World Cup Soccer: Goodbye Moscow, Hello Qatar

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A model of the air-conditioned stadium in Doha. Qatar has committed US$ 200 billion to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup

ONDRIVE with Sham Samaroo

France are world champions for a second time defeating Croatia 4-2 at the 80,000 seat Luzhniki stadium in Moscow last Sunday: a reversal of France’s last trip to the finals in 2006.

That final gave us the infamous Zidane head butt of Italy’s Marco Materazzi. Millions of fans around the globe stared in shock and disbelief as the French captain, the Algerian-born Zinedine Zidane, was red carded for the head butt on Materazzi. We later learned from Zidane that Materazzi repeatedly made derogatory comments to him about his mother, and he finally reacted with the head butt. Zidane has since said that he “would rather die” than apologize for headbutting the Italian. “I apologise to football, to the fans, to the team”, said Zidane. “But to him I cannot. Never, never. It would be to dishonour me. I’d rather die” confessed Zidane. Materazzi has always denied making any comments about Zidane’s mother.

The victory on Sunday meant that France were in the finals three times in 20 years, and won twice. But the game itself was nothing to write home about. France’s coach, Didier Deschamps, put it best when he said: “We did not play a great match but we showed a strong mental quality”. Translated in English, France played a workmanlike, defensive game. In soccer parlance, that means lacking creativity, excitement, or individual flair. In a word: bo..orr…ring. Truth be told, the final was a mismatch. Think about it for a moment. Most of the pre-tournament favourites (Belgium, Brazil, Argentina, France, Uruguay) ended up on the same side of the draw: meaning they had to knock each other out since only one can reach the finals. On the other side of the draw, Croatia played Denmark, Russia, and England. Seriously? Was it any wonder that all three of those games went to overtime, and two to penalty shootout?

An ever growing number of teams are opting for the shootout route (defense first) because FIFA refuses to take a strong hand on physical play (fouls). Naturally, the defense-first team will invariably commit more fouls because most of the game will be played in their defensive third of the field. It’s elementary, Watson! It is frighteningly ironic the amount of physical contact that is now acceptable in today’s game: players grabbing each other; undressing opponents; chopping down opponents even after they have been beaten. In other words, they are no longer playing the ball; they are playing the man. And guess what? It has become so widespread, so acceptable, that we even invented a name for it: the tactical foul. Tactical who?

There is no such animal in the rule book. A foul is a foul is a foul. After all, this is football not handball, and it is certainly not wrestling. There is nothing tactical about it, coaches simply made it up, and FIFA turned a blind eye instead of punishing it severely. Will things change? No.

The next installment of FIFA’s World Cup will be held in Qatar in 2022. In the 2010 voting, Qatar beat out the USA in what President, Barack Obama, called “the wrong decision”. In the wake of the vote, a series of bribery and corruption allegations have rocked FIFA, and led to the resignation, in disgrace, of its president, Sepp Blatter. Qatar has had to deal with the fall out and calls, led by the USA, for a revote. One wonders what it is about some of our countrymen that we simply cannot, or just will not, accept losing. In celebrating its win, Qatar thanked FIFA “for believing in us; for having such bold vision”. Following the vote, CBS (fake news) carried a story that said, “Oil and natural gas won today. This was not about merit, this was about money”. And what isn’t, pray tell.

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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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