03:40 GMT08 August 2020
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    Just as it doesn't take a weather man to know which way the wind blows, it doesn't take a ‘Putin apologist’ or a ‘Russian propagandist’ to recognise what by is widely acknowledged – namely that the World Cup in Russia 2018 has exceeded all expectations to the point where it will go down as one the best – if not the best – World Cups in history.

    Indeed whoever eventually wins the tournament on the pitch the winner off it are already, it is clear, the Russian people. They have embraced the opportunity to present to the world, and especially the West given the unending demonization of the country peddled by Western ideologues, a side of Russia that in just a few short weeks has succeeded in rendering this demonization bereft.

    The drama we have witnessed on the pitch (and there has certainly been much of that) has been matched, if not exceeded, by the joyous celebratory atmosphere among the vast crowds that have descended on the country to revel in what on the surface may be a festival and celebration of football, but which has turned out to be more a festival and celebration of humanity in all its wonderful diversity.

    What is it about football (soccer if you prefer) that makes it well-nigh unique in its ability to bring people of different cultures, nationalities and ethnicities together to create the scenes that have elevated this World Cup to hitherto unknown heights?

    And who better to help us get to the bottom of this question than the great Uruguayan writer and scribe of the human condition, Eduardo Galeano, who writes:

    "Years have gone by and I've finally learned to accept myself for who I am: a beggar for good soccer. I go about the world, hand outstretched, and in the stadiums, I plead: 'A pretty move, for the love of God.' And when good soccer happens, I give thanks for the miracle and I don't give a damn which team or country performs it." 

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    Throughout history mass spectator sport has run like an unbroken thread — though not, to be sure, as the escape from reality its detractors have always proclaimed, but on the contrary as a distillation of reality into ninety minutes, in the case of football, and sometimes longer depending on whether the game concerned extends into extra time and penalties.

    Thus at this tournament — as with any World Cup or important fixture that attracts a huge crowd — less important than the drama on the pitch has been the interaction among the crowd. Because it is there that humanity's innate need for bonds of solidarity — for a sense of fraternity, common purpose, and togetherness — has been reaffirmed.

    And at a time in which the values of unfettered free market capitalism hold sway — values of individualism, greed, selfishness, ruthlessness and competition — such a reaffirmation has never been more necessary.  

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    That Russia — a country so demonized and disparaged, depicted as a vast gulag populated by xenophobes, homophobes, gangsters and thugs — has been responsible for the tournament's success adds even more significance to the scenes of togetherness and joy that have been broadcast to untold millions across the globe over the past few weeks.

    Meanwhile, as for the football itself, what a feast has been served up. Indeed how many shocks can one World Cup take?

    Whether we are talking the holders, Germany, failing to make the knockout stage, or an unfancied Russian team knocking out the much-fancied Spanish maestros in their first knockout game after extra time and penalties — or whether we are talking about the Japanese, who brought so much passion and joy and courage, pushing the Belgians all the way for a place in the quarter-finals — the thrills and spills have been unrelenting.

    And then there's England, who at time of writing have just managed to scrape through a thrilling encounter against Colombia, again after extra time and penalties, to stake their claim in the quarter-finals against Sweden.

    It is here, I'm afraid, where things get serious. As a native of Scotland, England's progress has been a source of mounting anguish. Yes, I'm sorry my dear English friends, but this is international football — the World Cup no less — and my Scottish ancestors are calling from the grave. If, God forbid, England do manage to go all the way, the lights will go out all over Scotland across its northern border, such will be the calamity to befall the nation and its people.

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    Because, you see, that England's glory is Scotland's misfortune is a centuries-old truth that no amount of happy talk in this time of political correctness can possibly refute. It is just the way it has always been and the way it will always be. And it is why those Swedish players when they take to the pitch to face England, do so carrying the fate of generations unborn on their shoulders.

    Is mankind to descend further into the darkness, or can it once again ascend into the light? The stakes, my Swedish saviors, could not be any higher and, as such, Scotland expects every man who takes to the pitch in a Swedish shirt to do his duty. May their swords never flinch and may their shields prove strong. And may the thunder of Thor accompany them into battle.

    As for those who claim that it's only a game, hark for a moment the sage words of the football legend that is Bill Shankly: "Football is not a matter of life and death. It is far more important than that."

    The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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