An ode to the beautiful game

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By KAZEEM AKINTUNDE

The curtain has finally drawn on Qatar 2022 World Cup with Argentina beating the defending Champion, France, to lift the glittering trophy for the third time in their soccer career. The trophy had birthed in Argentina in 1978, and again in 1986. The tournament also brings to a glorious end, the soccer career of one of the most admired football players of all time, Lionel Messi, who is bidding bye to international football at close to 37 years of age. We are waiting in the wings for Cristiano Ronaldo to also hang his boots at that level for good.

Qatar 2022 has turned out to be the most expensive World Cup tournament so far, with the tiny, oil-rich Middle Eastern country shelling over $200 billion to host the competition. To put that in context, the most expensive World Cup previously were the 2014 tournament in Brazil and the 2018 edition in Russia, which both cost less than $15 billion.

Qatar 2022 has turned out to be the most expensive World Cup tournament so far, with the tiny, oil-rich Middle Eastern country shelling over $200 billion to host the competition.

With a population of a little less than 3 million people, with more than half being indigenes of other countries, Qatar hopes to use the tournament to improve its tourism sector and expand its infrastructural facilities.  Even before the first kick of the round leather object, the Qatari government had spent billions of dollars on infrastructure, such as a new metro system, an international airport, new roads, world-class stadia, and around 100 new hotels and leisure amenities. Much of that investment is part of the Gulf state’s wider public investment project, known as Qatar National Vision 2030, a good example of how to use sports to develop your country.

Here, Nigeria can learn one or two lessons from a nation that is less than Oyo State in size and with a population of fewer than 3 million people. Rich in oil and Gas like Nigeria, the desert country has been turned into a paradise on earth with oil money but Nigeria has continued to deteriorate due largely to corruption and greed on the part of the leaders and the led. I do not intend to bore readers with the sad tale of our underdevelopment in Nigeria as today’s discourse is solely on the game that brings joy to millions all over the World.

The World Cup in the desert that just ended brought joy to millions all over the world with shocking results that left many pundits gasping for breath. Who could have predicted that the Argentina National team would be humiliated by a soccer ‘minor’ nation like Saudi Arabia? Who is the Nostradamus that could have predicted that Cameroon would defeat all-mighty Brazil 1-0 to the shock of many? Many are still reeling from the eventualities that Japan defeated Spain 2-1 and that Morocco, one of the surprise teams of the tournament defeated Spain 3-0 in the round of 16 and Portugal with Ronaldo in the team 1-0 at the quarter-final stage of the competition. The quarter-final match between Brazil and Croatia was about ending by a lone goal in favour of Brazil when Croatia equalized and the resulting penalty kick saw the samba boys bundled out of the competition.

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While the tournament was on, the German National team were more interested in politics than what took them to Qatar and what may likely happen on the field of play when the entire team decided to cover their mouths with their hands in a cynical attempt to disparage FIFA’s stance regarding the ‘OneLove’ armband campaign. The ‘onelove’ armband was designed to show love to Lesbians and Gays, popularly referred to as the LGBTQ in western countries but who were not welcome in Islamic countries due to their queer passion. When the game between them and Japan kicked off, two quick goals within five minutes was enough to demoralize the team and they never recovered until they were sent home after the first round of matches.

England fans were also at the tournament to disparage the Middle East country and its strict laws against alcohol. Despite the provision for the fans that alcohol could be purchased in their hotels and designated points, they were determined to take alcohol into the stadia and many of them succeeded in circumventing the laws of their host. Beers were taken to the stand disguised in soft drinks bottles, some openly. A price list at a fan zone, where alcohol was listed to be served – 50 Qatari rial which is equal to £11.50, or $13.70 was not enough to discourage many of the fans.

If you’re a football supporter who has travelled to Doha at great expense, you will be forgiven for not knowing exactly what to expect, but it was a different ball game as the Qatari made their intention of no alcohol at the stands known before the commencement of the tournament. It’s also symbolic of the fine line Qatar is walking: presenting itself as one of the world’s biggest stages, an outward-facing, welcoming country, while maintaining its cultural, religious and conservative integrity.

Qatari security has to relax some laws in a bid to be seen as a good host. Despite repeated warnings from FIFA’s president that not consuming alcohol for three weeks won’t kill the English fans, they ended up having their way in total disregard for the religious sensibility of their host. Also, many scantily dressed women in Croatian National colours became spectacles during the tournament to the shock of many Qatari indigenes who are not used to such wanton display of female anatomy, but which got many fans drooling.

Asides these, the tournament has also shown that the World is indeed a global village as migration patterns has brought a new dimension to play on the field of football. Out of the 26-man Moroccan National team, 14 of them were born outside the country. The goalkeeper, Yassine Bounou, was born in France. Achraf Hakimi, who also scored the decisive penalty against Spain was born and raised in Madrid, the Spanish capital. More than half of the French National team were born in Africa and it was not surprising when many African Nationals found it difficult to pick a side to support between Morocco and France during the semi-final game.

Breel Embolo who scored for Switzerland against Cameroon found it difficult to celebrate as a mark of respect for the ancestral African country where he was born before his parents emigrated. Despite his love for his parents’ country which made him not to celebrate the goal, some Cameroonians still molested and damaged his parent’s home back in Cameroon. And then there was the interesting case of the Williams brothers playing for different countries at the Mundial. In Qatar, Inaki Williams played for the Black Stars of Ghana where their parents hailed from while the younger brother, Nico Williams, played for Spain, where both were born and raised. There were also some magical moments that spoke to our common humanity. After the match against Brazil, Leonard, the young son of victorious Croatian player, Ivan Perisic, saw Neymar crying and offered a comforting gesture that melted hearts and forced the heartbroken Brazilian player to embrace him.

The football world may also use the Qatar World Cup to bid bye to a number of players that are ripe for retirement from international football. Among which include Messi, Ronaldo, Oliver Giroud, and Pepe. Some others are likely to call it quits from the round leather game, although the oldest player that featured at a FIFA World cup still remains – Essam El-Haddary of Egypt played against Saudi Arabia in 2018 at the age of 45 years, 161 days, 22 years after making his Egypt debut.

Prior to their encounter against Saudi Arabia, the Pharaohs had lost to Uruguay and Egypt in their group games. In the first half, Egypt would have lost to Saudi Arabia if not for El-Hadary’s outstanding save off Fahad Al-Muwallad’s penalty kick, it is doubtful if any of the listed players would still be around to play at the international level at that age.

We have the talent, the will and the resources to pull it off. I wish the Super Eagles success in their future endeavours.

Qatar 2022 has come and gone but the sad reality is that the giant of Africa, Nigeria, was nowhere to be seen in the Mundial as we were knocked out by Ghana at the last stage of the qualifying rounds. The lesson to learn is that we should take our preparations for tournaments more seriously while also giving enough attention to the welfare of our players so that they would deliver on the field of play. The coaching crew should also go for the best players available and not invite just any unworthy player to wear our jersey. Aside from that, Football administrators in the country should hire experienced coaches for our national team, whether local or foreign-based, and they should be given the needed support to succeed.

Football is big business and an instrument that could be used for national development. What the Moroccan National team has been able to achieve for their country being the first African Country to reach the semi-final stage would have cost several billions of dollars in branding and public relations for the country. However, by the power of football, Morocco is now a household name in the global world. Their strength was in the collective, with all the players playing as a team. If stakeholders work together – footballers, administrators, coaches and even fans, we can achieve a lot through the game. We have the talent, the will and the resources to pull it off. I wish the Super Eagles success in their future endeavours.

See you next week.

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