I am not a football fanatic. I know very little about the beautiful game. But that doesn’t mean I am indifferent to the excitement that has overtaken global fans during the FIFA World Cup. After watching the live telecast of Lionel Messi messing up that penalty kick and inviting universal scorn, I have started taking more of an interest. I was with a small group of footie aficionados in Goa the night of the Messi mishap. These were serious devotees of the game, not lightweight admirers. Before the dramatic moment, the men had momentarily stopped breathing. Their whiskey tumblers, half filled with a precious 25-year old single malt, were suspended midway to their open mouths. Every fibre of their beings seemed to be focused on that one man and the kick he was about to take. The nervous energy was getting to me! Boom! There went the kick! And, phutttt! Here came the anti-climax! Silence. Nobody spoke. The expressions of the three men registered deep shock, incredulity and disbelief. The god had failed.
It was only later that I thought of the heroic save and the man behind it. No matter how it goes for that amazing team from Iceland from this point on, Hannes Halldórsson has found a place in the exciting, uncertain history of the World Cup. And that, I guess, is why millions of sports lovers follow the game and are ready to give up their sleep, and more, for their favourite teams and players. Watching that defining penalty kick as it happened, was like observing a larger-than-life idol collapse into a heap of dust within seconds. But, simultaneously, it was also being lucky enough to witness the birth of a hero—the goalkeeper. He later admitted he had scrupulously studied Messi’s psychology and, in a way, anticipated the direction of that crucial kick. Hannes won a massive overnight fan following for that save. But, for many of us, the fact that he is a former filmmaker, added to his mystique. In fact, the composition of the entire team from Iceland is so fascinating. It makes you think that if a country of under four lakh citizens can produce world-class athletes, what is our excuse in India?
I recall my own encounter with two legendary World Cup heroes years ago. It was a fun encounter which took place in Monaco, the day before the grand prix. We were on a friend’s luxury yacht and moored next to us was another luxury yacht that was hosting a lively deck party. We were shamelessly ogling, as very fashionable celebrities arrived to sip champagne with the hosts and party the night away. Suddenly, someone spotted Brazilian players Ronaldo and Ronaldinho and everybody gasped! “We want to meet the superstars,” we declared. The captain of our yacht looked visibly embarrassed and pointed to the security on the pier. “There’s no way anybody can get past those bodyguards,” he said. Just then, a mini-miracle took place! The captain from the party-yacht asked our captain whether we had a case of champagne to spare—they had run out. Aha! Just the chance we needed to gate-crash the Ronaldo-Ronaldinho party. We offered to take the magnums over personally. Yup, we were that eager. A deal was struck. We could go across, but on the condition that we would not stay more than five minutes! We agreed cheerfully, grabbed our mobile phones, and clambered on board like school kids experiencing the ultimate fan moment! When we said we were from India, there was much cheer and bonhomie. The evening ended brilliantly! We got our pictures. We got our autographs. And temporarily, I, too, caught the football fever!
Hmmmm. I seem to have caught a fresh infection now. Maybe I should head to Moscow, armed with bottles of the finest champagne, and wait for Cristiano Ronaldo to run out of it!