Once again, the quadrennial month of heartbreaks is upon us. The FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) World Cup 2018 premier soccer event is underway. People the world over look forward excitedly to the prospect of seeing their beloved heroes in action. Each move, every facial expression is intently watched, analyzed and commented on. Expectations, hopes, prayers, frustration, belief, faith, pride, heartbreak, anger, elation. A smorgasbord of raw emotions is on full display for a whole month, globally. All else is forgotten and time comes to a halt for at least half of the world’s population as men, women and even children of all ages, colors and creed watch 22 grown men chase a vulcanized rubber football for at least 90 minutes, all over a grass field. Probably, no other sport commands such attention.
Excitement starts to build well before kicking off the final month’s activities. Qualifying countries and the group each of them is “drawn” to play in the initial “round robin” matches. The likely impact of the teams’ performance and standing in determining its rivals for the next knock-out stage. Reams of statistics on past performances of each team and individual players; every trivial detail comes under intense scrutiny, being analyzed and commented on by pundits, ad infinitum. Punters have a field day revising the odds and huge betting sums exchange hands each day.
Canada is home to people from around the world, and Canadians take pride in displaying the flag of the country they support; usually one where they originally came from. Therefore, it is not surprising to see the driver of a car flaunting the national flag of a country participating in the FIFA World Cup draped around the hood or roof of his/her car as they speed past. “Little Italy” quarters were quiet this time as the Azzurri failed to make an appearance for FIFA 2018. Major upsets throughout this tournament have resulted in the unexpected early exit of teams from fancied Portugal, Argentina, Mexico, Spain, Germany and other favorites like Japan, Senegal, Colombia, Nigeria etc., leaving their supporters heartbroken.
Walking down the main streets not just in downtown Toronto but across Canada, it is exhilarating to see Canadians representing the local community from each of the participating World Cup countries gathered before TV screens in restaurants or on patios, downing cool ones as they cheer a “home” team and celebrate their victory or commiserate with friends supportive of rival national sides. It seems the world is epitomized here, at our doorstep and events such as the FIFA World Cup reinforce how much we relish and celebrate our diversity and multiculturalism.
Recently we had dinner with close friends, R and A and were introduced to another aspect of the world’s most popular sport. R told us that a couple of days ago her husband, A was totally engrossed in the Brazil-Mexico match while she sat nursing her left foot, which was hurting and causing her severe pain and cause for concern. She was telling A that her foot had worsened and that he might have to drive her the next day to see a specialist because she could not set her foot down, let alone drive the car. “What a drama queen! Enough already, crybaby!” exclaimed A seated right beside R. She was shocked and looked up aghast, ready to give him a piece of her mind. It was then she realized that, glued to the TV screen he had not heard a word of what she had been saying but was reacting instead to Neymar’s theatrical performance of “diving” and writhing on the ground, acting as if the mere touch by a rival player was causing him immense suffering!
Riveting and dangerous game, this! But now that all the South and Central American teams are out of FIFA 2018, we will miss the matches shown on their local TV channels, with the excited “Futbol” commentators proclivity of announcing a “GOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAALLLLLLL!” each time the ball crosses the goalpost.