The Mojitos were flowing, as gorgeous ladies danced and sang along with a lively band.
I was in Budapest when the crucial England vs Colombia match was on. My daughter and I were exploring the areas around our hotel, looking for a fun bar from where to enjoy the match. Both of us are pretty football-ignorant. But despite that handicap, we cheer at each match we watch most enthusiastically —- depending on the looks of players on the field, our main criterion for supporting the team. This time our hearts were given to Harry Kane. We spoke about “Harry” as if he is our best friend. There was familiarity and fondness in our respective tones as we watched “our” Harry go for that dramatic penalty kick. When he scored, we got to our feet and shouted lustily. The really first-rate Hungarian Rose we were drinking was doing its job, allowing us to cheer as a minority of two in a very crowded bar. Folks at adjoining tables stared and glared. Even the serving staff looked disapprovingly in our direction. We found another bar. It was a British-style pub, filled with British tourists. They had just ordered a fresh round of beers. The mood was splendid and upbeat. All was going well ... till Colombia equalised. Doom and gloom descended on the gathering, and the beers suddenly turned flat. We moved on to the next drinking hole —— this one was Cuban with a twist. The Mojitos were flowing, as gorgeous ladies danced and sang along with a lively band.
We ordered spicy chicken wings, and more wine just as the shoot-out started. Our Harry looked tense and intense —— he looked amazingly hot. We held our breath —- and he scored! We congratulated ourselves and decided we had brought him luck. I touched my Om pendant, Om ring and prayed fervently to Ganpati Bappa. Of course, he answered my prayers. England was in!
This is the magic of the “beautiful game”. For that one month, every four years, the world gets involved in the lives and fortunes of strangers —- those demons on the field. Football fanatics —- mostly men —- watch their footwork. Women like myself watch their hairstyles. This time, their hairstyles have won more eyeballs than the goals scored. It made me think had some of them (Neymar and Cristiano) spent more time on the game and less at the salon, their countries would have made it further than the ignominious early exits they suffered. A bad hair day can clearly cost you a match. Now that the finals are upon us, there is just one thing to do —- pray for the team you love. My football-pagal husband has his favourites, I have mine. My earlier “predictions” were so bogus and so off, I am not saying a word this time. I had merrily stated my money was on Iceland only because I loved the fact their goalkeeper was a former filmmaker. Then I shifted allegiance to Croatia, because I had enjoyed a super fabulous holiday sailing through Croatian waters last year. I had liked the country and its people. That was enough. And look at what the Croatian team achieved, beating Russia on home turf! My emotions were heavily invested in the Brazilian team —- what with the samba moves and that star footballer dancing with the ball on the field. Not to forget Maradona’s antics from the stands. This was pure theatre... but the interval and end came a bit too soon. Besides, Brazil has always been my husband’s favourite team, and his crestfallen expression when Brazil lost affected me. I needed more Rose to recover.
As you read this, I will be in Moscow at what promises to be an electrifying final. The semis were stunning! I was rooting for the Three Lions. The England team was staying at the same hotel, and I had turned into a shameless stalker. Locals were all for the Croats. When they won, more vodka was drunk than the Volga in spate!
As of now, on the eve of the finals, my husband is in a state of heightened awareness and bliss. I am enthusiastic enough, but have yet to turn manic. That may happen, if I switch from wine to vodka. Both of us figured this was our “now or never” chance to attend a World Cup final (semis, too). It is, of course, no longer a World Cup final. More like a Euro Cup. So what? Besides, who wants to wait for Qatar 2020? As my beautiful Russian friend commented smugly while strolling through the historic Red Square: “ Qatar? No alcohol, no partying, hot weather! No fun for fans.” This is going to be it, for us! So, regardless of who wins, who loses, we will be right there, cheering and weeping, our hearts thumping and our spirits soaring with each kick and pass.
What started in Budapest (my overnight interest in football), will end on Sunday night. But for the past 15 days, it has generated more excitement and uncertainty in my head and heart than any cricket match ever did.
Football is a seriously sexy game, even for those of us who know very little about its technical aspects.
As for those bizarre hairstyles —- hey, it’s really okay, Ronaldo. You have more babies to make, and better worlds to conquer. Football is fine, but endorsements are better.