Everyone only remembered the great missed opportunity for Greece to be in the elite club of the eight best teams in the world, the asphyxiating superiority of the Greek internationals from the moment they found themselves with an extra man. The unlucky carbon-copy near-misses of Salpingidis and Mitroglou, one-on-one with the goalie. The fruitless if insistent attempts on goal for the 30 minutes of extra time.
Half an hour after the match in Greece nobody was celebrating, nobody was roaming the streets; over the country’s cities and villages a veil of melancholy had fallen. It was like the country had returned suddenly to the fiscal crisis and poverty – there from which it had been lifted for a time, like the children of Rio De Janeiro in the World Cup adverts in which the favelas are portrayed with a gleaming romanticism, a piece of an eternal carnival which will never end. As if were Brazil to hoist the trophy poverty would be forever eliminated,were Argentina to win it its debt would be written off, and if Greece had advanced one or two more rounds the government’s ‘success story’ would become a reality.
I don’t wish to negate a sense of national pride, not least for football. I too am moved by the national team, by Giorgios Karagounis’s passion, the penetration of the hellenicized Jose Holebas, the strength and intelligence of Lazaros Christodoulopoulos, the masterful technique and cool head of Georgios Samaras.
It is only that I needed to reach the age of 56 to see the national team advance in a World Cup. 44 years since that amazing summer in 1970, when for the first time we watched in wonder on black and white TVs, the Brazilian team unleash its talent on the pitches of Mexico, that magical quintet of Pele, Jairzinho, Rivelino, Tostao and Gerson. “Why can’t you remember the names of rivers like that in geography?” my mother would ask, but I wasn’t going to remember the rivers – it was the players I remembered, just like I remember them today. And I never believed that our national team could play alongside them, even though it had come within reach of the miracle, while in the stone ages that followed it never came close – until the national trauma that was the ’94 World Cup in the USA, where you’d say that perhaps it would have been better for us never to have gone.
I needed to reach the age of 56 to see the national side reach penalties in a World Cup match, and I think that maybe I will never see it again, while my son, at the age of 15, has already seen us reach two World Cups and two European Cups, one of which was the ultimate, and he can’t easily conceive of us losing to Costa Rica, and indeed in that fashion.
I am not writing all this because I became envious of the distinction of the sportswriter and wish to analyze the technical aspects of the match. Even more so I am not writing this attempting to rationalize the relationship of the God of the Greeks with football, as if the Costa Ricans and Ivorians don’t have their own gods to support them, or their gods back off when they find ours in their path. Nor do I want to draw conclusions about the Costa Rican people and national character, who with their passion always manage to succeed at the last penalty or in the final minute despite being unfairly treated by gods and demons. Costa Ricans did I say? But, I thought that only applied to the Greek people and their national character…
In any case, I am writing all of this for one reason and one reason alone. After a defeat, one man swears and curses, another smashes things, another beats his wide, another goes to sleep in despair, while another tosses and turns all night. And I don’t have any other way to mourn the loss aside from sitting down and writing. And perhaps in that fashion I can give someone else the opportunity to smile and be consoled somewhat, or at least stop and think a little bit about how the flap of a butterfly’s wings over Recife in Brazil unleashes tectonic shifts so much in Costa Rica as in faraway Greece.
*Christoforos Kasdaglis is an author.