Football is the game of the world. More than 200 countries play this sport and FIFA World Cup is the next biggest sporting event in the world after the olympics. The colors, the music, the chants, the mexican waves, the trumpets, the drums, the swears, the energy, adrenaline, highs lows, tears of joy and sorrow, perfections, imperfections, achievements, failures, tragedies, upsets, triumphs and most of all the passion. All of it come to one field with 2 posts and 22 men battling for it, and each struggling to be that man to kick the ball into the nets and run around cartwheeling.
Greatness in such a sport played by millions is a difficult state to achieve. Yet, some achieve that, and they become inspiring figures for millions who watch the sport with all the heart and soul.
There are moments of sheer greatness of Pele stopping a long pass with his chest and then going into an overhead flip to score a goal, of Roberto Carlos hitting that missile shot with the ball going away from the line of defenders and then shooting back into the goal, or of Ronaldhinio scoring from a free kick, just like Beckham did in the beginning of his career, which propelled him to the heights of stardom.
And then there are those, which leave you questioning if the moment was of greatness or was it of great people being so close to greatness and yet missing it by a whisker. Like the 1986 World Cup quater finals goal which Diego Maradona quite proudly calls the ‘Hand of God’ goal. Of course the 2 countries were out of a major war of the Balkans just then and hence the added sentiment. But I guess he later when on to score another spectacular goal which sort of made up for his part of dishonesty in the first one. Had he confessed then and there, he’d have been at a better rank in the annals of the sport’s history.
There was another moment, the current generation shall not forget for years to come, Zinedine Zindane headbutting Marco Materazzi in the final of the FIFA 2006 World Cup. A moment which is quite clearly etched in my mind and would be in the minds of the many football lovers of mine and the upper generation.
The match was going to be an exciting one, France was having their second shot at the World Cup and Italy of course were having their third and more importantly were coming out of a very bad phase of allegations of corruption in their wing of the sports body. There were here to prove a point. And the French had enough reasons to be motivated to prove a point as well. Zizou certainly was playing his last world cup, Thiery Henry, their other star was close too.
Both teams were going fighting hard, with quite a few hits on target and good saves. A good balance of attack and defense. Suddenly the commentator on the TV went “There’s something that’s going on here, the assistant referee has called in the main referee to look at a matter. Zinedine Zidane is involved in a conflict.” And the channels pulled up the replay of the shot right away and there it was. Zizou walking past Marco Materazzi after a little bit of a hold-and-let-go of the shirt, and he begins to jog and stops, turns around looking at Materazzi walking towards him and bam!, the head slams into Materazzi’s chest and falls the guy on the ground. Moments later, the referee is seen raising a red card at Zinedine Zidane, and by the time your mouth shut trying to absorb what you’ve just seen, the shot of Zizou walking past that golden cup with his head down and pulling off his wrist band and walking down the flight of stairs to his dressing room flashes on the screen. The commentator goes “He leaves football in disgrace!”. Probabaly one of the saddest statements of the past decade of football. And I still get goosebumps everytime I see the footage of that moment.
To see a man who has conducted himself to the best of behaviors on and off the field and let a nation with such poise, and inspired millions with his skill and expertise and most of all humility, walk off the field after an incident termed ‘disgraceful’, at the fag end of his last match ever, on the greatest stage of sports is profound and inexplicable. It still fills me up to see him walk past that cup. And I shall never be able to excuse Marco Materazzi of provoking the great to an extent where he had to lose his cool and resort to an act he knew was unbecoming of him.
I wonder if Marco Materazzi suffers any bit of guilt in having done what he did. In having a hand in the one black spot on an otherwise spotless career. In denying a man of a farewell he deserved so much. In playing a part in adding disgrace to greatness.