SO here we were on Tuesday night, so expectant of a humdinger of a game between Nigeria and Argentina as football’s World Cup unfolds in Russia.
By Enock Muchinjo
Endless rounds of cold ones, charcoal heaters and a big screen was the setting for this epic clash as I joined a merry band of mates to witness the highly-anticipated tie.
But before you know it, the long-standing football debate that has really reached fever pitch at Russia 2018 — the Lionel Messi versus Cristiano Ronaldo argument — was keenly reignited.
That this iconic sport has become a global culture, if not an obsession, has shown plentifully in this World Cup and watching it from here in Zimbabwe — one of world football’s backwaters in terms of international success — leaves you visualising how it might be in other parts of the planet, where passion for the game is perhaps deeper than ours.
It is absolutely crazy, when you think about it, the kind of unrestrained fanaticism we are witnessing, and you have to look no further than the Nigeria-Argentina game on Tuesday night to realise how Spanish league superstars Messi and Ronaldo have so acutely poralised global opinion and established cult following across the world.
Picture a bunch of local Zimbabwean football fans, quite sensible fellows on the whole, guys who normally would support a team like Nigeria in a contest like Tuesday’s, for the simple reason that it is the country they geographically identify with more, and an international team they feel closer to in many ways than continental camaraderie.
But because of loyalty to Messi, they then brazenly support his national team Argentina — irrespective of the not-so-flattering characterisation of the Southern American country’s race relations background.
For those football fans in a bar in some faraway southern African country, a country with its own historic problems with race, a country for which none of the Argentina team members they resemble, like Nigeria — the thought of a shock World Cup exit for the South Americans was a fate too ghastly to contemplate.
An Argentina defeat on Tuesday would, to an extent, meant that great rival Cristiano walks away with the crown, a hammer blow and some kind of awful closure to a contest that, for many across the world, means so much more than a casual observer thinks.
But that is what football is, a theatre of cultural communion, a game that breaks barriers of race, nationality, culture, language and social background.
The choice of Russia (with its reported racism issues) as a host notwithstanding, the World Cup has been truly representative of the world and you only have to look at team like Denmark — a typical Scandinavian country that traditionally keeps to itself — fielding at the World Cup a Ugandan-born player of Southern Sudanese origin.
It is World Cup time again, and it sends out feelings of joy and spirit of friendship across the globe — across stubborn barriers.
Eight years ago while on World Cup assignment I was sent to cover a fan-park gathering at Emperors Palace in Johannesburg, and the sights and sounds that will long live with me were of a dominantly Caucasian crowd passionately rallying behind Ghana throughout their quarter-final match with Uruguay. I will never forget the teary eyes around the place after Luis Suarez cruelly denied the West Africans a place in the semi-finals of the 2010 World Cup.
Sure, the world is not a perfect place, and indeed humanity is still a long way from reaching it.
But the World Cup, and football, takes us into wonderland and gives insight into what it could be like.