Football. What is it about this sport that can fill people with more patriotism more passion and more pride than any other sport when it comes to the World Cup? We see players chasing a ball but we do not see the many journeys that they have made, the sacrifices, the injuries and injections that they have suffered. We simply wave our flags and cheer incessantly when our teams score and shed tears when defeated.
And yet, there is another side to the sport. As Spain and Russia played out 120 minutes of tepid tedium at Luzhniki Stadium, Fifa president Gianni Infantiro was sitting between King Felipe VI of Spain and Russia’s president Dmitry Medvedeu. What was said in those long 120 minutes? What agreements or apologies were made? What were their thoughts? Was it just the match? We shall never know.
What we did see and what we do know is there were two teams playing two different matches. The host team played their predictable set up with 5 genuine defenders at the rearguard grappling and lunging, sliding and colliding, chasing and scraping.
And Spain met this fire with felt. They continued at their own game with no strategic logic played during this crucial World Cup match. Their lack of intensity, vigour, haste and intent was more than startling. When the game demanded quickness, sharpness, speed and movement, Spain simply tried to knit the ball gently around the Russian players.
Just before half time, Russia succeeded in shaking things up when a rare foray forward resulted in penalty from which Artem Dzyuba equalised. Alas, this did not seem to jolt the clueless and coachless Spanish team into life.
Is this the end of the tiqui taqui era for Spain? The style and culture that has been beautiful at times and irresistible at others may well have reached its end at the Luzhniki Stadium in Russia.
We witnessed the defeat, we heard the comments, but will we ever know what went on in that VIP box? Will we ever really know what goes on behind the scenes of the World Cup, and why unexpected glories occur?