Win and loss always evoke emotions. Loss does it more, especially when it is in a sport. As they say, sport is great leveler. It is the win and loss which levels your emotions. The excitement and euphoria of a win is replaced by somberness brought about by a loss. Extremes at times, but bringing us to a plane that’s more realistic.
As if telling us that it’s a life after all. Explaining the philosophy that every life is marked by death, eventually. A birth somewhere is marked by death somewhere else. Said in the adage, “One man’s sorrow is another man’s happiness.” Gender activists may find some problem with the use of word man, but that’s about it. It’s been a man’s world so far, and women have got less mentions (read: credit) at any point.
Yours truly has always believed that emotion is what makes sport worth everything. Take out emotion from sport and all you have is mere details. Bigger the event, bigger the baggage of emotions… Emotions attached with team; Emotions attached with nostalgia; Emotions brewing out of your own past.
When Spain played Italy in the final of Euro 2012, it was only natural that emotions would run high. There was a team that had captured world’s imagination by reinventing ‘the beautiful game’ way back in the last edition – four years ago – when those who were said to be playing the real beautiful game (the South Americans), were almost abandoning it, going for more of power game played by the Europeans. Yes, it is about Spain, which has brought back the artistic, playful and smooth brand of football back in fashion. The team that apparently does not need a striker, for it believes that scoring is just a small incident in the broader spectrum of the game. It is about playing it, providing entertainment to the people, and enjoying the process. It is not merely about reaching the destination, but finding pleasure in the journey itself.
And yet there was another team, just trying to overcome the biggest scandal that could be inflicted on a sport. That of match fixing. No other scam hurts sport fans like that of match fixing. It makes them feel as if the world is not real, as if the stars they celebrated and worshipped are not real. It demonizes players and creates monsters out of them. Makes the fans feel that these are a bunch of money-greedy non-humans. Yes, Italy was trying to come out of the shadow of the same scandal back home. This is one team historically criticized to the core, for being ultra defensive. There is a saying that a striker is a waste for Italy, for even striker has to be a part of its defense strategy.
Both the teams reaching the finals were breaking barriers, or at least trying to. Spain, trying to break the barrier of being the first team to defend the title successfully. While for Italians, it was to shed the tag of being ultra defensive and proving the world that there is more to Italian football than match fixing scandals.
Spanish teams have been good in the past too. But they were considered rank underachievers. This scribe was a fan of Raul, who was playing his third WC at an age of 25, in 2002. What Raul did for Real Madrid does not need mention here, for Wikipedia would have pages filled with it. For me, the Spanish team was always Raul’s team. Played wonderful football but never crossed that threshold of becoming great. But since achieving glory in Europe 2008, the team learnt what greatness was and has never shed that tag since. A World Champion title followed in 2010, when football’s greatest spectacle went to South Africa.
Yours truly has never been a fan of Italian football, or the defensive tactics they adopted. Having watched football seriously since the Italia 90 – when yours truly remembered every member of the Italian squad, despite not wanting them to take the Cup – Italy was not the team he would have predicted for the final in 2012. Despite that, this team showed energy – before the final – like no other Italian side ever did. In the semi-finals where it beat the title favorites Germany, Italy was a team possessed. Yours truly has never seen an Italian team relying on its forward so much. Italian sides were never known to create as many attacks, forget counter attacks, that too after going two-nil up. This was a team that had every right to be in the final.
But then, as said earlier, sports is as much about nostalgia as it is about skills.
And nostalgia it is when Italians being outperformed in the final of Euro 2012 reminded yours truly of the World Cup final in 1994. Like then, Spanish team outperformed Italy in all aspects of the game. Then it was Brazil. But then there was a difference too. Brazil, led by the mercurial Romario, was not able to score. The match was taken to the tie-breakers, shaming football itself. It was brought about by Team Italia, who had one of the best in the world, Roberto Baggio, among themselves. It was a shame that a team having Baggio in its ranks had rest 10 defending only. However, when the match was pushed to the tie-breakers – despite supporting the team from South America, yours truly wanted Baggio to score. It should be noted here that this scribe had placed a bet on Brazil lifting the Cup, with his friend. When the ‘Divine Ponytail’ hit it over the bars, I was flabbergasted, as if I had lost a fortune. I wanted Brazil to win, but Baggio to score too. Had told my friend then, “Man, football has been defeated.” I tried to refuse the money, but he insisted that I had won.
Unlike then, the Spanish win has more. It was achieved in regular time, and the opponents were comprehensively beaten, and it was the first time defending champions won the title. But Italians, led by ever reliant Gianluigi Buffon and his comrade-in-arms Andrea Pirlo, have done what Spain could not do. They played a brand of football – at least in the semis – that they were unaccustomed to, and came out victorious.
And that’s why the beautiful game – called football – has been a winner this time, along with Spain.
That’s perhaps the reason why Bill Shankley had said, “Football is not a matter of life and death. It is much more than that.”