Football, as a sport, might be the most boring idea conceived by the human mind. Think about it: Twenty-two men running after a ball of leather. But what makes it an intriguing event, a spectacle of sorts is the stories it weaves. The tales people tell each other. Sometimes the anecdotes are of overcoming a growth deficiency, or a team progressing from league 2 to win first division title, or of people following their team across the globe in win and in loss. All kinds of accounts, both heart-warming and heart-rending. Stories have made civilisation and they made football too.
Fifa World Cup 2018 in Russia is drawing to a close. In three days, the grand spectacle will be over. We look at the most memorable stories and events this edition of the tournament has thrown: on and off the field.
Obi Mikel vs Argentina (Photo: Reuters)
1. Obi Mikel plays for Nigeria while his father was held hostage: Nigeria exited the tournament in Russia after losing 1-2 against Argentina. After the match, captain John Obi Mikel said his father had been kidnapped just hours before he led Nigeria into their final World Cup group phase tie against Argentina.
"I played while my father was in the hands of bandits," Mikel was quoted as saying by The Guardian. "I had to suppress the trauma. I took a call four hours before kick-off to tell me what had happened."
According to the report, Mikel got the news as he travelled on the team bus to the stadium. He was asked to call the kidnappers on a designated number and on doing so, asked to cough up a ransom.
"I was emotionally distraught and I had to make the decision about whether I was mentally ready to play. I was confused. I did not know what to do but, in the end, I knew that I could not let 180 million Nigerians down. I had to shut it out of my head and go and represent my country first. I could not even inform the coaches or NFF staff and only a very tight circle of my friends knew," Mikel said.
"I was told that they would shoot my dad instantly if I reported to the authorities or told anybody. I also did not want to discuss it with the coach (Gernot Rohr) because I did not want my issue to become a distraction to him or the rest of the team,"he said.
Mikel's father was safely released but was hospitalised as a result of the torture he received during his capture.
Alirez Bieranvand saves Ronaldo's penalty (Photo: Reuters)
2. Iran goalkeeper who ran away from his house when 12 saves Ronaldo's penalty: Cristiano Ronaldo ran to take a penalty kick against Iran during a group game in this World Cup. Defending Iran's goal was 25-year-old six-foot-five keeper Alireza Bieranvand who blocked the World Player of the Year's shot and instantly became a hero. But, years of struggle led up to this one moment.
Beiranvand was born to a nomad family in a rural province of western Iran. He found free time while working as a shepherd to play soccer, joining a local team in the village of Sarab-e Yas when he was 12, the Guardian reported.
When his father objected to him pursuing football professionally, Beiranvand borrowed money from a relative and ran away to Tehran, Iran’s capital. Arriving with neither money nor accommodations, the young player set up camp outside the football club where he trained.
He was eventually allowed to train with a team full time. But Bieranvand had to take on jobs at a dressmaking factory, a carwash and a pizza shop to make ends meet. Seven years and many more struggles later, he stood between Ronaldo and his goal and blocked his shot.
3. Shaqiri and Xhaka's controversial goal celebration vs Serbia: Granit Xhaka's parents are Albanian and his father was a political prisoner, having been arrested in the former Yugoslavia. Xherdan Shaqiri's parents are Kosovar Albanians who fled to Switzerland before the Kosovo War began in 1998. His father worked in kitchens and his mother cleaned offices, with Shaqiri and his brothers helping.
So when the pair scored a goal apiece to down Serbia 2-1, they celebrated by making a double-headed eagle sign. The symbol can be found on Albania's flag and is a controversial one, with Serbia not recognising Kosovo's independence. Some people praised the duo's gesture while other condemned it for bringing politics into football. But to the duo, "it was just emotion". They were fined $10,000 each by the Fifa. But people responded by starting an online crowd-funding to pay the players'fine.
Also, Shaqiri wore boots with both the Swiss flag and that of Kosovo, having been born in the latter country.
Mexico players celebrate after winning their match against Germany
4. Fans cause an artificial earthquake in Mexico while celebrating team's goal: Mexico's star player Hirving Lozano scored against the mighty Germans in the group stage of the Fifa World Cup that saw them win against the reigning champions. Back home, Mexicans jumped in jubilation and their celebration shook the ground hard enough to set off earthquake detectors and create an "artificial quake".
The Institute of Geological and Atmospheric Investigations said highly sensitive earthquake sensors registered tremors at two sites in Mexico City, seven seconds after the game's 35th minute
Clovis Fernandes after 2014 Brazil loss (Photo: Reuters)when Lozano scored.
5. Sons of famous Brazil's fan continue his legacy: It was the match when Brazil lost 1-7 to Germany in the Fifa World Cup 2014 in the Maracana that the world first came to know about Clovis Acosta Fernandes. Fernandes had followed Brazil over the last seven consecutive World Cup. He had seen Brazil lift the World Cup twice (1994 and 2002). Teary-eyed Fernandes, embracing a replica of the World Cup trophy, became the enduring image of a crest-fallen Brazil after one of the most shocking results in the quadrennial tournament.
Before he left the stadium, Fernandes handed over the trophy's replica to a German fan.
"Take it to the final," he told her. "As you can see, it is not easy, but you deserve it, congratulations!".
An year later, Fernandes lost a nine-year battle with cancer and died at the age of 60. But his two sons continued his legacy. Frank and Gostavo Fernandes travelled to Russia to support the Brazilian national team at the Fifa World Cup 2018. Also, they had a new replica of the trophy.
A Japan supporter
6. Japanese fans clean stadium and players dressing room despite the heart-breaking loss: Japan lost their match against Belgium in the dying minutes of the game despite playing attacking free-spirited game.
The Japanese players were all devastated at the full time as were the fans. However, that didn't stop the fans from Japan to stop cleaning the stadium after the match. The Japanese had been cleaning the stands after the match in all their three group stage games. They did that in previous competitions as well.
But it wasn't just the fans. The Japanese team too signed off with a class act. Despite the crushing loss, they took the time to clean their dressing room and left a little note saying "Thank You" in Russian.
This goal shook the earth
7. Panama fans celebrate side's first World Cup goal despite losing 1-6: Panama were losing 0-6 against England when Felipe Baloy, who was making his World Cup debut at age 37, guided the ball home from a 78th-minute free kick, triggering celebrations among fans in the stands and also back home. The social media dubbed it "Panamania".
This, despite the fact that they had already conceded six goals in the match and were almost already out of the contention for round of 16. But the fans' happiness at their nation's first ever World Cup goal was crazy to some but a great example of fandom. At times when
Panama's lopsided 6-1 defeat against England came with a silver lining for the football minnow's crazed fans, who celebrated the nation's first World Cup goal as if they had won the final.
Carlos Junior with his interpreter (Photo: AP)
8. Brazil fan who is deaf, blind follows World Cup using touch communication: The FIFA World Cup is passionately followed by fans across the planet, but for some, such support comes with its challenges.
Brazil fan Carlos Junior is blind and deaf—but that won't stop him from following his beloved team.
With the help of others and a couple of specially developed methods, Carlos is able to track the progress of his favourite players as well as anybody else.
Another inspiring reminder that football is for everyone.