Ondrive with Sham Samaroo
(November 25, 2022) – Everyone said it would be different; just how different, little did we know. The party has only just begun and already we had political intrigues, upsets, and surprises galore! Monday saw the biggest of all when tournament favourites, Argentina, was left flat footed on the dance floor as the Saudis turned off their music. The pièce de ré·sis·tance, though, came on Thursday with a touch of Brazilian magic from Richarlison. If Argentina failed to tango, Richarlison gave us a spark of samba that lit up the Lusail Stadium with the goal of the tournament: A goal as easy-on-the-eye as the face of one’s first true love.
On Friday Iran made a powerful statement with a stunning upset of Wales. Not as powerful, perhaps, as their refusal to sing the national anthem on Monday before their opening game. This is seen as an expression of support for the anti-government protests in Iran following the death in custody of the young woman, Mahsa Amini, detained by the morality police apparently for breaking the rules on head covering. In that one act, the Iranian team did more to shake the foundations of alleged injustices in their country than all the Yankee dollars secretly flown into Iran on wooden pallets. Earlier in the week, Captain Ehsan Hajsafi called the situation in Iran “very bad” and said that people are “not happy”. In an unprecedented move, he also paid tribute to those who lost their lives. A few weeks ago, FIFA ignored calls from Ukraine to ban Iran – a wise decision it now seems. But FIFA may have erred in banning Russia. Having the teams there can do more to attract world attention than a few European teams getting religion two weeks before the tournament. It shouldn’t come as a surprise if some of them hardly knew where Qatar was prior to the tournament, and would probably forget all about it once the games are over.
Earlier in the week, Japan came from behind to outfox- trot four-time champions, Germany, 2-1. “We watched the Saudi game and thought we can do it”, said winning goal scorer Takuma Asano. Before the game, Germany covered their mouths to protest FIFA’s decision to deny the use of their one-love captain armband. Tournament rules state that captains’ armbands are provided by FIFA, as they have been for previous World Cups. When the game got under way, the Germans uncovered their mouths but seemed to have muzzled their feet: A foot in mouth faux pas? After the game, our Japanese friends paused their celebrations long enough to clean up the stadium, a practice they started at the 2018 World Cup. What a wonderful gesture and one that inspires hope: Quite a change from sporting events around the world where, after the game, one wonders if pigs were in attendance. Starboy says perhaps we should take that back, lest we insult the pigs. Cleanliness is a cultural tradition in Japan. As a lifelong educator, it is my unerring conviction that change is best achieved by example and not criticism.
This week the USA and Canada also gave us some beautiful soccer. Soccer can be cruel at times, and the best team can end up not winning. Both the US and Canada, playing attacking, entertaining soccer, completely outplayed Wales and Belgium respectively. O Canada! In only their second appearance at the Cup, and cheered on by their 10,000-strong supporters, Canada gave us an unforgettable performance. Coach John Herdman: “They showed tonight that they do belong here.” Canada, the 41st ranked team ran rings around Belgium; the tournament’s second-highest ranked team. They did have a chance to take the lead in the tenth minute when Alphonso Davies missed a penalty. Canada have never scored at a World Cup and had Davies scored, who knows how the game might have turned. But their group is still wide open as 2018 finalist, Croatia, laboured to a draw with Morocco.
Unlike recent World Cups, expect this tournament to be a high-scoring affair because of welcome rule enforcement. This has long been a vexation of mine: players should not be holding or grabbing each other. It is against the rules and it takes the joy out of the game. FIFA is now ready to enforce that rule, and instructed referees that grabbing a player in the box can result in a penalty. Hopefully in time, this will extend to the entire field of play.
Aside from the USA and Canada, teams from Asia and Africa are also putting on a show. Not weighed down by sophisticated theories and game plans, they use the KISS (keep it simple stupid) principle to play with gaiety and spirited abandon. Smiles on their faces tell the story. They are enjoying themselves, but not half as much as their fans; the colours, the pageantry, the fanfare. Truly, there is no other sporting event like the World Cup, and Qatar 2022 is already like no other World Cup.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the position or policy of the THE WEST INDIAN.