World Cup 2018: The power of football
The World Cup 2018 knockout stage has reaffirmed many football fans’ belief in the beautiful game. Monday night’s match in Rostov-on-Don between Belgium and Japan was the epitome of the World Cup and power of football. The match produced a stunning winning goal in the fourth minute of stoppage-time. It delivered the unexpected emotion of a late winner on both sides: heart-wrenching pain and unabashed excitement.
Monday’s game at the Rostov Arena stood in stark contrast to the contest just hours earlier between tournament favorites Brazil and upstarts Mexico. With the top two players in the world – Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Mess – home for summer vacation after their nations were eliminated, it was a chance for Brazil’s Neymar to prove his value. Neymar’s play earned him the winning goal against the Mexicans, but it is his antics off the ball that people will remember most. Neymar has claimed other teams are trying to end his career. He has made accusations of unfair practices and malicious play being perpetrated against him. Teams have roughed him up with tackles at times during the World Cup but being one of the three best players in the world makes him a target of defenders and ball winners.
Samara, where Brazil played Mexico, and Rostov are more than 1,000 kilometers away. It takes almost 15 hours to drive from one city to the other. The difference in football on Monday seemed just as far apart. Belgium and Japan may not have put on much of a first half. The two sides failing to crack the other’s defense. Yet, both national teams sparked to life in the second half. The final 45 minutes saw five goals fly into the back of the net. It was the drama that football fans love and want rather than seeing the player claimed to be the best in the world rolling around after a “fake foul”.
In 45 minutes on a hot Samara night, football fans around the world saw underdogs Japan take a shock 2-0 goal lead. The team had been in crisis just weeks before and little was expected of the Blue Samurai at the World Cup. Yet, Japan’s group stage had shown promise with a win over Colombia and draw against Senegal. The Japanese found themselves in an unlikely position of leading the match with just over 21 minutes remaining. A giant-killing reserved for the epic stage of the World Cup was on the cards. However, the script was changed at the last minute and Belgium’s fate was re-written. A goal from defender Jan Vertonghen in the 69th minute was fortunate. His looping header just floated over the flailing arms of Japanese goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima. Fifteen minutes later Belgium substitute Marouane Fellaini leveled the score with one of his trademark headers. The ball seemingly able to use the midfielder’s large mane to propel itself into the back of the net.
Belgium was in the ascendency and Japan was on the back foot. It resulted in one of the best goals of the World Cup 2018 tournament. Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois rolled the ball out to Kevin De Bruyne as the team went from defense and into attack in a matter of seconds. De Bruyne carried the ball some 60-yards before laying the pass off to the right flank for Thomas Meunier. The Belgium defender made a lung-busting run from his own half. Meunier played a pass with one touch a cross into the 18-yard box. The ball seemed to take a lifetime to reach substitute Nacer Chadli, who expertly opened up his body and slotted the ball into the back of Japan’s net. Ecstasy, joy, and heartache were all felt in a matter of seconds. It was the power of football coming to the fore once more.
The final 45 minutes of Belgium versus Japan didn’t leave fans, pundits, and managers talking about “fake fouls”, diving, and nefarious antics. The second half in Rostov produced an exciting night of football that brought out the pure emotion of the game.
The World Cup 2018 has produced many talking points. Some have been negative while others have been positive. The lasting memories of the tournament may focus more on those negative moments of the competition. Diving, VAR, and poor sportsmanship very well could be part of the tournament’s legacy. However, for one fleeting moment, the World Cup reminded football fans of the sport’s power to bring the world to its feet and unwrap emotions fans ever feel.