Flaming Soccer BallAs I write this post the countdown timer on the official FIFA World Cup website gets closer to 000 00:00:00 by the second. The big day is soon to come – Germany 2006.

The earliest football World Cup that I can recall is Mexico 1986. But the memory is limited to a solitary name – Diego Maradona. The fever was physically and emotionally felt four years later in 1990. “A disappointing FIFA World Cup with too much dull defensive football and matches won on penalty kicks,” describes the World Cup website. But to me, with the official logo and mascot painstakingly painted on my schoolbag, newspaper and magazine clippings (Sportsworld used to be a favourite against the duller, stats heavy and designically challenged Sportstar) it was anything but dull.

I yelled for Italy but also expected to see some of Maradona’s marathon runs into the goal post, but injuries and the extra focus of the defenders owing to his 1986 exploits played spoilsport. But then there was Cameroon and Roger Milla, who thanks to the President of Cameroon came out of retirement to play two more world cups. Another attraction was the Colombian captain – the wild haired Carlos Valderrama. Though the Latin Americans play more flamboyant football, my support oscillates around the four European teams – Germany, Italy, Holland and France but when it comes to being a fan of the fans, I’m go crazy over the football crazyLatinas. The finals were a damper – though Germany who took over as my favourite as soon as the Italians were booted out by the Argentine goalkeeper Sergio Goycochea’s two saves in the penalty shootout. But Goycochea’s hands couldn’t stop Lothar Matthaus from lifting the cup.

By USA 1994, I was a house captain in school and ensured that all my house mates (and the rest of the school) took active participation in the greatest individual sport spectacle. Quizzes, contests, games, write-ups, posters, photographs created a football frenzy. The pre-Ekta Kapoor generation girls were active sport-buffs who often beat us boys – sometimes physically – in those contests. Maradona exited early to embark upon a long career in drugs and weight accumulation, Colombian Andres Escobar paid with his life for a self-goal, Russian Oleg Salenko scored five goals in a single match and Roberto Baggio – after all the wonders to take his team into the finals – sent the ball high in the sky in the penalty shootout to let the Brazilians pocket yet another cup.

1998 – I missed the finals, but saw the fluttering of the Croatian flag, the chequered centre proudly displayed on the sides of their jerseys. Davor Suker and fellow Croats came third. The balding Zinedine Zidane made good use of his head and sent the ball twice into the Brazilian goalpost. The mighty Brazilians went down 3-0 and the hosts France lifted their first cup of life^. I was travelling on July 12, 1998. The next morning as the train entered Bengal, I tried to extract some information from the people in the stations and the vendors on the train about the last night’s match. I got no answers – everyone avoided the question. The defeat probably shocked Brazil backing Bengalis to temporary dumbness, reminiscent of the ‘Maracanazo’ match in 1950, where Uruguay beat Brazil 2-1 in the finals and the Brazilian media refused to accept that Brazil had lost, players went into retirement, delirious fans voluntarily kicked the bucket and the team uniform was changed – the existing one was believed to be jinxed.

With telecast rights problems in India, local cable operators in Shillong judiciously switched to the Indonesian channels. While the commentary was in English, the ads were mostly Bhasha Indonesia. The most popular one – probably of a bubble gum (I don’t exactly recollect) said, “Yang penting rasanya bung.” Couldn’t comprehend what it meant, but it was catchy. An online translator generates the English equivalent – “That important it seems Bung.” Still doesn’t make much sense. Can someone help?

2002 in Korea and Japan was a monochrome world cup for me. Away from home on pretensions of higher studies, my window to the greens of the Far East was a 14 inch black and white television – that too not my own, a generous senior had left it for us to savour the wonders of 22 pairs of feet, two pairs of hands and 440 grams of air filled leather. Watching the biggies getting eliminated in the first round gave sadistic pleasure and seeing South Korea reaching the semis – a high. The Turks came in third. But when the Deutsche clashed with the Samba brigade for the first time in the history of the tournament, the Australians of the footballing world (that is practically the whole of it) reigned for the fifth time. As a cricket lover I don’t want the Australians to win another World Cup in the near future, similarly the football fan in me (Only international football, no club affairs. The player loyalty is amiss. It’s too money minded for my comfort) wants the Rolandos, Ronaldinhos, Robertos, Rogerios, Ricardinhos, Robinhos and all the other beginning-with-R-and-ending-with-Os to wait for a few more cups for their sixth sip.

I tried this for the last three world cups, with total success. I go up to a guy, talk about the weather and then ask him if he had watched the last night’s match between Holland and the Netherlands, where the Dutch referee’s partiality was evident? The answer unfailingly till date has been in the affirmative.

^Listen to the song: La Copa De La Vida
Image courtesy: Wikimedia

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