The World Cup month ends today, leaving me with many les-sons. Lessons I’ve often been pondering quietly. Lessons that sometimes hit me as a slap in the face.
There is that night Japan was almost eliminating Belgium, and the tragic way they conceded the second and third goals to surrender their 2-0 lead left me pitying them and in deep introspection.
The second goal, particularly, was because of the height advantage of Belgian midfielder Marouane Fellaini over the diminutive Japanese defenders. Sometimes you may be the dog with the bigger fight within you, but the bigger dog might win just because it is big.
There was the moment when legendary goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel could not keep calm as his son Kasper kept pulling one fine save after another. His son is now the Denmark captain and, given his exploits at the tournament, there is no doubt that he is a chip off the old block. But despite the heroics, Denmark were still bundled out by Croatia because one of its players miscued his shot and Kasper somehow could not save the penalty that mattered most. Sometimes it is luck, but often, the tiniest of cracks sinks a ship.
Speaking of loved ones, England midfielder Jesse Lingard shared a video where his mother, wearing a Three Lions jersey emblazoned with the player’s nickname Jlingz, hugged him as part of the celebrations after beating Sweden to head to the semi-finals.
And there was the photo of Robert Lewandoski’s wife Anna entering the field to console him after his team lost to Senegal. Those were just but snapshots of the expectations family places on performers; expectations that sometimes end up in failure but family remains family.
The Brazil team was all perfection at the start of the tournament. In fact, it was the first team to qualify. It had only lost one match in all matches played since 2016. Theirs was a star-studded squad, from Allison to Paulinho to Coutinho to Neymar. I know of a Kenyan man who bet his car, sure that the trophy was Brazil’s for the taking. But when the Samba Boys faced the Red Devils of Belgium at the quarter finals, the chink in their armour was exposed in the most tragic of fashions. It is never over until it is actually over.
That lesson will long disturb the minds of the young England squad who, for an hour, had appeared to be the ones heading to the finals as they played Croatia. Their temerity had got their nation believing again, with “it’s coming home” being the phrase of the moment. But fate being what it is, they would concede two goals and out they crashed.
Then there is the case of Spain goalkeeper David de Gea, who has been described by some as the best goalkeeper in the world — given the skills he displays when playing club football at Manchester United.
But in the tournament, statistics of his performance tell the story of a man who failed to stop seven of the six shots directed at him. Among the goals he conceded was a howler from a Cristiano Ronaldo shot during their first game. Sometimes, a fish does not just struggle when out of water. Even in a different pond, it may find life tough.
This year’s tournament also taught me not to be too fanatic in support of a team. My hunch had told me that Germany would shock everyone and win the trophy for the second time in a row. I shouted myself hoarse the night when Toni Kroos magically converted a free kick in the dying minutes of Germany’s game against Sweden. But the team would end up at the bottom of their group, their noses bloodied and unable to banish the curse of the defending champions.
Then I placed my hopes on England, getting a bit carried away by their “it’s coming home” motto. But Croatia had other ideas.
In the game between France and Belgium, I had hoped Les Bleus would be taught a lesson but the Belgian’s forward Romelu Lukaku appeared stiffer than dead wood throughout the game.
Now I am left with a final where I am almost indifferent — just like the Kenyans who have been joking that they will keep shifting teams until they win the tournament. May the better team win.
Elvis Ondieki is a Nation reporter. Carol Njunge resumes in August