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An Iberian deadlock in the Russian heartland

Sharmila Muhammed

Sometimes, things are like re-watching old football matches. You know, how it’s gonna end, who walks home with a smile and who cries in the dressing room. Still a tiny little corner of your heart feels that if you longed and willed enough, things would be different this time, that all it takes to change a moment frozen somewhere in the past is that piece of your heart, longing and willing enough, wishing a little deeper.

I am gonna talk about an old rivalry here. If you ask me, how the game changed the course of humanity, or how it even changed me, I don’t know. Some matches are just your favorites because how much hope and disappointment it leaves you with. Nothing else matters in the end.

2018 World Cup Group stage. Spain Vs Portugal. And let me clarify it early, I like Spain. And more than that I really like David de Gea . I sometimes think that, he can deliver miracles the way nobody else can. I should warn you, this is not a story of how Ronaldo single-handedly saved the team from all the criticism that was surrounding Portugal at the time, or how, Spain, having a great team, gave hope till the end. It’s just a narrative of a midnight game I watched alone.

You know, I sometimes make these pacts with God for my team to win, like ‘I would be good from now on’ or ‘I would be an ardent believer if you deliver me a miracle today’, as if the victory of my team depended on me being a better person, me believing in God, and me chanting verses from Quran. Well, football brings as much salvation as religion, if you ask me.

I was home during the 2018 World Cup, watching most of the matches alone, with the occasional questions from my father around halftime, and the frequent warnings of my sleepy mother over my shouts and curses.

The match kicked off with so much at stake, and Ronaldo started off early by providing an early lead for Portugal from a penalty, which he earned himself. Diego Costa equalised it pretty soon, neutralizing the Portuguese defence, bringing hope back to the 2010 champions. Ronaldo scored again, before the game broke for halftime from a huge mistake the Spanish goalkeeper made. I hate it when de Gea makes the same kind of mistakes after all this time, and I believe that it still haunts him in his sleep.

There were moments, when Iniesta was unable to finish off a chance he might have buried blindfolded in his prime, and Costa messing up all the solid ground work laid by his teammates and all that. Thankfully it was Costa himself, who scored again and equalised the game at the 55th minute, bringing life back to the Spanish Armada. Costa for all his brute physique and natural goal scoring capabilities had always looked out of place among the subtle ball playing sorcerers in the Spanish team. It felt like that night was a huge vindication for him and his goal scoring prowess.

Next up it was the turn of Nacho to redeem himself, as it was his mistimed tackle which led to Ronaldo winning the penalty in the first half, with a sublime half volley from outside the box in. I still believe that goal has to be the most under appreciated goal of the entire tournament. I thought the game was done and dusted and Spain had the final say over their Iberian rivals but Ronaldo had other plans on store. He capitalised on a free kick awarded from a wasteful tackle committed by Pique, at the 88th minute, he breaths in, bends and takes the ball home over the Spanish wall ending the game in 3-3, leaving De gea flat footed.

To tell you the truth, I wasn’t disappointed. The high, the roar of fifty thousand people, the sudden hopes and disappointments, wanting to do better, longing for the next match, the next one and the one after, sometimes leave you with a strange feeling.


There comes these moments of great football, witnessing them, you would know that, the world would never be the same again, that it would be remembered for a hundred years to come, they will sing songs about it, and little kids in small corners of the world would try to imitate it, thinking that one day, they too, would change the course of humanity one shot at a time.

The writer, a Red Devil, is currently doing her Masters in Oceanography at University of Hyderabad. This article is the seventh in the series “most memorable football match of my life” by our readers. If you want to write about your experience of watching your favourite match, you can contact us via footytimes.com@gmail.com. Let’s use this quarantine time to reminisce our football memories.

             Sharmila Muhammed
                                                                                            

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