Sunday, December 18, 2022 will be remembered by many of us football enthusiasts, administrators, analysts and pundits, forecasters and prayer warriors for a pretty long time. Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup final match between Argentina and France will be talked about for years and decades to come. It was a world cup final of the gods.
In 2014 when Brazil hosted that year’s tournament I called it the World Cup of the gods. That time was writing In & Out column for the Nigerian Tribune. I called it what I called it because of the spectacular events that happened in Brazil. The Brazil showpiece defied all permutations. Almost everybody who was everybody in the football world in your country, my country, our country and outside it strongly believed that Brazil would win its sixth title primarily because it was hosting the event. Besides, the country had a squad that was expected to lift the diadem no matter what. Moreover, its poster-boy was the irrepressible Neymar, easily the best and most ambitious playmaker at that time.
None could deny this then even though the different qualified countries in Brazil had their galaxies of stars and super-stars and poster-boys. But the impossible happened when Brazil was decimated, destroyed and demolished by 7-1 goal margin by the never-say-never efficient machines from Germany. Surely, surely and surely, the Germany proved to the whole world that its machines were ever efficient and they would never break down. Even the gods of the beautiful game were at their command and beck and call in South America where a European country had never worsted South Americans to win the world cup.
Of course, mightily mighty Brazil happened to have beaten the Europeans in Sweden in 1958 in a scintillating final by three goals to two in a clash with Sweden. I hope my remarkably ever green football memory is not failing me? King Pele the one and only King of Football from Brazil was the sensational wizard of discovery that finished off Sweden. He was barely 17 years old then. No one since that time when leather was leather has matched his record of records. Forget the hype some brats are getting now. But this is a subject for another time and day.
Before Brazil could meet Germany in the semi-final in 2014, Neymar met a very bad injury that ruled him out of the tournament. In the quarter-finals against Columbia the said horrible injury visited him. Where were the gods of Brazil? Where were just gods of the beautiful game? Who invited what Neymar encountered to visit him? Then Brazil was my favourite team but what would not be would not be and did not be.
When the just ended Qatar 2022 was just beginning, a friend and big brother of mine in the diaspora who was a great left-winger in his playing days, and who was eventually into football administration among other things before he left our shores, wanted me to offer my opinions on the outcomes of the series of matches leading up to the final and the eventual likely winners of the diadem. He believed in my opinion and perspective as a sports columnist of many years in the then years when I had a knack for correct outcomes of matches essentially based on my keen analysis and gift of what some persons might call my gift of sixth sense.
My friend and big brother gave me his analysis and names of the likely toppers of the respective groups and the eventual finalists and the winners of the trophy. He gave me the names of the sure soccer guns who would go the whole hog after cancelling out each other. The names included Brazil, Spain, France, England, Argentina whom he gave a slim chance, The Netherlands and Switzerland. In my reply I wanted to know the basis of his analysis and said as follows: ‘’What a thought-provoking exercise! On what is this based? Scientific? Mathematical? Psychological? Spiritual? Mystical? Emotional? Political?’’ His reply? He gave a chuckling answer thus: ‘’All of the above.’’ And I gave him a ‘’Ha! Ha! H!’’ reply in turn.
When Brazil the without doubt best team in the tournament bowed out even in glory, I sent him the following message: ‘’It’s all over. You have lost big time! It’s all over. Wrestle with your failed emotions, big brother.’’ His realistic prediction was that Brazil would beat France in the final. He made a new prediction as follows: ‘’God knows best. I give credit to the Croatian goalkeeper for denying Brazil about three clear goals in regulation time. My loyalty now shifts to France.’’ My reply: ‘’Tite failed Brazil. Wrong substitutions. And Cameroun’s earlier defeat of Brazil buoyed up the spirit of Croatia.’’
Since France lost the final to Argentina he did not give the slightest chance to get to the final I have not had a conversation with him. Of course, I knew that Brazil would not win the World Cup because the gods were not with Brazil. Any time in recent years starting from 1998 everyone expected Brazil to win the World Cup the Selecao always disappointed. We knew how they were roasted in France by France in the 1998 final after what happened to Ronaldo de Lima the Phenomenon, the poster-boy of Brazil. The gods turned their eyes against Ronaldo and Brazil. In South Korea in 2002 Brazil turned the table when even the mighty King Pele thought little of the team. Even in 1994 in the US when Brazil won the World Cup for the fourth time not much was expected from them. But they won the World Cup, which they could not win back to back as almost everyone thought they would. The magic of winning the cup for a record sixth time has not occurred since 2002 in spite of their strong and excellent teams over the years. The gods have refused to smile on them since 2002.
With respect to the Qatar final, I can say with some measure of authority that Portugal was well endowed to get to the final and win the diadem. But Cristiano Ronaldo’s error of descending heavily on his Manchester United coach and the number one club in England just before the World Cup counted against him spiritually speaking. That singular ill-timed attack against his bosses counted much against him. And the media employed it on behalf of the gods to do him in. His Portugal team coach equally committed a grave error by not standing with his captain throughout his horrid times. His error of replacing Ronaldo with a green horn backfired when it really mattered. One swallow does not make a summer. Coach Santos merited his sack by the Portuguese Football Federation. The coach succumbed to external forces and pressure instead of staying one hundred per cent with his captain and national icon.
Portugal would definitely have thrashed France if they had met in the final. But Ronaldo and his team’s ill-luck was Messi and Argentina’s good luck as ordained by football prayer warriors, the ruling world football family, the media and the gods that were bent on doing to France what France did to the Phenomenon and Brazil in 1998 as already intimated. The law of retributive justice never fails.
Now why did Mbappe the wonder-kid not win the player of the tournament instead of Messi? Messi was in the radar of the gods in the final. Mbappe’s heroics and wonder moments that conjured goals for France when everyone thought they were down and out of contention was a tale only the gods can deliver to us. But the real gem of the pain and bitterness for France was the defeat when their joy was rekindled at a time they thought was auspicious for their back-to-back World Cup victory. What a final conducted by the gods! What a moment for under-rated and under-valued Argentina who the gods raised to glorious glory for the sake of Messi used by the gods to vanquish France!
By the way, Messi who said he was playing his last World Cup has eaten his words. He has announced that he is still going to hang around for another World Cup glory. He should bury the thought. One swallow will not make another summer for him. He won’t taste another World Cup glory. Mbappe, the golden boot winner for scoring the tournament’s highest goals of eight is still in the wings. So also are Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo – only if the gods allow it.
• Afejuku can be reached via +2348055213059.