10 LESSONS FROM RUSSIA 2018.

10 LESSONS FROM THE WORLD CUP

Every four years, the world is treated to a soccer Jamboree—a display of the finest football teams the world has got to offer in the course of one enduring month.

The fever is too potent to be extinguished as every shade of humanity is emblazoned along colourful lines with the sights and sounds of the soccer festival permeating the media.

From the opening ceremonies to the beauteous children stepping to the green turf with the uber-rich athletes, the TV Montages paving the way for the ultra-modern studio where ex-internationals cum pundits are conjuring analysis while in their sartorial best.

The fandom, the hopes and faiths of aficionados foisted on the shoulders of young men who are pumped to graft their names on the sands of time.

As the tournament wore on, hopes were dashed, expectations crumbled, surprises sprang up and history was rewritten.

At the climax of, the 21st edition of the FIFA World Cup, deservedly won by France, one cannot help but reflect on some of the things that stood out, which may also be instructive in life.

1. Hard work/Preparation: The old virtue of hard work came to the fore again. Of course, every team that qualified for the world cup put in some shift to be there in the first place. But it wasn’t just the hard work that was salient as it is preparation—both physically and mentally. Most of the athletes sacrificed their holidays and endured tough regimes to be in shape and have the right frame of mind to compete. Most of the athletes could afford anything they want without binging but for a common goal, they had to sacrifice. In the end, the teams that prepared the most—mentally and physically and also in sourcing the right talents they would need, progressed farther and were champions.

2. Teamwork: A tree cannot make a forest. So goes the trite saying but people like to make their own myths of saying things like “Ronaldo single-handedly won his team the European Cup!” This world cup proved that there is no such thing. While a talented or shrewd individual can make a world of difference, no success is achieved individually. The top three talents in football had their teams crash out in the second round (Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar), and they couldn’t do anything about it! These guys are good but they can only do so much on their own—they are as good as the complementing talents around them!

3. Believe: Call it optimism and you will get a thumbs up. The sheer quest to dare the impossible—believe you can do it and working towards it works wonders. Many teams surpassed expectations—Russia knocked out Spain and got to the quarterfinals, only losing on penalties, the English young team got to the semi-finals for the first time in 28 years, Croatia got to the finals—a population of a little over four million people, a nineteen-year-old, Kylian Mbappé, scored in the final since Pele. All these things couldn’t have been foretold but when there is belief—and a commensurate effort to sustain it, miracles happen.

4. One step at a time. The world cup just like any tournament requires matches to get to the finals (7) and the teams that progressed took it one step at a time—one strategy at a time. France for example from the knockout stage had to overcome Argentina, Uruguay, Belgium, before conquering Croatia at the finals. It took different strategies and levels of preparation. They (like many teams) were not looking at Croatia from the second round or focused on the trophy! They planned as the games went by. One team got to the semi-finals and were emotionally-laden with their press hype that “football is coming home!” It’s tempting to suggest that this may have affected their level of preparation especially when the opposition asserted that they were motivated by their opponents “lack of respect.” Needless to say that football didn’t come home. Don’t jump the gun, just focus on the next game…!

5. Ride your luck: Luck is the favourable respite you get when things seem to be going out of control. A lot of that happened for teams in this tournament. These “luck” are the finer margins. Croatia wouldn’t have gotten the finals if they were eliminated against Denmark (they were not at their best and had to win on penalties that had first spiralled out of their control) and France wasn’t even the better team against Belgium—but they rode on their lucks—they still had their parts to play. If you don’t leverage on your “lucky breaks” you still won’t get to your desired destination!

6. Take defeat as a stepping stone: The French team filled with most of the players that featured in this tournament suffered an agonizing defeat two years ago at the European Cup finals on home soil. They mesmerized and gave enough hints to suggest that they were going to be champions. But at the finals, in spite of their dominance, the insipid Portuguese team ended up winning the trophy despite losing their ombudsman—Cristiano Ronaldo. It left sour grapes on their lips as the players looked forlorn and languid on the pitch. Fast forward to two years later and we are talking about world champions!

7. Don’t fear the giants— focus on your strengths: No world cup in recent history has recorded more giant-killing than Russia 2018. For the first time in a long time, the perennial favourites like Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Italy (did not even qualify!) were no were to be found. Russia beat former world champion Spain, South Korea beat Germany, Belgium eliminated Brazil and France set the tattoo-centric Argentines back to Buenos Aires! The giant killers believed and focused on what they could do as a team and with their own strengths harnessed, the impossible became a precedence.

8. Parlay technology. Technology will always make things better. At the outset, it isn’t always perfect but in the long-run, it’s always going to be a boon. The essential Video Assistant Referee, VAR—a system that lets referees watch replays of actions when in doubt was utilized in all the 64 matches of the world cup. There were high and low moments using this medium. (For example, in the final against Croatia, the penalty call which was indubitably an inadvertent handball from Ivan Perišić, and which may have been missed by the referee—something that could have been overlooked.) In general, the VAR served its purpose, just as the goal-line technology has been doing. In the end, football will be better for it. Technology will only make you better— that’s if you embrace it!

9. Strength in diversity: At a time when migration issues are getting more complicated and the rhetoric of shutting borders and building high walls is gaining ground, you can’t help but admire the results achieved when people come together for a common good, irrespective of the colour of their skin. Such was vivid as France lifted the most prestigious trophy in soccer— just like their predecessors did twenty years ago. Who says migrants don’t contribute their fair share!

10. Give it your best and when things don’t work your way, move on: Sometimes no matter how hard you try, things are going to spiral out of your control—you are not going to get the desired outcome. From the blast of the whistle, there was something in the air that suggested that it was not going to be Croatia’s triumph—when heroes suddenly begin to morph into villain (Mario Mandžukić, Croatia’s hero whose goal got them to the final flicked the ball “instinctively” into his own net and Ivan Perišić who also got the equalizer against England and initially against France handles the ball in the box), then things have fallen apart. Such days would happen. Don’t sweat it, move on, for a new dawn would soon unfold.

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