When the world stands still

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One of the core reasons that sports excite us is that you can never really predict the result. The math simply won’t allow it. It may not always be 50-50 like a coin toss, but even the existence of overwhelming evidence cannot preclude any of the three possible results at the start of every 90-minute game of football (or soccer, as the Americans prefer). Somehow, ‘the beautiful game’ portrays this truth from time to time in the most poignant of ways, that then tend to stay with you forever.

Twenty-eight years ago, in the opening game of Italia ‘90, defending champions Argentina, led by Diego Armando Maradona, were pitted against Cameroon, who had never before won a game in the finals (technically, the month-long event that takes place every four years comprises the final rounds of a competition that commences around two years earlier with the qualifiers across each continent).    Through the adrenaline rush that comes with each  kick of the ball, each difficult turn taken, each seemingly impossible move executed, there is something very natural, almost primal about football, that surely holds the key to its near-universal appeal. No matter how glorious a past used to winning a team owns, and no matter how weak or inexperienced a team may come off on paper, the ways in which the game can be a great leveller are legion (tactics that can go from a superior interpretation of the game to what is called ‘anti-football’, the conditions particular to a match, or sheer individual brilliance) there is always the possibility that underdogs can perform mightily and overcome great odds. No wonder that youngsters go nuts over match results, from gentle discussions to heated arguments, from cities to villages, at campuses, tea-stalls, social gatherings — all about the game and the teams.

The 21st edition of the FIFA World Cup, the showpiece event that is contested every four years, is set to kick off on June 14 and pits 32 nations against each other in a little over a month.

As the greatest show of the earth is going to begin, excitement of the tournament is currently running through the veins of the football crazy fans throughout the globe, including people who previously didn’t have much enthusiasm for the game. Most of them are supporting favourites like Brazil, Germany, Argentina, Spain, etc more or less.

Can’t escape the wave

In the context of Bangladesh, this assumption is relatable. We can observe enthusiasts going crazy on football teams, however, most of the time; these teams are prominent football powerhouses like Brazil, Argentina and Germany. This has also a connection with our previous generation. Should we consider today’s youth, most of their parents were young in the 70s, 80s and 90s. In those decades, Brazil used to be the absolute star of the football world with formidable names in their squad. With them, traditionally, Argentina and Germany used to get a lot of support from Bangladesh.

Following this trend, most of the football enthusiasts of Bangladesh still fall under the unavoidable category-either Brazil or Argentina. In the last couple of decades, with the advancement of technologies and popularisation of European leagues, younger generation is being exposed to a whole bunch of players from other countries thus creating a fan base for non-conventional football teams. Moreover, low ranked football teams, nowadays, have star players making them a worthy opponent in the big stage of world cup.

The fan followers bring out ‘joy rally’ motorcycle rally, ware jersey, headband and the most visible thing is the hoisting flags of the world cup playing nations, which started around month before the start of the event and the impact remain vibrant in the rest of the year. Fans wave the world cup football participating country’s flags under the national flag of Bangladesh.

They also arrange giant screen show during matches at different square of the city like Dhaka, Chattogram, Rajshahi, Khulna, Barishal, Sylhet and Comilla.

The Bangladesh fan-followers don’t care whether their favourite team players or nations know it or not, but hoist different sized flags in different spots, including rooftops of buildings of academic institutions, hostels, residential and commercial areas in cities and even it’s also a common phenomenon at the remote villages across the country.

The World Cup is like the marker we measure our football-supporting lives with. We tend to never be the same person we were four years ago, and there would have been events that go a long way in shaping our thoughts and us as people. Similarly, the 2018 World Cup will be one of the most important events in the lives of the competing footballers. However, for some, it will mean a lot more than others. Some will try to bury the past, some will be a beacon of positivity for their fractious country, and some who are out for the last time to establish themselves as the world’s best.

Dominating Stars of FIFA World Cup 2018

Lionel Messi [Argentina], Neymer Jr and Philippe Coutinho [Brazil], Thomas Muller and Toni Kross [Germany], Christiano Ronaldo[Portugal], Luis Suarez [Uruguay], Paul Pogba  and Antoine Griezmann [France],  Andrés Iniesta, Isco and Diego Costa [Spain], Harry Kane [England], Kasper Dolberg [Denmark], Mohammed Salah [Egypt], Luka Modrić [Croatia], Xherdan Shaqiri [Switzerland], Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne [Belgium], Nemanja Matić [Serbia], Robert Lewandowski [Poland] and James Rodríguez[Colombia].

Venue

The spectacular Saint Petersburg Stadium is among the most expensive sporting arenas ever built, estimated to cost almost €1 billion. The 67,000-seater will host Russia’s Group ‘A’ match with Egypt as well as one of the Semi-Finals.

In southeastern Russia lies the Samar Arena, perhaps the most striking of the tournament’s 12 stadiums. The 44,000-seater will host Russia’s key Group A game with Uruguay as well as two knock-out matches. With Russia’s eye-catching stadiums primed and ready, organisers will be hoping the football itself is just as spectacular.

The 12 venues: Luzhniki Stadium, Kazan Arena, Spartak Stadium, Ekaterinburg Arena, Fisht Stadium, Kaliningrad Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Rostov Arena, Saint Petersburg Stadium, Samara Arena, Mordovia Arena and Volgograd Arena.

Eco responsibility

With the aim of reducing the environmental impact of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia and raising awareness of climate change, FIFA has launched a campaign encouraging successful ticket applicants to offset the carbon emissions resulting from their travel to the tournament for free.

All ticket holders are invited to sign up on FIFA.com and take part in the campaign, regardless of where they live. For each ticket holder signing up, FIFA will offset 2.9 tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (tCO2e), which is the average emission per ticket holder traveling from abroad. When signing up, fans will automatically enter a prize draw to win two tickets for the FIFA World Cup final at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, FIFA’s official website reported.

In line with its long-running environmental program and its more recent pledge to the UN’s Climate Neutral Now campaign, FIFA will offset all unavoidable emissions over which it has control, plus up to a maximum of 100,000 tCO2e for the ticket holders who sign up. The list of offsetting projects selected will be announced in June and will include verified low-carbon projects in Russia and abroad.

Bookies’ expectations

There has never been a World Cup upset like Greece’s 150/1 triumph at Euro 2004, or even one as great as Portugal winning Euro 2016 at odds of 20/1.

Where historical odds are available (the last eight World Cups) - Italy in 2006 were the biggest outsiders to win the competition, at 10/1. Every other winner had odds of 7/1 or shorter.

Runners-up can have slightly longer odds, including Germany at 20/1 in 2002, but in all but two of the finals - 1998 and 2014 - the favourite has come out victorious, and in 1998 there was a pretty significant explanation for France beating Brazil, with star man Ronaldo taken ill on the day of the final but still playing.

Verdict for 2018: Brazil (4/1), Germany (9/2), Spain (6/1), France (6/1) and Argentina (9/1) are the only countries with odds shorter than 10/1, and if history repeats itself, are the only teams in with a chance of winning the World Cup.

Who’s going to win?

Russia, Belgium and Croatia have never won a major trophy, while Uruguay’s ageing squad (they have 10 players over 30 years old) could struggle with the demands of tournament football. That also could be an issue for Brazil, Argentina and Portugal.

England simply do not have the requisite experience in their squad, while Germany have to deal with the expectations of being ranked world No. 1. Spain’s manager Julen Lopetegui has just 13 years’ experience and has only won competitions at youth level, and that could be their downfall.

According to Bet365, France, meanwhile, are 6/1 to win the tournament and have a decorated (almost 50-year-old) manager in Didier Deschamps. They have a squad with an average age of 25.6 years, an experienced core with five players boasting 50 or more caps and plenty of trophies won at club level in the last few months. All that could be telling.

Then again, who know what surprises Russia 2018 will throw up? Nobody. And that’s why we’ll all be watching.

Roll of Honour

Brazil [1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002], Germany [1954, 1974, 1990, 2014], Italy [1934, 1938, 1982, 2006], Argentina [1978,1986], Uruguay[1930, 1950], France[1998], England[1966] and Spain [2010]. n

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