EVERYTHING has a beginning and an ending — after all, every bird that flies has to land at some point, every plane in the sky has to touch down and every human being, just like all the animals, has to die one day.
On Sunday, at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, the curtain finally came down on a 2018 FIFA World Cup show that held the globe spellbound with both drama and quality and produced remarkable sights and electrifying sounds fit for such a grand sporting spectacle.
Half-a-dozen goals in the final — an own goal, a comic goal, a first World Cup final penalty via television replay and a goal by a teenage wonderboy for the first time since the immortal Pele did it 60 years ago.
Once again there were tears for a diminutive number 10 who, just like another one four years ago, won the Golden Ball despite having ending on the losing side in the final.
And where Lionel Messi had stood alone, in the mist of his nation’s shattered dreams in Brazil, holding the little trophy handed to the best player of the tournament, now we had the magical Luka Modric in Moscow.
Once again there was ecstasy for a boy wonder, wearing the iconic number 10 on the back of his jersey, whose goal in the final had helped his country complete its transformation into World Champions.
And where Pele had been cast as a hero by his teammates, amid the tears of innocence in Stockholm in 1958 after his starring role in the final, on Sunday Kylian Mbappé stood tall and proud as the hero of his French nation in Moscow.
Everywhere one looked on Sunday, the remnants of Brazil’s triumph in the Swedish sunshine in 1958 featured in almost every corner of the Luzhniki.
Sixty years ago in Stockholm, the first sons of African immigrants — whose families had been translocated across the Atlantic by the collective brutality and inhumanity of the Slave Trade — transformed themselves into national heroes after helping Brazil win the World Cup for the first time.
And 60 years later in Moscow on Sunday, the latest generation of sons of African immigrants — whose families had arrived on the shores of Europe as immigrants in the hope of building a better life for them — transformed themselves into national heroes after helping France win the World Cup for the second time in its history.
Brazil’s triumph in 1958 came at a time the world was just starting to free itself from the madness inflicted by the murderous Nazi crusade, with Russia having played a very big role in ending Hitler’s attempts to conquer the globe and poison it with his racist Nazi doctrine.
France’s triumph in Russia on Sunday came at a time the world has been battling to free itself from the madness of an explosion of the very far right anti-immigrant politics that gave rise to Hitler.
Pele and his fellow black Brazilian footballers’ World Cup success in 1958 came 22 years after Hitler had refused to honour a black American sprinter, Jesse Owens, for winning four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.
And, where Hitler had snubbed an ace African American sprinter at the 1936 Olympic Games, on the basis of his skin colour, we now had the beautiful President of Croatia, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, hugging every player, including the triumphant black Frenchmen, in the Moscow’s driving rain on Sunday in a great show of sportsmanship.
Surely, if you ever doubted the lyrics in that powerful song that “God is watching us (and talking to us) from a distance” using sport to convey His message of the power of peace in this world — and reminding us of the beauty of our land when we come together to compete against each other instead of war — then the World Cup provides you with the answer.
MY WORLD CUP STAR, OF
COURSE, WAS PETER DRURY
Everyone will have his lasting impressions from this World Cup that delivered on every front — one by one the traditional giants fell by the wayside and a number of lightweights punched above their weight.
Croatia, a country of just 4 million people, the second smallest nation to feature in the World Cup final after Uruguay, which had just 1,7 million people when it played in the 1930 World Cup final, went all the way to the decider in what was a remarkable achievement.
Messi and Ronaldo both missed penalties, Messi and Ronaldo scored two of the best goals of the tournament, VAR came and became a success story and England, at long last, found a way to win a penalty shootout at a World Cup.
But, for me, the star of the show was British football commentator Peter Drury
In Kenya, some women were even asking him to marry them with one pregnant woman pleading with him to come and commentate while she gave birth.
Over the course of this adventure in this job, I have seen quite a lot in more than a quarter-of-a-century and made as many friends as enemies while remaining rooted to my love for my Warriors, Manchester United and, by extension, the Three Lions of England and, of course, my hometown Division Two club Falcon Gold.
I have been called a Dynamos fan by some, a CAPS United sympathiser by others, a Highlanders follower by some and I have taken it all in my stride while also appreciating that in this job you can never be perfect and there will always be others who will feel you have given them a raw deal.
There are some who were boys, and have become men, who have told me of how my writings inspired them in their journey into manhood and the professions they now have, and I have wished them all the best going forward, while others have chosen to be critical and I have embraced their criticism in good light.
But one thing I have learnt is to appreciate gold, when I see it, and that’s why I can proudly say that, when it comes to football commentary, when it comes to raising the bar to a level that possibly defines purity in this trade, when spoken words can tell a story and leave you asking for more, Peter Drury set a benchmark at this World Cup that will be difficult to match.
The more you analyse his work, the more you will appreciate — especially if you are in this job like me — that, for all the plaudits that we get from the constituency that feeds on the stuff we write, the reality is that we are still very far — just like our African footballers who crashed out in the first round in Russia — from getting to levels that can be described as world-class.
And this is how he welcomed us to the World Cup final:
“Greetings to you worldwide, this is glorious Luzhniki Stadium on a fine afternoon in Moscow and this is the climax of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Will Smith has done his bit, not one, instinctively, to shrink into the background, but now indeed, he must. Phillip Lahm, four years ago this weekend, he played his 113th match for Germany and finished an unforgettable day by raising the World Cup which now, on behalf of the outgoing champions, he hands back.
“The Frenchmen following in the footsteps of their coach, Deschamps, Vieira, Barthez and Zidane, the Croatians entering virgin territory, first-time finalists — 32 have become two, there can only be one World Champion, the climatic honours of a magical month as, for one last time, Moscow throws itself open to France, to Croatia, to the world.
“Midday in Rio, midnight in Tokyo, breakfast in LA, tomorrow morning by the Tasman Sea, 5 o’clock in Paris and Zagreb, 6 o’clock in Moscow and here is the planet’s ultimate game, the final of the 21st football World Cup, France to rediscover glories of the past, Croatia to inscribe a new name on the trophy. And truth be told, as has been the case throughout this most unpredictable of competitions, nobody really knows.’’
And, then, France got the opener from a free-kick and Drury thundered:
“Flicked in by Griezmann and flicked home and France take the lead in the World Cup final. Deft delivery from Antoine Griezmann and the French hit the front, perhaps with assistance from Mario Mandzukic, indeed, Croatia’s centre forward got the touch that mattered, defying his ‘keeper and having scored the goal that mattered in the semi-final, he scores a painful goal that may matter in the final.
“Just as they were in the Last 16, just as they were in quarter-finals and just as they were in the semi-finals, Croatia are behind.’’
Croatia then equalised before France regained their lead through a penalty and here is how Drury captured it all:
“Croatia are never behind for long, Ivan Perisic again, deft delivery from Modric, smart run from the fullback, good win from the centre forward, touch back for Perisic and you know what’s happening next. Ivan Perisic gave it a whack and Croatia are level, his third goal of the finals.
“What a curious game of football in any context, a game indeed at this point which will launch a million debates, most of them around Ivan Perisic, not about his splendidly-hit equaliser, but about his handling offence which, via VAR, led to Griezmann’s penalty via which France re-established the lead which they had originally taken via Mandzukic’s 18th minute own goal.
“Pick the bones and the flesh of those bones, the World Cup final, at half-time in Moscow, stands at France 2, Croatia 1. And so, after a first half which included the 12th own goal and the 29th penalty of which there are 23 converted at the 2018 World Cup final, France find themselves 45 minutes away potentially from lifting it.’’
THE SECOND HALF, OF COURSE, THEN CAME ALONG
After a three-goal first-half, Drury too his show into the second half and remained as excellent as he was in that opening period:
“Ivan Perisic in the picture there, very much in the eye of the storm and, indeed, to cap it all, we have had a storm around us, over the course of the first period, rumbling thunder and a flash or two of lightning.
“And when the history of this World Cup is written, much of it will concern late goals, dramatic goals, brilliant goals, but there will certainly be a chapter or two for own goals and, indeed, goals from penalties and in that regard, this final has rather summed up the whole competition, the 12th own goal of the competition, the 29th penalty.
“Here’s Mbappe, Mbappe, Griezzmann, Pogba, Pogbaaaaaaa, for France and possibly now the world. An iconic French goal for Paul Pogba, who has come to the party and just might, just might, have won it. Once more Mbappe had the keys for the door, once he was on the ball, Croatia were uneasy, Griezmann juggled, Pogba right foot, Pogba left foot, 3-1 France and even for Croatia, it’s farewell from here.
“A big player who had to wait for a big occasion, for a passionate football nation which is preparing to party. Hernandez, twisting away from Mandzukic, here is Mbappeeeee, ohhhhh my word, teenage kicks, the ultimate teenage kick, the boy with the world at his feet,
“Kylian Mbappe, there ain’t no stopping them now, the first teenage World Cup final goal since Pele himself, terrific work from Henandez, Mbappe had only one thought and u knew he would execute, think of the life ahead of this kid, only the third teenager ever to start a World Cup final, the second teenager to score in one, he keeps company with Pele and, like the greatest of all-time, he is surely going now to be a World Cup winner.
“And France, supposedly conservative France, sometimes full within themselves France, or so they say, France have scored four at the World Cup final. Ready, ready boys, here comes your moment, it is France, Les Blue, all rise to another class of gilded garlic greats.
“The dignitaries meet, the Deschamps Double is complete, in 1998 he lifted it, 20 years on he will see it lifted for him, it will be some fun on the Champs de Elysees tonight, from Pessac to Paris, Calais to Cannes, Chambery to Chambly, the trophy is returning to the land of Jules Rimet.
“Finally Croatia’s seemingly immovable object met a force that was just too much, their intent and tidy team which so proudly stood for its small and zestful nation has come up one match shy of glory. It is a World Cup final the world will never forget – for an own goal, a penalty goal, a comedy goal and three memorable goals, one from a teenager with the world at his feet, the final from the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, France 4, Croatia 2.’’
AND HERE ARE SOME OF
HIS BEST LINES
On the day Russia eliminated Spain he said: “Spain on the plane or Spain in the Russian rain, you’ve heard of SharapOVA, you’ve heard of KournikOVA, now it’s all OVER.’’
On the day Croatia eliminated England, he said: “Tonight, the Croats roar on, a roar which they ripped out of England’s throat. The Three Lions were toothless, voiceless and their dream in tatters. It’s not coming home, Britain, it has just limped away, maybe forever.”
When Keiren Trippier gave England an early lead from a free-kick, he thundered:“Glorious, glorious England goal, picture perfect. England in their immaculate white has made an immaculate start. Subasic was clawing at air! Gareth Southgate was punching at the air! Now England will wish the next 80 minutes will disappear into thin air.’’
And as the rain poured down in Moscow, during the presentation ceremony, he summed it up perfectly: “For the team with the chess board shirt, it’s check mate, thank goodness, Mr Infantino doesn’t have hair to get wet.’’
Our commentators surely have a lot to learn from this English genius and, as journalists, we also have a lot to learn from this guy.