This write up is about ‘the’ match. It is about witnessing the FIFA World Cup final in Moscow at Luzhniki Stadium.
To begin with, the tension for the final match for me wasn’t about Croatia’s brilliance vis-à-vis France’s gems. It was the more important existential question of having a match ticket to ‘the’ game. Once I had secured the ticket in my hand owing to the efforts of many well-wishers and an amazing gesture from a friend, it was time to think about the match and become tense about it.
What happened till I entered the stadium was a mix of song, dance, coloured costumes, great food, music, delirious fans, fabulous hospitality and engaging conversations, including a few minutes with Saurav Ganguly (that is a subject for another day)! However, what awaited at the end of all this was ‘the’ match.
The kick off also meant that I could check off one of the most difficult wishes in my bucket list. The brilliance of football on the ground was blinding. Luca Modric and Mbappe in their prime eclipsed the thought of me wishing Messi was in their place. The goals scored right in front of me led to a near explosion among the fans. It is impossible not to get caught up with every goal as fans fill the stadium with electric energy that just feels like a lightning strike after each goal.
The pace of the final was unbelievable. Six goals were scored, joint highest ever with 1938 FIFA World Cup final. The sheer drama of each goal is imprinted in my head. An own goal, a penalty, a goalkeeper error, a free kick set play, a brilliant long-range shot, a counter strike... each of these have played in my head several times ever since. Unlike most highly-touted blockbusters, this one lived up to its name. Big show by big players on a big day.
There was a winner in the end – France. But then there was Croatia and their fans. There was something about them. They never let their team down, cheering non-stop. Even close to the end, they were shouting their lungs out.
At the end of the match, the Croatian team reached out to the fans and bowed their heads with hands on their hearts. It was clear that the team knew what role the fans had played, and team had become one with fans.
Now, after the final begins a whole new cycle of football life spanning 200 countries spread over 4 years. The new football life cycle begins with Dominica squaring off against Surinam on September 6, 2018.
Here’s to reliving the experience in another 4 years.
(Sameer Pathak is part of the marketing team at Coca-Cola India and South West Asia. An avid sports fan, he has led the FIFA charter work for Coca-Cola in the region)