” I go about the world, hand out-stretched, and in the stadium I plead : ‘ A pretty move, for the love of God.’ And when good football happens, I give thanks for the miracle and I don’t give a damn which team or country performs it.” – Eduardo Galeano.
Watching as a neutral spectator, this is exactly what I was rooting for at the start of the Euro finals between Portugal and France. Two teams with contrasting fortunes. France has tasted success in the past whereas Portugal has managed to be a stiff competitor at best. The former has always been counted among the best in the world whereas the latter has been largely touted, unfairly perhaps, as a team of solo players. The match stayed true to a few of these assumptions but challenged most of them and interestingly enough, created new images for both the teams. Football also showed signs of getting perceived in a language of less aggression, moderate physicality and more innocuous yearning for those ” magical moments”.
Maybe the last observation is because it is coming from a neutral spectator. True fans of both the teams were arguably brimming with energy and passion almost reminiscent of a war like situation. Sitting in front of their television sets must have metaphorically transformed these ardent supporters into gladiators baying for the enemy’s blood. A victory after all is increasingly getting associated with macabre terminologies like “brutal”, ” demolish”, ” rape” and “killing” the opposition team. A hard won victory sans the element of hatred and contemptuousness for the opposition sounds no more as a “cool” victory. The demolishing of the other team comes with the wiping out of the “magical moments” of the rival team. Victory looks something worth cherishing with a bigger final score sheet. France pretty much symbolised many of the attributes of this domineering logic. However, the game panned out to be worth remembering from a neutrals point of view.
No goals in both the half’s seems grossly boring right at the outset. At the same time, it brought out many memorable scenes. France dominated the game for a large part and the Portugal side were content with keeping the balance of the their formation and looked to catch France on the counter attack. It was a game that saw the emergence of new stars, a less dirty game in terms of tackles and foul plays and moments of pain and agony on a big stage like this one. Ronaldo’s injury in the early part must have been a severe jolt for the Portugal fans. For many, a Portugal side minus Ronaldo was merely a mediocre side. The tears rolling down his cheek spoke a thousand words of his commitment and love for the game. The scenes where the offender, Payet sought to console him seconds later along with a small, similar sort of a gesture by the French coach while Ronaldo was being taken out on a stretcher, all looked to defy the stereotypical image of football being a nasty, brutish game. Orwell’s description of sports as war minus the shooting never surfaced on this neutral mind as it was all about playing to one’s strength sans a feeling of ‘destroying’ the rival team.
For a neutral, it was an opportunity to appreciate the skills and the talent of the lesser known players. Be it the goal scoring hero Eder, the 18 year old sensation Renato Sanches twisting and swirling away from the defenders or Jao Mario who put in a remarkable work rate, the team was a delight to watch. The same can be said about France which saw their usual big guns failing to respond and the new emerging players stamping their authority on the game. Giroud, Pogba and Payet all lacked the extra bit of brilliance on the day. It was a relatively lesser known Sissoko who with his charging runs in the penalty box caught the attention of this neutral. Another player who held the defensive shape of the team to its best was Matuidi. The quick one-two-ones, the beautifully guided long balls, perfectly timed tackles were all there in abundance for 90 minutes in a game that craves for goals. All of these were magical moments in a match that looks amazingly boring by its final score sheet . Also, an unsolicited respect was very much prevalent on the part of both the teams for the manner in which the game was progressing.
It might not have been the most amazing final ever to have happened but it surely gave us much more. Does it mean that a hardcore fan lost out on these minor moments of magic, especially of the opposition team? Can that be even thought of when victory is hands down the ultimate aim after 90 minutes? Or is there a possibility of a fan of the French team to acknowledge the beauty with which Portugal played even when his team was arguably the better competitor?
Maybe everything of this doesn’t only apply for a neutral fan and might well be a feeling of all true football lovers. As David Goldblat, author of the famous book The ball is round, states emphatically that the game is the biggest cultural practise across the globe that binds all the lovers of the game together. Surely, its more than that one goal.
Suraj Kumar Thube is currently pursuing his MA in Political Science from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He is interested in Indian politics and Indian political thought. He spends most of his time reading books, playing football and listening to Hindustani classical music.