What a fall for Argentina! And what an exit for Maradona! Will we ever see him as Argentinean coach again? How many Argentinean and other fans would have expected such a result – a drubbing as it were. ESPN Commentators John Helm and Gary Bloom have always pointed out how awesome the Germans are, with one of the youngest teams in the World Cup, and for sure we are likely to see a lot more of Thomas Mueller and co, but nobody would have quite imagined them destroying Argentina.
Miroslav Klose with 14 goals has bettered Pele’s record in the World Cup and equaled Geoff Hurst’s if I am not mistaken. All said and done, the exit of Brazil and Argentina have taken the flair out of the tournament. The European heavyweights may have the clinical precision and technical finesse but there’s nothing to beat South American flair. So, the 2010 World Cup football tournament is heading towards its final stages and football fans around the world have been robbed of a lot of sparkle. We might have a Germany-Spain semi-final, and possibly a Germany-Holland final. Two matches to look forward to.
I had a couple of drinks tonight as I watched Klose and co blank out Argentina; I felt sorry for the great Maradona as he watched helplessly from the sidelines. Well that’s the way of the world – you win some and you lose some, and you lose some badly.
Somehow, the World Cup football ignites in me all those boyhood passions for sport. Cricket never really has in recent years. I think the passion for cricket in me died after the halcyon days of Richards, Lloyd, Frederick, Greenidge, Roberts, Holding, Craft, Garner and Marshall, and Thomson and Lillee. And of course players like Imran Khan, Majid Khan, and our own Gavaskar, Vishwanath, Bedi, Chandra, Prasanna and Durrani, and Tony Greig and Alan Knott. Tennis has never failed to charm me, although despite Sampras and Agassi and now Federer and Nadal, it has never quite been like the 1970s when players like Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors got me hooked to the game.
I still remember that match of 1976 in the Wimbledon final, when Borg defeated the flamboyant and mercurial Romanian Illie Nastase, the world’s top ranked player in 1973-74, who went on to win more than 100 ATP titles. I was listening to the commentary on BBC radio, straining my ears to catch the flow of the match as the shortwave frequency played truant at regular intervals. Sometimes, out of sheer desperation, I would go to my neighbour’s to borrow his transistor and place it on the balcony ledge, easing it this way and that, as I tried to catch the frequency as best as I could.
It was Ice Man Borg who drew me inexorably into the mysteries of tennis. His three-in-a row wins at Wimbledon made him an all-time great and he instantly became my hero. In 1977 at Wimbledon, he beat Connors in five sets and followed it up the following year, routing the same opponent in three. Borg made it five-in-a-row at Wimbledon and probably would have gone on if it were not for his personal problems. He had an unhappy marriage with Mariana Simionescu. Images of her sitting below the royal box at Centre Court in Wimbledon or at other majors, participating in every moment of Borg’s triumphs and defeats, cheering or waving her hands, are still vivid in my mind. And to think they had to divorce! Well, that’s what many fairy-tale marriages are made of.
That five-setter with John Mcenroe in 1980 is considered an epic final. Mcenroe had a head start, winning the first set 6-1. Borg came back to win the next two sets. The fourth went into a tie-breaker, eventually ending at 18-16 in favour of the American. By the time Borg came back to win the fifth set and the match, he had fallen to his knees in disbelief and relief. Mariana was in the stand then, waving wildly, cherishing every moment of his epic triumph. Mcenroe was downcast, as was to be expected, but they both knew they had played a match of a lifetime, perhaps of a century.
There have been no rivalries to really match the Borg-Connors and Borg-Mcenroe rivalries. The one between Sampras and Agassi somehow pales in comparison. It was not only the number of sets or games they played but also the kind of personalities they were. Borg had an invincible aura about him and Mcenroe was the super brat out to destroy him, while Connors, with a reputation of holding the top rank for 160 consecutive weeks in the mid-1970s, won Wimbledon for a second time at age 29, beating Mcenroe, and then at age 39, entered the quarters of the US Open. There have been none after Connors with the kind of fire-in-the-belly he had, and perhaps none before either. Some champion indeed.
Well, I could go on and on and on… but this is just another window to a world that made for the heady Seventies I always talk about and love.