsaritook Poland to the next stage. This was certainly a matter for celebration; after eight editions of the World Cup, Poland had advanced to the pre-quarterfinal round.

Now, what brought cheers to Lewandowski brought tears to Luis Suarez, who was playing his fourth World Cup for Mexico and who is unquestionably one of the greatest strikers of his generation, to which belong Messi and Ronaldo, among others. Such are the ironies of life. As he left the field, he was in tears and in the dugout, he was disconsolate, hiding his tearful face with his jersey from the camera. One could imagine the scene of Lewandowski celebrating with his team and Suarez sitting alone, forlorn, unable to come to terms with what had happened.

The next match, at the pre-quarterfinal stage, brought no cheers to Lewandowski but about the pre-quarter finals, later, in a different article!

In the next edition of the World Cup, in all probability, there will be no Lionel Messi and no Cristiano Ronaldo – everyone talks about this. There is no talk of the near certainty of Suarez not being there and the possibility of Lewandowski, not being there, either.

Suarez and Lewandowski, we who love football, wish to tell you that if you do not play in the World Cup four years after, we will miss you and sorely, and let me add, the World Cup finals will be the losers.

(The views expressed are the writer’s own)

Prof. B.N.Patnaik

Retd. Professor of Linguistics and English, IIT Kanpur

Email: [email protected]

(Images from the net)

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