By Pantelis Boukalas
Sure it’s hard to stomach your national team getting knocked out of the World Cup on a penalty shot that didn’t make it into the net, but that’s no reason to follow the usual course of sinking to the deepest depths of despair after reveling in the heady heights of exaggerated confidence. There is also no need to engage in the other national sports of sneering comments and pointing fingers. As hard as it may seem, we could try the middle ground, however banal that may be.
The game between Greece and Costa Rica on Sunday night for a spot in the World Cup top eight belongs to the collectible category, as there was much to be learned in the way that it unfolded. And if the excitement of the moment did not allow for a more profound understanding, then the days after should offer time for reflection on the messages delivered by the game – a stage on which a performance that even the most ingenious would characterize as melodrama dipped in hyperbole unfolds in stark realism.
A very long 90 minutes, the frenzy of overtime and the ending with penalties did not look like a random performance but the script of a play that could be called “The Round Goddess,” as Greeks like to dub the soccer ball. In this performance, the goddess wrings us dry emotionally through a game that allowed the usual cliches shouted from the blue-and-white stands to come to belong to the Costa Ricans. The first of these cliches were, of course, those regarding the unique spirit of the team and its special abilities to win. But to quote another cliche usually heard on television, the Costa Ricans did indeed have soul and they proved it by winning after holding the game at a tie, one man short, for an entire hour.
Another thing that soccer fans all over the world have in common is the unfair motif. When they lose, they blame it on the referee, the ball itself, society at large, life, destiny, God, whatever. But in Sunday’s game, if there was one side that could complain about the refereeing it was Costa Rica, which was not awarded a penalty after Vassilis Torosidis knocked the ball with his hand in the area in the 55th. Of course, it was simply a case of the referee not seeing it happen. Had the situation been reversed, we would never have heard the end of conspiracy and other ludicrous theories.
Up until the 91st minute, the Internet was abuzz with Greek bloggers and fans pouring vitriol against the Greece players and their coach, calling them worthless, slow, losers, dullards and so on. Once the team tied, they all became heroes again, the Greek spirit rose anew and the God that looks over Greece got back to business – at least until Theofanis Gekas’s foot touched the ball for the losing penalty shot. And then, of course, the sarcasm returned. Now that is unfair.