New Internationalist

The realm of magic

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Anything can happen in football, they say. Eduardo Galeano looks back on the World Cup and agrees.

Colombian Pacho Marturana, a man with vast experience in these battles, says that football is a magical realm where anything can happen. And this World Cup has confirmed his words: it was an unusual World Cup.

The 10 stadiums where the Cup was played were unusual, beautiful, immense, and cost a fortune. Who knows how South Africa will be able to keep these cement behemoths operating, a multimillion-dollar waste that is easy to explain but hard to justify in one of the most unjust countries in the world.

Certain cardiologists warned us, in the press, that excessive happiness could be dangerous to our health. Many Uruguayans, who seem condemned to die of boredom, celebrated this risk

The Adidas ‘Jabulani’ ball was unusual, slippery and half mad, fled hands and disobeyed feet. It was introduced despite the fact that the players didn’t like it at all. But from their castle in Zurich, the tsars of football impose, they dont propose. That’s their way.

It was also unusual that finally the all-powerful bureaucracy of FIFA at least recognized, after so many years, that it would have to find a way to help the referees in decisive plays. It isn’t much, but it’s something. And it was time. Even these voluntarily deaf functionaries must have been able to hear the racket set off by the errors of certain referees, which reached the level of horror in the final game. Why must we see on television what the referees didn’t or perhaps were unable to see? Common sense calls out: almost all other sports, basketball, tennis, baseball, and even fencing and car racing, normally use technology to resolve doubts. Not football. Referees are authorized to consult an antique invention called a ‘watch’ to measure the duration of games and extra time, but no more. And the justification provided for this policy would be comical if it weren’t so obviously suspect: error is a part of the game, they say, leaving us dumbfounded as they discover that to err is human.

It was unusual that just a few rounds into the first African World Cup in history, no African country, the host included, was left in the running. Only Ghana survived until its defeat by Uruguay in the most moving game of the whole competition.

It was unusual that the majority of the African teams retained their agility and yet lost their inventiveness and daring. Many ran but few danced. Some believe that the coaches of these teams, almost all European, had a hand in this general chilling of their play. If this is the case, they did no favour to a game that promised so much joy and exuberance. Africa sacrificed its virtues in the name of efficiency, but there was a distinct lack of efficiency.

From their castle in Zurich, the tsars of football impose, they don't propose. That’s their way

It was unusual that certain African players were able to excel, but in European teams. When Ghana played Germany, the Boateng brothers were playing against one another, one in the Ghanaian jersey, the other in the German. Of the members of the Ghanaian team, not one played in the local Ghanaian championship. Yet everyone on the German team played in the German local championship. Like Latin America, Africa exports manual- and foot-labour.

The best save of the championship was unusual. It wasn’t made by a goalie but a striker. Using both hands, right at the goal line, Uruguayan Luis Suarez stopped a ball that would have taken his team out of the tournament. Thanks to this act of patriotic madness, he was expelled but his team was not.

The voyage of Uruguay was unusual, from its lows to its highs. Our country, which qualified for the World Cup in last place, and barely, after a difficult classification, played with dignity, never quitting, and ended up being one of the best teams. Certain cardiologists warned us, in the press, that excessive happiness could be dangerous to our health. Many Uruguayans, who seem condemned to die of boredom, celebrated this risk, and the streets of the country ignited in a giant party. In the end, the right to celebrate one’s own accomplishments is always preferable to the pleasure that some take in the misfortune of others.

The majority of the African teams retained their agility and yet lost their inventiveness and daring. Many ran but few danced

We finished in fourth place, which isn’t so bad for the only country that kept the championship from turning into simply a Eurocup. And it is no accident that Diego Forlan was elected best player of the championship.

It was unusual for the champion and runner-up of the last World Cup to go home without opening their luggage.

In 2006, Italy and France met at the final game. This time they met at the exit of the airport. In Italy there was an outcry of criticism of playing football in a way intended mostly to keep a rival from playing. In France, the disaster provoked a political crisis and incited racist fury because almost all of the players who sang the Marseillaise in South Africa were black.

In France, the disaster provoked a political crisis and incited racist fury because almost all of the players who sang the Marseillaise in South Africa were black

Other favourites, like England, didn’t last long either. Brazil and Argentina were cruelly humiliated. Half a century earlier, the Argentinean team was showered with coins returning home from a disastrous World Cup, but this time it was welcomed by an adoring crowd that believes in more important things than success or failure.

It was unusual that the most acclaimed and awaited superstars didn’t rise to the occasion. Lionel Messi wanted to be there, did what he could, and was seen for a bit. And they say that Cristiano Ronaldo was there, but no one saw him: perhaps he was too busy looking at himself.

It was unusual that a new star rose unexpected from the depths of the sea and reached the heights of the football firmament: an octopus who lives in an aquarium in Germany where he makes his predictions. His name is Paul but he may as well be called Octodamus. Before each of the games of the World Cup, he was given a choice between mussels wearing flags of the competing teams. He always ate the mussels of the winning team and never made a mistake.

This eight-legged oracle had a decisive effect on the betting and was heeded around the world with religious reverence, loved and hated, and even slandered by a resentful few, like myself, who came to suspect, without proof, that the octopus was corrupt.

It was unusual that at the end of the competition, justice was done, which is infrequent in both football and life.

They say that Cristiano Ronaldo was there, but no one saw him: perhaps he was too busy looking at himself

For the first time ever, Spain won the World Cup.

It had waited almost a century.

The octopus has announced it and Spain did away with my suspicions: it won cleanly, it was the best team of the tournament, because of its hard work and its solidarity on the field, one for all and all for one, and because of the stunning ability of the little magician named Andres Iniesta.

He proved that sometimes, in the magical realm of football, there is justice.

Sometimes, in the magical realm of football, there is justice

When the World Cup started, I mounted on the door of my house a card saying, Closed for football. When I removed it one month later, I had watched 64 games, beer in hand, without moving from my preferred chair.

This feat left me a wreck, my muscles aching, my throat shot, and yet I am already nostalgic.

I am already beginning to miss the unbearable litany of the vuvuzelas, the emotion of the goals warned of by the cardiologist, the beauty of the best plays replayed in slow motion. And the celebration and the mourning, because at times football is a joy that hurts, and the music played to celebrate a victory that would make the dead dance sounds very close to the clamorous silence of the empty stadium, where night has fallen, and one of those defeated is still sitting, unable to move, alone in the vast sea of steps.

Copyright IPS

Eduardo Galeano is a Uruguayan writer and journalist and author of The Open Veins of Latin America, Memories of Fire and Mirrors/An Almost Universal History.

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