The current of Time's river Will carry off all human deeds And sink into oblivion All peoples, kingdoms and their kings.
- Gavrila Derzhavin
It takes four years for a dream to turn into reality. Not for everyone, but for a footballer, of course. However, not everyone gets to reap the rewards of their hard work. Some fall flat on their faces and even bite the dust. You have to learn to accept defeat and move on. And, wait for another four years to take another shot at glory.
As the biggest sporting event, the football World Cup, brings down the curtain in Russia today, fans across the globe can proudly conclude that this year’s edition was one of the best in the modern era, if not the best. You do not often see heavyweights such as Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Spain knocked out of the tournament so early. Neither do you see a Croatia, a country that is less than three decades old and has a population less than Ahmedabad’s, make its first appearance in the final.
This year’s edition, undoubtedly, has thrown several surprises. People who saw England’s Keiran Trippier’s inconsolable face after England’s exit in the semifinal would agree why football is a game of extremes. Pure jubilation on one end, utter agony and despair at the other. As football commentator Peter Drury aptly said, “Football, as a game, takes a lot away from the players. They are humans at last.”
While most sports pundits predicted a different semifinal line-up, France was a constant in almost all the picks. And rightfully so. The team has become an invincible side as the tournament progressed. Didier Deschamps is on the brink of history – he would become only the third player to win the world cup both as a player and a coach if his side triumphs. It is a big ask — France has to outmanoeuvre the difficult and closely-knit Croatia.
The Golden Generation Of Croatia
Croatia has been the big surprise of the tournament. Right from the group stages, they produced superb performances. The team bettered their previous best (a third in the 1998 world cup) by entering the final. Their gameplay, work ethics, and sportsmanship have made them live up to the tag of the golden generation.
For a team with only four famed players in its line-up, Croatia has been stellar as a team, driven by grit and confidence. On paper, barring the midfield-duo of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, they don’t boast superstars who can turn the game on its head. This is where the entire unit stepped up in every game.
The small Balkan nation came back from a goal down to knock England out of the race, eventually ending their #Itscominghome campaign. They ran riot against Argentina, hammering three against the Latin American side. Hosts Russia managed to hold them until extra time, but Modric and his side persevered through a penalty shootout.
Luka Modric: The Gamechanger
Modric was just six-year-old when his grandfather was murdered in the Balkan civil war. He grew up in the thick of war. Modric's house was burned down, and his family were forced to live in cheap hotels for years. Modric spent hours and days closeted inside due to the firing and bombs, waiting for clearance from the army to venture outside. His constant companion during those traumatic period was a football. People remember him as the shy, wiry kid who would be seen around playing football in the hotel car park, sometimes with other kids and sometimes all by himself.
From there on, he overcame odds to become the heartthrob of his country. Modric is a pocket-sized dynamite, but packs powerhouse performances. His vision on the field, eye for the open spaces, and tenacity to cover the pitch make him arguably the best midfielder of his generation.
Today, he will be carrying his country’s hopes on his shoulder when he enters that changing room in Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. The Real Madrid talisman could be the difference in the final.
France: Pace And Youth
As Kylian Mbappe was brought down for the nth time during the semi-final against Belgium, Drury lamented, “This is the only way one can stop him. There is no other way he can be stopped.”
Mbappe has been the single-biggest icon of this world cup eclipsing favourites Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. This French team is different – young, teeming with confidence, lightning quick on the pitch, and a fantastic side to watch.
One of the most complete teams, captained by Hugo Lloris, the goalkeeper who defies age and gravity, France has had a wonderful run. An exceptional midfield, with the likes of Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté has proven why a team with a strong midfield has the best chance of ending up as winners.
The French outclassed their opponents with their speed, accuracy, and fierce counter-attacking football. In the semifinal against Belgium, they were in the backfoot in the last stages. But they managed to hold on to the early goal scored by Samuel Umtiti. Deschamps changed tactics according to the game. He has played his team as the situation demanded, often making crucial changes when needed. His players, too have risen to the occasion. The only disappointment has been Oliver Giroud.
Passing The Baton
Messi and Ronaldo are considered the best of their generation, though legions of fans and analysts catapult them as the best ever. But both might end their careers without that one trophy in their cabinet — the one that means the most. Pele did it, so did Maradona.
But because of age, their chances of laying hands on the silverware are slim. Both are in their thirties and would be way past their prime by the time we head to Qatar in 2022.But the next generation is here. The only question is: who will take over the Big Two’s mantle? Mbappe, Lukaku, Lingard, Pogba, Modric are all brilliant, but can achieve greatness? We must wait for another four years for answers.