What is it about football that stirs such a deep passion in people? It has to be more than just 22 players and an air-filled sphere. I think part of it is the deep desire to be part of a struggle. We are created to relish excellence - and have a deep appreciation for that which is superb. To have the very best of the best playing it out in a hard-fought exciting contest allows us to taste a piece of beauty that our hearts yearn for.
The other part of it is a desire to belong to something bigger than we are. We crave to belong. We are not meant to be alone - and in a time of deep distrust in most institutions (including for many the church) sporting teams offer an identity which binds people together. The Dutch players played the game with a black band - to express solidarity with one of their defenders who lost a prematurely born girl 3 days before. The fans decided to sing 'you'll never walk alone' before the game to express their feelings to this man and his family. Where do you find this in the atomised world that most inhabit. Football (replace this with almost any other large-scale sporting event) offers more than athleticism and excellence - in a strange way it offers the hope of family.
So down to the match. Ah the heartbreak. Our dear Dutch heroes have done what they excel in once again: play the beautiful game in an exciting and dominating fashion in the first part of a competition - only the be booted out in the quarter or semi-finals. Early this morning (for us here in Thane) it was Russia's turn to shine. And for orange tears to fall around the stadium (and also for some Thane supporters as you can see from the shot of Juanita and Asha).
.There is something sublime to seeing men run at top speeds, controlling the ball as if it was stuck to their feet, sharing it between themselves in total contest against another group of talented and detremined players. This morning belonged to the beautiful feet of Andrei Arshavin. The speed of the man. Amazing. With all the skills the Dutch have between them - it was the Russians who were making the difference. Only Edwin Vande Saar's brilliance kept the score within sight. Just as it looked the Russians were close to a famous victory with their 1 goal lead - the old orange workhorse of Ruud Van Nistelrooy managed to put his head in and score a beautiful goal 4 minutes from full time. We were given another 1/2 hour of paisa vasool action as Holland and Russia ran the ball to each other's goal - with Russia coming up trumps - twice! The final one deservedly coming of Andrei Arshavin's boot.
If only our dear Indian footballers could be one 10th as skillful as these two teams! We left Joshua and Juanita's home having shed a few silent orange tears - but fully satisfied with a feast of football - and took the Black Beauty back home through the 3 AM streets of Thane!