SOMEHOW, amid apocalyptic fears triggered by concerns World War III could be on the horizon, football was supposed to provide us with something to cheer our spirits in a week pregnant with political tension triggered by the never-ending Syrian conflict.
To help ease some of the tension, which has been building around the world, amid an escalation of a war of words between nuclear powers who have sharply different views over horror events that have been unfolding in Syria.
To provide us with a reminder that, for all the gathering dark clouds of doom and gloom, which a possible World War would inflict on our globe, there is still reason for us to appreciate and enjoy the finer things of life like the art which the UEFA Champions League provides in abundance.
Like Cristiano Ronaldo somehow defying gravity, with a giant leap into the air to then execute a spectacular overhead kick, smashing the ball from that aerial connection with perfection as was the case against Juventus in Turin last week, it even drew a standing ovation from the opposition fans.
Like Roma, without a shirt sponsor for the sixth straight year and with annual revenue less than that of Leicester City, West Ham, Southampton, Everton and Zenit St Petersburg, somehow finding the quality to turn on the greatest performance of their Champions League adventure and eliminate a Barca side dripping with riches, they are only third to Manchester United and Real Madrid on the Deloitte Football Money League.
Somehow, what football took away from Roma with that pride-shattering 1-7 humiliation in a Champions League quarter-final, second leg tie at Old Trafford at the hands of Manchester United in 2007, the world’s most beautiful game repaid them with that sensational comeback victory over Barca on Tuesday.
And, somehow, the football gods had to ensure that Roma’s greatest story in the Champions League would come on the very day, April 10, when this Italian club always remembered that humbling seven-goal thrashing in Manchester 11 years ago.
Like Liverpool, a club which thrives on the magic of European nights, turning on a masterclass at Anfield last week to thrash Manchester City 3-0 and then going to the Etihad to produce a second half of sheer quality and great organisation to win there this week and complete an incredible 5-1 aggregate victory.
Like the Old Lady of Italian football, Juventus, marching into the Bernabeue, weighed down by a 0-3 first leg humiliation at home, somehow refusing to be destroyed by all that and staging a miracle comeback which saw them taking a 3-0 lead against Real Madrid on Wednesday right into the final minute of that contest.
Amid all these beautiful stories provided by this beautiful game amid the gathering storm clouds of possible war – with a Russian television anchor even telling viewers on Thursday they should stock up essentials as World War III was now a question of when, rather than if – I have also been getting a lot of love from the Highlanders family.
This follows the piece I did on this blog last week when I scripted that Bosso had chosen Easter Monday to touch the heavens through their sweet victory over their biggest rivals – Dynamos – in a league match at Rufaro.
Some of the Bosso fans even went on Twitter to urge their counterparts to grab a copy of this newspaper to read that full story.
“Brilliant piece from @Chakariboy in today’s @HeraldZimbabwe. Grab a copy or follow link to get full story,’’ said the HighlandersFC Twitter handle. “I think Rob has love for ithimu yezwe lonke.’’
Mbongeni Dube then said the article evoked memories of some lovely stuff that I used to write about his team at the turn of the millennium when they ruled the roost of the domestic front and won four straight league titles.
“This is the real Rob Sharuko, undiluted, just letting his pen interpret everything. Last seen such writing from @Chakariboy way back in 1999-2001 when again Bosso were unstoppable,’’ Dube tweeted.
“Better open that vault where you kept your superlatives cause u will need them, especially with Mandinda’s boys.’’
Nkosana Malinga Ndlovu even went on to shower me with praises, which I accept, of course, saying my work inspires a lot of people though I doubt his ranking among the sports writers in this country because there are many far better than me.
“He is the best sport journo in the country. Chakariboy’s writings inspire a lot. Keep it up,’’ he contributed to that Twitter debate.
Wow, what a week this has been.
OF COURSE, NOT ALL TALES HAVE A HAPPY ENDING
But, of course, I have been around long enough to know that, just like the events in Madrid on Wednesday night, the world’s most beautiful game doesn’t always serve Cinderella tales and, in this brutal job, you enjoy the love – the one that has been coming from the Bosso fans all week – while the fun lasts.
I have been around too long to know that it’s not every day every Cinderella in this game eventually comes true, and on Wednesday night I found myself joining millions, if not billions, of football fans around the world who were plunged into mourning at the mere sound of a cruel referee’s whistle.
For 90 minutes, it had been the ultimate football fantasy, one of the finest heart-warming tales delivered by this beautiful game, a tale told by a genius, full of sound and fury, and signifying everything, the closest that this sport can come to give us something like that blockbuster movie “Pretty Woman”, where a very rich man ends up choosing a prostitute for the romance of his life.
And, there we were, watching from a distance, as the power of television delivered the drama that was unfolding in Rome.
Witnesses to possibility in direct collision with impossibility, the pursuit of greatness clashing, in a brutal and relentless conflict, with the forces of defiance which provided this wall of protection for aristocracy, probability having this intriguing battle with improbability, a world in disbelief to the events unfolding before its very eyes.
A people wondering whether those who have transformed the reality world of “Keeping Up With The Kardashians’’ had finally invaded the last remaining bastion of reality – which this game, in the purity of what the knock-out stages of the Champions League, represent – and chosen this titanic clash in Madrid for a trial run of their football madness show.
A people in denial, overwhelmed by the events of the night, the sheer drama of everything that was unfolding before our very eyes, the remarkable never-say-die spirit of this world famous club, fittingly nicknamed the Old Lady, a march back into time when in its northern Italian enclave used to represent greatness in this game.
Somehow finding a way to rise from the ashes of its cremation just a week earlier, in the place it calls its fortress, to invade the most protected fortress in world football – whose residents have conquered like no other regiment – and coming this close to taming this dominant beast which has ruled Europe for the last two years.
It doesn’t get better than this in this game and all that remained were just a few seconds for this battle to slip into an extra half hour, which irrespective of the outcome, was going to be celebrated as a triumph for humanity against the worst possible odds and, somehow, football had been chosen to prove this was possible.
Then, just like that, that flame – and everything that it represented – was blown away in the chaos of a diabolical refereeing call in which Michael Oliver, just promoted onto the English FA panel of elite referees four months ago, connived to shatter the dreams of these gallant Italians and millions, if not billions, rallying behind them that night.
Maybe, that explains why a few minutes earlier, tweets had started circulating around the world that Real Madrid would be given a penalty and Juventus would have a man sent off and, as if on cue, that’s what happened when Oliver pointed to the spot and then sent off goalkeeper Buffon.
Maybe it was just a coincidence, but when one looks at that blatant foul on Juve’s Juan Cuadrado in the final moments of the first leg in Turin, which was even a clearer penalty than the one which Real got in Madrid, it’s hard to dismiss accusations from the likes of former Paraguay goalkeeper Jose Luis Chilavert that this was all the work of the Football Mafia.
For me, Wednesday’s events provided a trip back into time to 1998, when at the Stade Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium in Abidjan on December 12, I witnessed, helplessly, from the stands as the then CAF Football Mafia, led by Issa Hayatou, conspired to deny Dynamos their golden chance to transform themselves into champions of Africa.
I have written a lot on this subject and have received a lot of criticism from some of my fellow countrymen, who claim that I have been trying to deflect attention from the reality that the Glamour Boys simply lost that game.
Of course, they did, but that doesn’t take away the reality that the playing field was never level in Abidjan that afternoon, it had been tilted to ensure that DeMbare, no matter how much they would put into that shift, were going to end up as the losers of that game.
I have always questioned how the globe would have reacted to, let’s say, a brutal attack on Cristiano Ronaldo, during warm-up, by his opponents in the Champions League final, forcing the medical staff to rush him to hospital for emergency treatment because of the severity of his condition, and he ends up missing the big match?
Would the UEFA president, as was the case with Hayatou that day, just watch from his VVIP seat inside the stadium and pretend as if nothing had happened, would the world media ignore this savage attack on Real Madrid’s most valuable player, by his opponents during warm-up and its dire implications on the result of the game?
Would the FIFA president, as was the case with Blatter that year, just watch from a distance from his plush villa in Switzerland while the best player, the inspirational leader, of Real Madrid was, like Memory Mucherahowa that day, was at the end of that severe attack and missed such an important game as he fought for his life in hospital, and pretend as if nothing happened?
Would the sponsors of the tournament just look at all this from a distance, when their name was being dragged through the mud by such pathetic events and pretend as if nothing happened when the very tourney into which they sink millions of dollars in branding rights had been tainted by such savagery from the Stone Age, where the eventual winners had used dirty tricks to ensure they end up victorious?
My emotions were destroyed by a 33-year-old English referee Oliver, who froze under the pressure of the Bernabeu on Wednesday night, but as I licked my wounds, I also told myself that the same world ignored our cries 20 years ago, that Dynamos had been given a tilted playing field in the final of the CAF Champions League.
But God has a way of punishing such devilish acts and, three years after he totally ignored the assault on Mucherahowa in his match report, Tunisian referee Mourad Daami was banned for a year by his CAF paymasters after being found guilty of trying to influence South African match officials to abandon the 2000 Champions League final between Hearts of Oak and Esperance in Accra, Ghana.
Daami had arrived in Accra as a member of Esperance’s delegation and he entered the referees’ change room to try to persuade South African referee Robbie Williams to call off the match because of rioting by spectators at Accra’s National Stadium.
Esperance, who were trailing on aggregate, had sought to induce several stoppages during the match in order to get it abandoned.
IF WE ARE VERY BAD, AS SOME PEOPLE SAY, WHAT ABOUT THESE GUYS IN EUROPE?
Now and again you hear people saying that journalism in Zimbabwe, in particular, and Africa in general, is in a very bad state, the journalists are pathetic and they use the Europeans and Americans as models of great journalism.
They bombard Twitter and Facebook with messages insulting African journalism, which they describe as rotten and toxic, and they find refuge in European and American journalism as fine examples of professionalism in this industry.
Somehow these people have conveniently not been following the raging debate in the European media in the wake of Juve’s controversial elimination from the Champions League, and the contrasting reactions that have followed.
Marca, the Madrid-based daily sports newspaper, ran a front page with the headline, “IT WAS A PENALTY,’’ while Sport, which is based in Barcelona, ran with the headline, “ROBBERY OF THE CENTURY,’’ while the Gazzetta dello Sport of Italy described the penalty call as “DUBIOUS”.
Corriere dello Sport of Italy chose the headline “WHAT A ROBBERY!”
“If there is a savage and sadistic way to be eliminated, then this is it,” wrote Fabrizio Bocca in La Repubblica.
“Better, much better, to go to the Bernabéu, lose the match and amen. See you again next year. Like this, no, like this everything stays open and everything feels unfinished, like a door slammed in your face.” The contrast is there for everyone to see.
Oh, by the way, thanks a lot to all the Bosso fans who extended their love to me in the past week and hope your boys will continue firing because, let no one tell you otherwise, there is no better sight in Zimbabwean football than a full-house at Barbourfields singing when Highlanders are doing very well.
To God Be The Glory
Come on Warriors!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Chat with me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter @Chakariboy, interact with me on Viber or read my material in The Southern Times or on www.sportszone.co.zw. You can also interact with me on the informative ZBC weekly television football magazine programme, Game Plan, where I join the legendary Charles “CNN” Mabika and producer Craig “Master Craig’’ Katsande every Monday night at 21.15pm.