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The soccer mania sans borders
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One more football season has come to a close, marking the countdown to World Cup 2022. If the Latin American Copa America and Europe's very own Euro Cup are harbingers to the World Cup to be held in Qatar, one can conclude that the Covid pandemic hasn't brought down the football fever at all. In Euro 2020, England's dreams of over half a century have been shattered by Italy with a thrilling finish at the Wembley stadium in the UK. In Latin America, in what can only be called a nail-biting finale, Brazil faced defeat in its home ground against Argentina. Styles of soccer may differ between Europe and Latin America. However well the European teams might play, they will not be able to bring out that emotion amongst its fans that Brazil and Argentina inspire. But continents cannot restrict the love for this game. In Asia and Africa, football excitement builds up to a frenzy. Cricket, which is gradually tilting more to its commercial element, or tennis which still has remains of its aristocratic past do not have such a fan-following. It is from football stadiums and their players that strong voices have emerged against racism, and colonial and corporate politics. However, Copa America and Euro cup are only the run-ups to the World Cup.

The ones who lose also emerge victorious in sports. Even in Kerala, far-off from the scene of action in Rio, there is no point in presuming that there is a great wall between Argentina which won by a lone goal and Brazil that lost. From best player to most number of goals, Lionel Messi and his team have won several accolades. But winning Argentina the Latin American cup after 28 long years, might still be the largest cause of happiness for Messi. Though Neymar's Brazil was beaten, they were not second anywhere in either skill or grace of the game. Considering the tactics, strategy, striking power or defence, no team is destined for defeat. In the Brazil-Argentina match, the team spirit of the two teams, and the performance and leadership of the two captains were remarkable. Maybe, Argentine coach Scaloni's fielding of Angel Di Maria in the initial line-up came as a surprise to Brazil; it was, after all, Di Maria who scored the decisive goal for the team. The goalkeeper Martinez was also one of the team's key strengths. The Brazilian team, however, fought till the last minute and remained faithful to their national sport. Perhaps the most beautiful moment of the finals would be the one right after the whistle when Argentina Captain Messi hugged and consoled Brazil's Neymar, who is both his friend and teammate in FC Barcelona. This is also a message to the viewers across the globe: in the end it is not a team that wins, but the sport itself.

The world also sees the challenges the pandemic poses to sports. Any sporting event - football particularly- cannot do without people watching it. The game becomes a game only when the cheers from the spectators in the gallery reach the players' ears down in the pitch. However, Brazil's Maracana Stadium where the COPA America was held, did not have this. One cannot say this affected the enthusiasm of the players. However, the viewers were actively part of the galleries in Europe during the Euro Cup. This year's Olympics in Japan will also be held without a physical presence of spectators. It is too early to say whether things will be back to normal by the time of the Football World Cup in Qatar next year. One could argue that it is not in these stadiums but on the television screens and mobile apps across the world that most of the fans are. The viewers are never restricted to the stadium's galleries as technology has made sports reach people everywhere. Still, it can be said that despite the precision and details offered by virtual viewing, the enthusiasm and spirit of watching a game live cannot be derived from a screen. When the cheers that should be ringing from right next to you have retreated to the online spaces, will this not affect the dynamism of sports? How long will we keep losing to COVID?

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