I WAS struck by football fever, literally, when FIFA World Cup 2018 entered its final lap last week.
I developed a bad chesty cough with sore throat and almost lost my voice. This, I suspect, is thanks to the chilly nights out watching the 2am matches on the big screen projector at Restoran Mustaqim in Butterworth.
But, now that the month-long World Cup is over after France beat Croatia 4-2 in the extremely thrilling final on Sunday, a sense of satisfaction prevails.
It was worth the sacrifice and sleepless nights keeping up with the many matches of this prestigious tournament.
I screamed my lungs out at every goal. I bellowed in fury with every mistake. And amid all that, I found oneness with the other football fans at the restaurant; I enjoyed the camaraderie shared by everyone.
World Cup 2018 was a wonderful avenue for us to forget our worries and put aside our differences to enjoy the games.
I was fascinated by three-year-old Habib, who followed his father Shoaib Nor Habib, 26, a Rohingya refugee, to some of the matches, complete in football jersey.
The young fan often echoed the adults and shrieked, “Hah, masuk, masuk!” (Yes, score, score!), “Gol!” (Goal!) and “Haiyah!” (Darn!) during crucial moments.
Many fans also became overnight ‘pundits’ as they praised and condemned the players in their analysis of the matches.
When big teams Germany, Spain, Brazil and Argentina were knocked out in the early rounds, it sent a strong message that nobody is invincible and that the future is hard to predict.
In the France-Croatia showdown, both sides displayed consistency and good teamwork. They did not merely rely on their ‘star’ players.
After Belgium lost to France in the semi-finals, I cheekily told a Belgian fan to start adding French fries to his Belgian waffles for breakfast.
I couldn’t resist adding salt to the injury by saying “Lukamu, lukaku” (Your pain, is my pain) as he was a diehard fan of Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku.
The professional football analysts on TV debated all night but to me, the result ultimately depended on God’s will.
Coaches applied their strategies while players put their heart and soul into winning but only one team can come out on top.
We must accept defeat and also be ready for change when it comes. Old stars will fade away and new ones steal the spotlight.
And who would have thought that the Golden Boot award for being the top scorer of the tournament would go to England captain Harry Kane?
Superstars Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar Jr, expected to fight it out for the Golden Boot, all departed the scene sooner than expected.
So what is not meant to be ours will not be ours and what is not meant to happen will not happen.
A total of 31 teams left the World Cup with broken dreams. As for us Malaysians, do we dare to dream of World Cup glory someday?
Who knows? But what is crucially needed are hard work, willpower and resilience with a ‘never give up’ attitude.
Let us thank God for what we have and stay focussed as we reach for the stars with our feet rooted to the ground.
Malaysia’s dream of jointly hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2034 with Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam may just come true.
Therefore, let us not downgrade our dreams to match our realities but instead, upgrade our faith to match our destiny.
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