World Cup fever takes over

Mexico’s Hirving Lozano scoring his team’s first goal in the match againt Germany in the World Cup. — Photo: REUTERS

WHAT an interesting week it has been. We’ve had celebrations, upsets, cries of foul play and late drama, not to mention tears of joy and frustrated ambition.

It’s the World Cup, folks!

Actually, what I’ve just said could apply equally to Malaysian politics, couldn’t it? But let’s talk football this week.

This is, after all, the global sporting event that comes round once every four years, generating anticipation, expectation and excitement to the point of bringing everything else to a halt while 32 nations take turns to kick a ball on the pitch with the hope of eventually lifting the World Cup and enjoying all the accolades that come with it.

Of course, it is about more than just kicking the ball and hoping to get it into the back of the net more times than your opponents do.

This is possibly the most prestigious and well-known title in sports, the greatest stage for footballers to strut their stuff, and an occasion all round to enjoy a month-long spectacle of the world’s biggest sport.

Although I have to admit that I was feeling less enthused than usual before this World Cup started.

Perhaps this was due to a combination of being underwhelmed by the preceding Premier League season, the controversy around Russia’s selection as the host nation and the allegations of corruption surrounding football’s governing body FIFA, plus we had other more exciting things happening at home, like GE14 and a new government in place.

But when the opening ceremony came round and the first match kicked off, I found my excitement levels starting to rise after all.

It’s the World Cup and for any fan, once the action starts, other considerations seem to fade into the background.

And the first week has not disappointed so far. In fact, even before the tournament got underway there was the drama of Spain sacking their coach for agreeing to join Real Madrid, which gave an extra edge to their match against Portugal two days later.

That turned out to be a sensational match by all accounts, ending 3-3 after a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick rescued a draw.

I didn’t watch that match live as it was one of the 2am kick-offs – I have not woken up at 2am for any match as yet – but there was plenty of drama and talking points in the other matches that kicked off at the more reasonable times of 8pm and 11pm.

There was Argentina’s biggest star and greatest hope Lionel Messi missing a penalty against Iceland, a ludicrous handball that left Colombia with 10 men against Japan after only three minutes, Harry Kane’s injury-time winner for England against Tunisia.

Okay, I didn’t watch that last one live either but I caught the highlights and what a beautiful header it was. The best match of the first week for me was Mexico beating Germany with a super goal by Hirving Lozano, who looks set to become one of the stars of this World Cup. (No, I had not heard of him before.)

This was the first shock of the tournament, something every World Cup needs for the unpredictability factor.

It was genuinely a surprise to see that the much-fancied Germans, defending champions no less, had no answer to Mexico’s speedy attack and tactics.

As with previous tournaments, I’m supporting England but in a much lower-key way this time because over-hyped expectations in the past resulted only in disappointment.

So, while I’m hoping England will do well (by which, I mean reach the quarter-finals perhaps), I’ll sit back and watch them play without undue expectations of success.

This also means I’ll be able to watch other matches neutrally, appreciate good performances by other teams and say, may the best team win -– which is what the World Cup should be about.

To all football fans, happy viewing and try not to lose too much sleep!

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