|Messi and Modric have provided magic yet again this tournament. AFP Photo|
To those of us with a love for it, football is more than just a game. It’s the game; the beautiful game. It’s a whole other universe with a rich tapestry of stories, iconic moments and accepted wisdom. It has its own language which transcends nations. It unites, it divides; it has drama, comedy and romance. Never before has the force of football beyond the moments on the pitch been so critically analysed as it has in the run up to this World Cup.
Some people watch films or television dramas. Others prefer to read books. We can draw many parallels between the appeals of humanity’s many pastimes, and just like the theatre with its heroes and pantomime villains, football needs a stage. On this, there is none other quite like the World Cup.
We see the character arcs of the actors, as heroes play long enough to become the villains. Cristiano Ronaldo was once Portugal’s great hope, but two decades of ego inflation allowed him to distract from the talents of his teammates. As such, watching a living legend walk down the tunnel alone in tears was more amusing than saddening.
Equally, villains often find redemption. David Beckham received death threats for his petulance against Argentina in ’98, but found celebrity in his courage to fire the winning penalty against the same foe four years later. Will Harry Kane’s ankle hold out long enough to grant him the same opportunity? He only has to look at the players mentioned in this article to find solace.
The difference is that while we all have our distractions, they are often works of fiction. Football isn’t: It’s the real deal. But despite it being a very tangible thing -- with players we can see with our own eyes -- we still seek the unbelievable; we want to see things we don’t think are possible for mere mortals. We look for magic, and in the first semifinal of the tournament last night, we saw two wizards share the pitch -- potentially for the final time.
Unaffected by the sands of time, Luka Modric and Lionel Messi have each dragged their respective nations to semifinals and finals twice during their careers, at times when their international compatriots haven’t always been expected to reach such heights.
Modric can bow out at 37 years old with his head held high; only time will tell whether he’s remembered with the same prestige as other greats. However, one thing not up for debate is that the player Barney Ronay for The Guardian once described as resembling “a small boy dressed as a witch” has definitely had football fans and opponents alike under his spell yet again this year.
On to the man of the moment, though: Whether he’s a wizard, a witch or a little magician, Messi’s left foot is -- as the cliché goes -- a wand. While the nation still grieves the loss of Diego Maradona -- more god than wizard -- can Messi lift Argentine sadness and evolve from mortal to football deity?
The Messi fandom undoubtedly now exceeds the population of Argentina. While he has always been second and sometimes even third in the conversation back home -- due to La Albiceleste fans, devotion to Maradona, love of Carlos Tevez and the suspicion with which Messi’s Catalonian affinities are treated -- everyone in the country will hold their breath and hope for one last wave of the wand this Sunday. VNS