Football Fancy, World Cup 2018: Possible Side Effects
I must admit, this World Cup has been quite a rollercoaster ride. Almost nothing is going the way I expected – or wanted – it to. Besides the fact that Germany was eliminated from the group stage of the tournament, Spain lost to the "maybe or maybe not involved in a doping scandal" Russians, alleged superstars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have been sent packing, and England – yes, England! – advanced to the quarterfinals after winning a penalty shootout. Are we suddenly living in some alternate universe? Or is this what it looks like when hell freezes over? Did the god of football decide that it is time for a new master plan?
Don’t get me wrong; I have been following these latest developments with great interest. I have come to realize over the past week that watching a World Cup without Germany still in the running for the title is more refreshing than I thought it would be. The chance of suffering from a) insomnia the night before matchday, b) a near heart attack, increased consumption of whisky and unhealthy comfort food such as chocolate, chips and popcorn during the game, or c) a massive hangover the day after, is now almost zero.
Therefore, I can truly observe and reflect.
We all know that football is a well-oiled moneymaking PR machine, from aggressive marketing campaigns to ridiculous transfer fees. But even though I’m aware of that, I could always still find these small and tender moments and stories that made me fall in love with the sport in the first place: a young boy becoming a successful football player despite unbelievable challenges along the way, the underdog growing wings and beating the favorite against all odds, or a full-time dentist leading a football team to a glorious breakthrough on the international stage.
But more often than not, the ugly side effects of football come into play.
Neymar Jr. is without a doubt a talented player. Unfortunately in this case, the word “talent” can be applied to both his skills with the ball as well as his ability to feign injury. Every time he is tackled, he dies. At least, that’s what he wants the audience and referee to believe. Even the slightest touch by his opponent sends him into agony and acrobatic rollovers; when the camera zooms in on his tearful and accusing face, contorted with pain, he seems to say: “I am Neymar Jr., the most expensive football player of all time, how dare you people lay a finger on me? You are not worthy to even breathe in my presence! Where is my doctor? I forgot where it hurts, but it needs to be fixed!”
Uruguay has a similar player in its midst: Luis Suarez, the notorious biter and in my eyes responsible for one of the most heartbreaking defeats ever during a World Cup (coincidentally, exactly 8 years ago today, Suarez helped secure his team a spot in the semifinals at the 2010 World Cup with the infamous handball that broke Ghana’s collective heart into a million pieces). Apart from his Dracula-esque antics and extremely unfair play, Suarez is a master at blatant diving. In one of the Uruguay games in Russia, his opponent lightly hit his back – and he fell down as if struck by lightning, holding his legs, his stomach, his face, anything but his back.
The Germans have a word perfectly suited for situations like these, Fremdschämen, which is the feeling of shame for someone else who has done something utterly embarrassing. More than that, it’s highly unsportsmanlike and simply unnecessary. Why do players like Neymar and Suarez, who are both very skillful and talented, resort to such shameful antics? The saddest part is that such behavior also stains the other players of their teams. It is because of Suarez that I can’t allow myself to root for Uruguay, and it is because of Neymar that the Seleção, once the epitome of magical performances on the pitch, has lost respect in the eyes of many football fans.
While these crybabies get bedsores on the pitch, other players are literally going through personal hell and yet are still able to give their all: shortly before Nigeria’s third group stage game against Argentina, the team’s captain Mikel John Obi was informed that his father had been kidnapped. The perpetrators demanded a ransom and warned Mikel John Obi not to go to the authorities; otherwise they’d shoot his father instantly. The 31-year-old, no doubt suffering from severe emotional stress, put aside his trauma and stepped onto the pitch as not to let down his teammates and 180 million Nigerians. Thankfully, the police in Nigeria was able to secure his father’s release, but he had to be rushed to the hospital to be treated for the torture he received during his captivity.
Surely, this is an extreme case but it should and does put things into perspective. Therefore, I sincerely hope that for the remainder of this tournament, the teams will set aside mind-blowingly dumb antics and dirty fouls (yes, Colombia, I’m looking at you) to focus on the thing everybody so much admires: pure football. Because the one thing I have learned over the past couple of weeks is this – at this World Cup, anything is possible.