Monday 22 July, 2019

The big show comes to a close

By Karyl Walker


That’s it. Curtains.

The 'greatest show on earth' is about to come to an end. Over the last month, the world witnessed a hotly contested competition during which there were no certainties.

While the skill level may not have been at a premium, the level of competition and the guts shown by so called ‘minnows’ made for probably the most exciting World Cup to date.

The world was able to witness all 66 matches in real time and congratulations must be afforded to the host country Russia who managed to, at the time of writing, organize an incident-free tournament. Noticeably absent were the racist chants and hurling of bananas at players of colour – a feature which has been long associated with rowdy right wing crowds at Russian football matches.

The winner will be well deserved as the finalists France and Croatia earned their way there. France put in a scintillating display of football to easily top their group, defeat the much touted but overrated Argentina and came out the victor in a match of wits against the golden generation of Belgian footballers who also staked their claim as one of the world’s best teams.

Croatia on the other hand were made to work all the way to get to the finals. After three 120 minute matches in succession, two of which went to the dreaded penalty kick shootout, the third smallest nation at the World Cup in terms population size, are now in the final and, despite being battle bruised and weary, they must be fancying their chances at lifting the most coveted prize in sports.

The final is set up to be a mouth-watering affair even though historically finals are usually anti-climactic and often turn out to be a game of tactics rather than open football.

Football fans are already in a state of mourning. We all have to wait another four years for this spectacle to once again unfold and put everything else on hold.

One thing that is evident in this tournament is that club football, with all its galaxy of stars, is still no comparison to the World Cup and winning this title is the pinnacle of the sport. To excel at the club level cannot compare with lifting the World Cup.

Most of the big names, Messi, Christian Ronaldo, Neymar Jr, Iniesta, Ramos, Mo Salah and others, will be at home watching. They had no great impact and will have to seek solace in starring for their loaded club teams to regain some sort of self-respect.

Modern football fans however have a lot to be thankful for.

In a few weeks they will at least be able to revert to club football where all the stars will be rolling the leather for their respective clubs.

There were times when the World Cup was only televised live in certain countries and those of us in Jamaica and the Caribbean region would get delayed broadcasts of certain matches. Maybe the final would have been showed live. Perhaps the first World Cup for which Jamaicans got live coverage of most matches was in 1982.

Most of what we learned about World Cup tournaments was either what we read in newspaper reports or listened to on radio. Modern football fans have the luxury of seeing the world’s best players ply their trade week after week in the comfort of their living rooms. Back then we had an hour of football every Saturday. At first it was Big League Soccer, a condensed programme that featured highlights of the English Premier League every Saturday afternoon. Then came Football International. The matches were always delayed.

Older fans had to wait until the next World Cup to get regular international football. This meant Premier League matches (back then it was the Major League), were a must see event and our local footballers, Allan ‘Skill’ Cole, Herbert ‘Dago’ Gordon, Peter ‘Dove’ Marston, Errol Blake, Lenworth ‘Teacher’ Hyde, Junior Groves, Keith and Arthur Lattimore, Anthony ‘Baddaz’ Corbett and others were our heroes.

Back then the level of club football in Jamaica was of a way higher standard that what is being played now. I am convinced that if our football programme had been structured in those days, we would have qualified for the big show long before 1998.

Sadly the world’s most watched sporting event will end on Sunday. Tears have fallen down cheeks, bets have been lost and televisions have been smashed but it was an enjoyable month of football that we are sad to see come to an end.

For me there were few regrets even though the team of my choice, Brazil, did not fare too well. Jamaica we need to be there in Qatar in 2022. It is not beyond us. We must take heart in the performances of Tunisia, Morocco, Iran, Australia and the other ‘lesser’ footballing nations who despite not advancing from the first round showed their mettle and made bigger teams  who they opposed, work hard to eke out wins and draws against them. It is not beyond us.

Thank you football, your powerful force made the world stop and pay attention once again. Sad to see you go.

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