It's That Time Of The Year – Eat, Sleep, Football, Repeat!
In India, cricket is in every citizen's psyche. The country used to a come to a standstill anytime Sachin Tendulkar padded up for a match. Today, Virat Kohli has taken his place.
While the sport has been able to incite passion for decades, there is another 'beautiful game' that is slowly, but steadily, gaining an enormous vociferous fan base in the sub-continent that reaches its zenith every four years.
Although India has not qualified for football's greatest extravaganza — the FIFA World Cup — but utter the words 'World Cup' and the Indian football aficionado will ensure their enthusiastic chants mum the delirious cricket fanatics in the country. Yes, it's that time of the year — the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia.
The World Cup traditionally has always evoked strong feelings from football fans.
It is the only stage where you get to see the best — from Portugal's goal machine Cristiano Ronaldo to Argentina's sublime shooter Lionel Messi to Brazil's stylish sensation Neymar — rub shoulders on the biggest stage of them all.
The competition, the euphoria and the goals make it a perfect treat that can send fans into a trance.
In fact, fans literally adopt a country during the one-month period and go all out to support that nation. Here are a couple of examples — a fan in Kolkata, a tea stall owner, painted his house with the Argentina colours, while another fan in Goa changed the colour of his car to green and yellow, the colours of Brazil!
And the game doesn't fail to throw up surprises by the minute!
Give statistics and superstitions a breather, who would have thought, I repeat, who would have thought Germany, the defending champions in Russia, would be knocked out of the World Cup in the group stages and that too, by an Asian team, the first time in the history of World Cup? Such has been the surprise element this World Cup has thrown every game.
The biggies of the football world are no more the great teams they thought they were. On the contrary, the underdogs — teams like Croatia, Belgium — have punched above their weight this World Cup.
But isn't that the beauty of the sport? There is no script and the climax keeps fluctuating.
Let me throw you a challenge to keep you thinking!
Which super hit can match up to the hype of a World Cup football match?
There might not be any.
To put things in perspective, if you've not got a taste of the World Cup so far, let me tell you what it is all about.
Imagine this: Your favourite TV show, 64 episodes, 30 days, the best star cast, heroes and villains, plot twists, emotion and drama; all with the world watching at the same time as you. Basically, a Game of Thrones finale episode times 100. Got it?
The World Cup is slowly entering its business end…. Let the games begin! Ole, ole, ole, ole!
Senior Sports Journalist