By Utloang Kajeno
NOW that the curtain has been drawn on Brazil 2014, commentators and analysts will debate whether this was the best soccer showpiece mankind has ever seen.
For almost a month, the imagination and focus of the entire world was transfixed on Brazil, a country of over 200 million inhabitants, whether it would deliver the biggest sporting spectacle mankind has ever known.
Thirty-two of the best football teams from around the world pitted their skills and wits against each other in competing for the ultimate prize delivered every four years. On Sunday, Germany were crowned world champions, and what a glory this achievement was!
As a true patriot, my heart bled when I imagined our beloved Lesotho taking part in the competition, never mind winning the ultimate prize in world football.
It would indeed be the greatest sporting achievement for this football-mad nation.
It is not beyond us, Basotho, that we can compete with the best in the world, in footballing terms.
Look at what tiny Costa Rica did. In a group comprising three former world champions — England, Uruguay and Italy — Costa Rica, with a population slightly more than Lesotho’s, came top of this group and went as far as the quarterfinals, eventually losing to the Netherlands on penalties.
We will revisit this comparison and or inhibitions, as a footballing nation and whether we can emulate Costa Rica, later in this article. Let us for now, concentrate on the footballing achievements of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, as we are part of the global community.
I am no football expert nor claim to know anything about the sport. However, Lesotho, like the rest of the world, cannot turn away from this four-yearly showpiece.
We, therefore, deserve a say on the successes of this World Cup, if only to leave our sometimes bungling politicians just for a week.
Who knows, the soccer World Cup might even rehabilitate, metaphorically speaking, some of our politicians who have so dented their reputations beyond repair.
In my book though not exhaustive, here are some of the 2014 football World Cup achievements:
1. Innovations. Heine Allemagne, 43, invented the “magic spray” — biodegradable foam, derived from vegetable oil.
When a foul has been committed, it is sprayed on the pitch to indicate exactly where the free-kick will be taken from and where the players must stand (12 yards) from the free-kick and the line disappears within a minute or two. It costs around M54.
Its advantages are that it shortens the time within which free kicks are taken and disciplines players not to overstep the line.
There is no more time-wasting in taking free-kicks.
The time has dropped from around 48 seconds to 20 seconds. There are less yellow and red cards for overstepping the line.
2. Water Breaks. During the Last 16 match between the Netherlands and Mexico, water-breaks were introduced for the first time in a soccer World Cup match because of the stifling heat.
If it were not for this innovative idea, some players and officials might have collapsed.
3. Goal-line technology. During the Group stage match between France and Honduras, goal-line technology was used to determine whether the ball had crossed the line to allow a Karim Benzema goal or was it an “own-goal?”
The technology sends the signal to the referee to indicate whether it is a goal.
It worked wonderfully well even on giant television screens in the stadium and worldwide for all to see, to avoid controversy.
4. “Spy” or overhead cameras. These were installed at all matches.
They covered the entire length, breadth and every nook and cranny of the pitch, and I daresay every blade of grass, from a vantage position of the overhead television cameras for the spectators to see inch-perfect action on giant screens inside the stadiums and the global television audience.
It increases understanding of the frame by frame action and interest in the game.
5. Global Television audience. The TV audience globally watching the games had far surpassed previous audiences, even though the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) still has to release its final figures.
This can be borne-out by the increased television audience in the United States, a country not renowned for its passion for football, where audiences had increased dramatically than the previous showpieces, surpassed only by the Superbowl, their national sport.
6. Entertainment value. By the time this global showpiece reached the quarterfinal stage, its entertainment value was already being compared to or estimated to surpass that of France ’98 and Korea and Japan 2002, in terms of the number of goals scored, penalty shootouts at the quarterfinals, extra-time matches, and sheer drama, excitement and last-minute goals.
However, in this regard, the jury is still out, as well as the overall stadium attendance figures, until FIFA releases its final report.
But undoubtedly, Brazil 2014 ranks there with the very best.
7. Politics. As early as the 2012 FIFA Confederations Cup, won by hosts Brazil, beating then world champions, Spain 3-0, millions of Brazilians were endlessly in the streets across the country, protesting that the estimated $4 billion spent on stadia, airports, roads, hotels and other infrastructure could have been better spent on other social upliftment projects.
There were running battles between the police and protestors, demonstrating against President Dilma Rousseff government’s decision to host the tournament.
However, as testimony to soccer’s unifying power, the whole nation, within days of the competition’s kickoff, was in unity behind the national team, Selecao’s, success in the tournament.
Such is the unifying effect of soccer that the whole nation put aside their differences, united behind their team, and literally mourned the 7-1 loss to Germany in the semi-finals.
It says a lot about the effect of soccer more-so in Brazil, the spiritual home of the game. Rest assured its effects shall remain even with generations to come like the 1950 World Cup final loss to their neighbour, Uruguay at the famous Maracana stadium.
To this day, Brazilians still refer to that loss as a national tragedy and the worst day in their country’s proud history.
8. Controversies and Emotional Moments. During the last group match between Uruguay and Italy, in a winner-takes-all match, one of the world’s best footballers Luis Suarez, bit the shoulder of Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini, in a hotly contested match.
Neither the referee nor his assistants saw the incident, but television replays showed it and FIFA banned Suarez for four months from international and domestic soccer.
As if that was not enough, a Chinese manufacturer, controversially at least for Suarez and Uruguayans, immediately invented a bottle-opener with the face of the player at its top.
Further, to show the emotions that run in everybody’s veins during the soccer World Cup, an Ivory Coast player could not hold back the tears as his national anthem was played before the group matches as his beloved father had just passed-on.
The Brazilian players had to attend psychological counselling as some of them openly wept during the singing of the national anthem during the group matches. Small wonder the great Pele called soccer the beautiful game.
These episodes among, many others, just go to show the importance and emotions that go with the soccer World Cup. Oh! How my heart ached for Lesotho to take part.
On the development of the game, one can only marvel at the team effort and precision of the Germans, as always, in reaching the final of the showpiece.
You see everything with the Germans, unlike the Argentines, Portuguese and Brazilians, is a demonstration of a very high work ethic, mental strength and teamwork.
With the other three nations they are more individualistic teams, whose play and success is centred on one particular player who is pivotal to their success.
The Argentines rely solely or heavily on Lionel Messi, Portuguese on Cristiano Ronaldo and the Brazilians on young Neymar.
Evidence of this argument is the way those nations play, more particularly, Brazil, without Neymar. As a footnote, the World Cup also marked the end of the Spanish football dynasty after dominating the game for nearly a decade.
Costa Rica are indeed the pride of all small nations, the world over.
What more, our fellow SACU country, Botswana, with exactly the same population as ours, reached the Africa Cup of Nations finals a few years ago.
Lesotho can, with a little introspection and more, also reach these dizzy heights.