World Cup Semifinals and Russia Collusion

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First time finalist Croatia gained independence in 1991 after the breakup of Yugoslavia

ONDRIVE with Sham Samaroo

Well, there you have it. There was no Russia collusion: That’s what Starboy said after Russia lost to Croatia on penalties last weekend. What you are talking about, I asked. I am talking about the Russia collusion theory started by fake news since the tournament began, replied Starboy. They kept going on and on that the fix was in, and that Putin’s prints were all over it. But if the fix was in how you explain Russia’s defeat in the quarterfinals, continued Starboy. You don’t seriously believe that it wasn’t; do you, countered Peter Struck, a friend of Starboy. Besides, Russia could still have lost in spite of the fix, Struck argued. No need to lawyer up, you are not under oath said Starboy to Struck. Besides, the idea of an insurance policy just in case you die before 40 is hilarious. By the way, do you know if the company For Better Insurance (FBI) is offering such policies, asked Starboy with a whimsical smile? Russia’s loss in the quarterfinals did put an end to hopes of a fairy-tale ending for the host nation, and, perhaps, the Russia collusion theory. But don’t hold your breath: conspiracy theorists are renowned for vivid imaginations and breathtaking flights of fantasy. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, Croatia, led by captain Luka Modrić (who wears the number 10 for Real Madrid), and the indomitable Ivan Rakitić of Barcelona fame, will take on favorites France in Sunday’s final in Moscow. It’s Croatia’s first trip to the finals in only their fifth appearance in the tournament. Croatia gained independence in 1991 following the breakup of Yugoslavia, another one of those socialist workers’ paradises that inevitably found its rightful place on the dustbin of history. Having broken the hearts of millions of Russian fans in the quarterfinals, Croatia knocked out the highly favoured but annoyingly smug, England, in the semifinals. It was a hard fought, bruising victory over England. “We dominated the game physically”, said Modric. Indeed they did, but it was not pretty: labored and workmanlike would be more accurate. England played beautifully, attacking and dominating the entire first half. Trippier’s 20-yard free-kick in the fifth minute was spectacular. He ‘bend it like Beckham’ around the wall and into the top corner. England, now brimming with confidence, would miss two golden opportunities (Kane and Lingard) to double the lead as Croatia struggled to keep pace. After the break, it was a different story. England waned and Croatia gained in confidence. The equalizer came in the 68th minute with England struggling to stay afloat amidst the Croatian wave. After 90 minutes, it was still deadlocked which meant a third consecutive extra time game for Croatia: How would it affect their players? Buoyed by a vocal, enthusiastic crowd, Croatia played with renewed vitality and delivered the KO with a Mandzukic tap in 11 minutes from the end.

A day earlier, on Tuesday, France also booked its place to the finals. It was yet another result that defied all predictions, including that of yours truly. Belgium, one of the tournament’s favourites, were impressive throughout the playoffs. In the round of 16, they came back from two goals down to score three times in 22 minutes for a sensational win and a place in the quarters, where they defeated Brazil in another thrilling encounter. France too was impressive throughout the playoffs. Their memorable 4-3 win over Argentina raised expectations of an exciting semifinal against Belgium. But alas, we were once again disappointed. France, like Croatia, settled for some good old-fashioned, conservative style of soccer (a polite way of saying workmanlike). France were outshone by Kevin de Bruyne and his teammates. But despite their brilliance, it was France who celebrated the 1-0 win. One might argue, rightfully, that the purpose of sports is to entertain, but in reality, it’s the result that counts (read dollars and cents). France go into Sunday’s finals as favourites to win their second World Cup. But if there is one thing we have learned over these past few weeks, it is not to underestimate any team, particularly Croatia.

Before leaving, I asked Starboy his prediction. With the panache of a true New Yorker, Starboy, unhesitatingly, replied: “France!” Peter Struck, visibly irritated, obviously still smarting from the earlier beat down, retorted: “Perhaps, you are the one watching fake news”. Starboy, smiling gleefully, responded: “Wrong. The World Cup is on Fox”. My point precisely, countered Struck. Wrong again, said Starboy. Fake news is Complete Bogus Story (CBS), Another Big Con (ABC), Clinton News Network (CNN), Never Been Correct (NBC), and its affiliate Most Sincerely (MSNBC). “Starboy, I don’t think that’s what those letters stand for”, Struck responded. Then maybe you can text it to Lisa and me said Starboy. Gentlemen, I interjected: I know very little of politics, and care even less. As we got up to leave, Starboy started humming the Bob Marley classic: “Don’t let them fool ya! Oh no! Or even try to school ya! We’ve got a mind of our own… and in the darkness, must come out to light. Could you be loved, and be loved…” As I got into my car, I turned on the radio and the unmistakable voice of Bob Marley filled the night air: “Who the cap fit. Let them wear it. Ah throw meh corn, but meh nah call no fowl…”

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The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.

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