After the referee’s long whistle in the Maracanã brings the curtain down on the World Cup in Brazil, either Berlin or Buenos Aires will erupt in frenzied celebrations. Yet the legacy of the 2014 World Cup should not be viewed through the prism of triumph or disaster. This is because this edition of the globe’s premier footballing event will be remembered for its surreal goings-on. While spectators cheered their favourite teams inside the stadiums, the police battled protesters demanding the equitable sharing of national wealth in Brazil’s favelas. An Uruguayan player bit an Italian opponent, earning a suspension for his troubles. The host nation, the proud torch-bearers of the jogo bonito or Beautiful Game, put up one of its ugliest performances against its European opponent. More goals were scored this year — nearly three per match — than in 2010; there were fewer cautions and expulsions compared to the ones in South Africa. Yet, several important matches — including a semi-final and quarter-final — dragged on to the penalties. Finally, even though four top teams marched on to the semi-finals, several minnows — Colombia, Chile and Costa Rica — progressed beyond the group stages.
Some aspects of the tournament merit closer scrutiny because they have an important bearing on sports and society. The fact that there are misgivings about the quality of football played in this World Cup — the high-scoring games notwithstanding — proves that the doctrine of judging the standard of a match solely on the basis of the number of goals scored is flawed. What makes a football match memorable? Not just goals, but also other aspects such as accurate passing, ball possession and distribution, skilful defending and intelligent tactical manoeuvres.The globalization of football has resulted in an institutional emphasis on goals in a bid to make the game attractive and thus lucrative. This has denied the modern football-fan an opportunity to appreciate the finer qualities of the game.
But football has benefited from globalization in certain aspects. The resilience demonstrated by the smaller Latin American nations while battling their illustrious opponents can be attributed to the fact that many footballers from these countries now play in some of the most competitive leagues around the world. The dismal performance of the Asian teams, and the near-absence of players from this continent in the major leagues, should be treated with some concern.
From tomorrow, the World Cup will be consigned to the pages of history. Yet, heated discussions concerning the tournament, the competing nations and the players will continue in all corners of the globe, till the next chapter begins in Russia. The world may have become a global village. But in football, the nation still reigns supreme.