Having played football since I was little, it’s been a huge part of my life. Football is not just a game for me, it’s a passion that keeps me up all night watching games and sleeping in the wee hours. So I couldn’t resist adding my bit to this issue that has been consumed by World Cup fever.

Every four years, the entire world, or almost the entire world is focused on one thing, and it seems as if all human beings are alike. Everyone seems to be talking about the same thing. Even people who never watch or talk about football suddenly become experts, discussing games like their life depended on it. Suddenly kids all over are kicking a ball around in little gullies while at other times they only play games on a little screen in the palm of their hands. Neighbors scream “GOAL!” in the middle of the night. Yes, the whole country will be caught up in this strange fever for a whole month. Routines will be disrupted, responsibilities neglected, more beer will be consumed, more TVs sold, friends will spend more time together and in all this madness, sports bars and eateries with live screening will be minting money.

This World Cup will be different for two reasons: people needn’t worry about load shedding and the timing of the games is favorable to people watching in Nepal. The biggest problem with this tournament has always been the struggle to stay awake for the late game and the fact that most people have to go to work the next morning, turns it into a dilemma.  However, it’s no problem for people who work online and have no fixed working hours.

The tournament is lighted up by stars like Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar and this year there was hope of seeing a new star making headlines. Mo Salah has suddenly become a superstar winning several awards along with the Golden Boot at the Premier League with his 34 goals for Liverpool. His Messi-like skills has everyone going crazy about this little Egyptian who only a year ago nobody was talking about. But sadly his injury at the Champions League final against Real Madrid leaves little chance of him taking part in Russia. A shoulder dislocation all but rules him out of the World Cup.

Messi has the advantage, playing for a national team that has won the cup twice. He plays alongside the likes of Aguero, Di Maria, Higuain and Mascherano. It’s a team that always has a chance of going home with the biggest prize in world football and they almost did again in 2014. Ronaldo plays for a country that has never won the cup and has little chance of changing that in 2018. Mo Salah may not play for Egypt, which rarely even qualifies for a place in the final round of32, but he had a big hand in taking his team through to the final rounds.

As we were growing up we weren’t lucky enough to have television, so we read about the great Brazilian teams and only saw pictures of Pele jumping to celebrate a goal. We did however occasionally get to see a documentary of the world cup several years after the event.  Most of what we knew about football came from football magazines we could get hold of. I still remember posters of George Best and Bobbie Charlton or Jimmy Greaves. But the passion for football was there all the time despite the handicap.

Then we started listening to the commentary on a transistor radio. That’s how I heard rather than watched the World Cup final of 1974 between West Germany (yes, Germany was still divided into East and West Germany) and the Netherlands. Even listening was exciting as the game didn’t disappoint. Two minutes after kick off the genius Johan Cruyff went right through the German defense until somebody brought him down inside the penalty box. The other Johan whose second name was Neeskens stepped up coolly and slotted home the penalty. The orange hordes went wild. But Germany also won a penalty and equalized through Paul Breitner. The game was wonderfully balanced making it a great final. There’s a reason why some players are considered great; Gerd Muller (after whom many babies were named) got the ball near the box and was facing away from goal, but in an instant he had swiveled around and pushed the ball beyond the keeper and into the net for Germany’s second goal, which turned out to be the match winner.  Holland had reached the finals and lost by one goal. They were to repeat this feat twice by losing to Argentina in the final four years later in Argentina and once again in 2010 when they lost in the final to Spain with Iniesta scoring the winning goal. I however didn’t get to see this great goal as a crazy fan sitting in front suddenly got up and shouted ‘goal’ even before Iniesta had kicked the ball.

When World Cup 1978 arrived we were still listening to the commentary on a radio as TV was still several years away from coming to Nepal. So when Holland reached the Final once again, we made plans to stay up. The game was to begin a little after 3 am in Argentina and we were prepared to stay awake just to listen to the commentary. A close friend who was another football aficionado invited me to Maan Bhawan for the final. So there we were in Jawalakhel waiting for the game to begin, but my friend was also crazy about running the marathon. When it was approaching 3 am, he suddenly decided he would go for a run and headed off to the Ring Road. In the end I was by myself listening to Mario Kempes scoring two goals, bringing misery to the Dutch players and their orange supporters.

I remember watching videos of World Cup 1982 when Brazil had a fascinating team that included great players like Zico, Socrates, Falcao and Eder. Few people could afford a TV in those days and we had to hire one to watch a video. But it was all worth it. The game everyone remembers is the classic match between Brazil and Italy when Paolo Rossi came back from a three year ban to score a hat trick. The Italians scored and the Brazilians equalized. Then Zico had a penalty stopped. Italy scored a second and Falcao scored an incredible goal to equalize for the second time. But Rossi went on to score the winner, his third goal after which Brazil raided the Italian goal relentlessly but couldn’t put the ball in the net. The best team lost as sometimes happens in football; the Italians went on to win the cup a third time.

It was only from World Cup 1986 that we got to watch on live TV. And what a World Cup it was; the world’s undisputed best player, Diego Maradona, rose to the occasion and scored the best goal we’ve ever seen. He dribbled through seven English players including the keeper to put the ball into the net. He brought the spectators to their feet; it was a euphoric moment! He was to repeat the feat with the Belgians, proving it was no fluke. Thus he also proved he was one of the greatest football players of all time, if not the greatest.

The World Cup brings large groups of people together all eager to watch their favorite teams triumph over other teams. People all over are making plans on where and how to watch the games. There’s great excitement in the air, so we hope this championship does not disappoint. Happy watching!

  1. Even people who never watch or talk about football suddenly become experts, discussing games like their life depended on it.

  2. When World Cup 1978 arrived we were still listening to the commentary on a radio as TV was still several years away from coming to Nepal.