Every World Cup I have watched since Espana 82 has left a lasting impression in its own unique way. That year, Paolo Rossi’s hat-trick that helped Italy upset a magical Brazil in a last eight confrontation, is an unforgettable highlight that left my infantile eyes dreary and teary.
Mexico 86 will forever be remembered as Diego Maradona’s World Cup. His Hand of God goal for eventual winners Argentina against England was a sideshow to his brilliant decider in that memorable quarter-final that cemented his position as football deity.
That we had to escape from Namilyango College to watch the event in the late Father Kamulali’s sitting room atop Namilyango hill etched the tourney even closer to the heart. Fast forward to Italia 90 and it is impossible to forget Cameroon’s barnstorming displays, epitomized by Roger Milla’s goals and waist-wriggling celebrations.
Roberto Baggio’s penalty miss in the final is my most vivid memory from USA 94, whereas France 98 is as much associated with Ronaldo da Lima’s epileptic fit on match-day, as Zidane’s headers for the hosts in a one-sided final against Brazil.
Japan/Korea 2002 was Ronaldo’s redemption, as it was his eight goals that propelled Luis Felipe Scolari to their fifth title.
Pencil in Fabio Grosso’s winners for Italy in the semi-final versus Germany and final penalty against France as memories to savour, though others most recall Zinedine Zidane’s head-butting of Marco Materazzi as the most iconic image from Germany 2006. I most recall South Africa 2010 because it filled me with pride as an African. Spain’s triumphant patient tiki taka passing game that propelled them to success is also something to savour. Brazil 2014 has provided even more spellbinding football.
With the tournament reaching the home-straight, we could yet witness even more eye-catching displays. For now though, these are some of the most significant highlights.
Robin van Persie’s picturesque header as Louis van Gaal’s brilliant Dutch side tore apart Spain was the early contender for goal of the tournament.
There was magic in the timing, technical brilliance (he had to take pace out of the cross while lifting the ball over a stranded Iker Casillas), and the landing. You could have thought the goal had been choreographed. That goal has since been surpassed by James Rodgriguez’s belter for Colombia in the round of 16 clash with Uruguay.
The lift from the chest control, venom in the shot and direction (as he wasn’t facing Uruguay keeper Fernando Musilera when he received the ball), is the stuff of dreams. Lionel Messi’s winner for the Pumas against Iran is the second runner-up in my goals of the tourney. The beauty of Brazil 2014 is that we have only been served the starter. Even more sumptuous goals lie in store.
Bridged football divide
World champions Spain’s early exit, coupled with ghastly displays from former winners Italy and England only took attention away from the romantic stories of the World Cup. Brazil 2014 is a tournament in which the so-called heavyweights are unrecognizable from the football also-rans.
Jorge Luis Pinto’s Costa Rica is, for example, playing the most tactically astute football while no team has come close to Jose Pekerman’s Colombia for soccer aesthetics.
Many of the teams in the last eight, including Louis van Gaal’s Holland have thrived on counter-attacking football, whereas the Colombians seek to dominate opponents from the go. Admittedly, several sides have used the flexibility of the 3-5-2 formation to cream off opponents, and it is Pinto’s men who are executing it best.
While the performance of Africa’s representatives was an improvement on the abysmal displays in South Africa, you can’t help but wonder what could have been if we hadn’t displayed our customary propensity to self-destruct.
Algeria were the best performing African side because they were the most organized. There were no off-the-field encumbrances to hinder the Desert Foxes who impressed with their never-die attitude and slick football.
Otherwise, Cameroon, Nigeria and Ghana were bedeviled by 19th century squabbling over allowances and diabolic player behavior. The physical altercation between Benoit Assou Ekotto and Moukadju is a stain that should never be allowed to blot the continent’s copybook again.
However, I was particularly taken aback by the gutter conduct of Kevin Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari as it shifted away the focus from the Black Stars’ do or die clash with Portugal. Only Luis Alberto Suarez’s inexplicable attraction to edible human flesh surpasses such unacceptable conduct.