By Tayo Ogunbiyi
Amidst a most stunning ambiance, the 23rd edition of Federation of International Football Associations, FIFA, World Cup, tagged Russia 2018, came to a scintillating close on Sunday, July 15 at the 81,000 capacity Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow. In the past one month, football fans across the world have watched with great excitement as 32 nations locked horns for the coveted 18 carats gold FIFA World Cup trophy.
The closing ceremony of the Russia 2018 World Cup was as exhilarating as the entire competition itself. Famous Nollywood star, Will Smith, US-born singer Nicky Jam, Russian opera, singer Aida Garifullina, legendary Brazilian soccer idol, Ronaldinho and German 2014 World Cup winning captain, Philip Lahm, were part of the galaxy of stars that added colour, splendor and elegance to the closing ceremony of what many have termed a most breathtaking World Cup.
FIFA President, Gianni Infantino, Russian President, Vladimir Putin, his French and Croatian counterparts Emmanuel Macron and Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović (what a dazzling and charming woman!) were among world leaders that witnessed the last match of Russia 2018.
The final match of the championship between France and Croatia was as impressive, action packed and spectacular as almost all the 64 matches witnessed at Russia2018. In the match that recorded six fascinating goals, the French national team came top by trashing a resilient and toughened Croatian side 4-2. With this victory, and having won her first World Cup title in 1998, France has now recorded a second triumph at the elite global soccer fiesta. Interestingly, the victory has equally put French coach, Didier Dechamps, in the league of Brazilian Mario Zagallo and German Franz Beckenbauer as those who have won the World Cup as both a player and a manager.
Since Uruguay hosted the first edition of the World Cup in 1930, during the era of revered FIFA President, Jules Rimet, the competition has continued to grow in leap and bound. From a 13 team event, with which it started in 1930, it grew to become a 32 team affair during the 1998 edition in France. Today, the World Cup commands a global TV audience in excess of one billion.
The 2018 Russia World Cup is particularly unique in many ways. For one, through the introduction of the controversial VAR (Video Assistance Referees), it is the first World Cup in which technology was deployed to assist referees in making crucial decisions. VAR is seen by many as a worthwhile invention that would ensure fairness by reducing human errors usually associated with football officiating at the highest level.
Another uniqueness of the Russia 2018 is in the flawless manner of its organization as well as reported hospitable temperament of Russians who were really good hosts. Prior to the eventual take off of the competition and based on certain stereotyped tales that were in circulation about Russia, many have doubted the ability of Putin country to host a memorable and eventful World Cup. But then, events of the past month seem to have proved cynics wrong as the Russians have not only hosted a great Mundial, but have also razzmatazz the whole world as regards the exquisiteness of their country.
In terms of security and safety concerns, Russia 2018 also proved to be an incredible event. The initial fear of many about the event bothered on the safety of visiting soccer fans across the world at Russia. As things eventually turned out, there was no major security breach worthy of note throughout the duration of the competition. Fans’ hooliganism was completely out of the equation. The usually cantankerous German and English soccer fans strangely turned a new leaf at the Mundial. Hence, at Russia 2018, worry over fans hooliganism was simply not a major concern.
Strictly in terms of footballing stuff, more than ever before, Russia 2018 has shown that football is more of a team event, and as such, individual brilliance and talents no longer count for too much. For instance, the Croatian, Japanese, Korean, Iceland and a few other national teams that came up with a closely knitted side thoroughly passed home the message that football is no longer about the number of superstars that are in a team but about how well a team plays together as a unit.
In particular, the Croatian team that got to the final amply exemplified teamwork as a major base for success in football as it got that far in the championship not on the basis of the individuality of its players but on the strength of joint effort. Unlike the Brazilians, Argentines and other such teams that depended mostly on the strength of their individual players to thrive at the championship, the Croatian team is an amazing study in team solidarity and group effectiveness.
Russia 2018 also sufficiently demonstrated to the soccer world that the days when so called bigger soccer nations could just stroll into a major soccer championship in sheer arrogance, expecting unhindered success, might be over for now. At the Mundial, big footballing nations such as Germany, Argentina, Spain and Brazil got the shocks of a lifetime as they all unceremoniously exited the competition when it was least expected.
As for the English team, which most pundits agreed actually over achieved at the Mundial, it becomes quite clearer that if football were to ultimately come home, as it was excitedly chorused by English fans in the course of the competition, it would be through sterling (unfortunately English Raheem Sterling didn’t come to the party at Russia) performances on the pitch. Not through overly over hyped media crusade.
Back home, the pains of the Super Eagles’ disappointing outing at the Mundial have since subsided. Sadly, we don’t seem to have learnt much from our below par show as the nation’s football house is once again being immersed in needless leadership squabbles that portend great danger for our football. Regrettably, appropriate authorities seem not to be managing current footballing crisis with required tact and speed. Characteristically, it is only when FIFA hammer comes dangling that those concerned would start running helter and skelter.
Meanwhile, congratulations to France for deservedly winning the World Cup and also kudos to Russia for hosting an amazing Mundial. As the soccer world awaits what Qatar has to offer in 2022, football fans would continue to relish and savour some of the most astounding memories of Russia 2018. One of such, for me, is the image of dashing Croatia President, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović tenderly patting France President, Emmanuel Macron on the head at the final. On the sight of the noticeable Macron- Kitarović show, a naughty commentator said: “What Russia has joined together”. One could not but chuckle at the prospect of such amusing remark. Goodbye Russia 2018!
Ogunbiyi is of the Lagos State Ministry of Information & Strategy, Alausa Ikeja