Will the shining stars guide their nations to glory?
The World Cup has been replete with instances of the unexpected turnarounds
New Delhi: There’s no question that football is a team sport, particularly when it comes to the biggest stage of them all, the World Cup. Yet, over the years great footballers have managed to establish a special connect with the crowds, charming them as much with their skills as with their persona.
In 1958, a young striker named Pele, just 17 years old, scored a brace against Sweden in the finals that led to the first world cup triumph for Brazil. The Black Pearl’s record of being the youngest ever to score a goal in a world cup final still holds after 60 years.
Northern Ireland goalkeeper Harry Greg was voted the best goal keeper in the 1958 World Cup, notwithstanding the fact that his country was knocked out in the quarter-finals. It was the first and the last such instance when a member of quarter-finalist team was judged the best in any category.
The World Cup has been replete with instances of the unexpected turnarounds.
In 1982, Italian striker Paolo Rossi came back after serving a ban as a consequence of being implicated in a betting scandal, to win the Golden Ball and Golden Boot award, as Italians went on to become the champions for the third time under the leadership of Dino Zoff.
Croatian striker Davor Suker surprised the world in 1998 by winning the silver ball and helped his country reach its first ever semi-finals where they lost to eventual champions France.
Often though, the stars have made the headlines for all the wrong reasons. For instance, a young Diego Maradona lost his temper and was sent off as he retaliated off-the-ball after being fouled continuously by the Brazilians in 1982. English footballer David Beckham lost his temper and kicked Argentina’s Diego Simeone in the quarter-finals of 1998.
Consequently, he was sent off and England lost to Argentina. In this list, the honour belongs to Zidane whose momentary loss of control in the 2006 World Cup finals versus France will go down in history as the costliest of all such misdemeanours.
In this year’s edition there are players who will bid adieu to the game after the tournament or won’t be playing the next edition due to advancing age.
One half of the planet’s population will be praying for them to raise the golden trophy for one last time or for the first time in their career.
Two of the brightest stars in the football universe—Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo—will probably play another World Cup each but even if they represent their countries in the next edition both will be well past their prime. Neither has a World Cup to boast off and will surely give it everything.
The evergreen Spanish midfield maestro Andres Iniesta will bid farewell to the world of football after the tournament. Spanish hearts will yearn for another world triumph as a perfect farewell for Spain’s most decorated son.
After a long time, probably after the heyday of Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, Brazilians will place all their hopes on one star, Neymar, to bring the cup back to the South American nation. He will be surrounded by plenty of talent like Philippe Coutinho, Gabriel Jesus, Casemiro as they try and bury the ghost of their ignominious defeat against Germany in the last edition of the cup.
The French outfit this year boasts of gems like Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann—two players who can turn the game on its head at any given time. The present bunch is probably the finest after the golden generation of Zidane, Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry and Claude Makelele.
Belgium is probably the dark horse of this edition riding as it does on the shoulders of such gifted players as Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne.
While talking about individuals who are tipped to make an impact, let’s not forget the reigning champions Germany. Their goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is probably the best in the business though Germany is probably the only team which is not reliant on any single individual, the secret of Joachim Low’s (German manager) sustained success.
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