IT’S been called “the greatest show on earth.” If you’re wondering what is, then probably you are not among the millions around the world currently mesmerized by the drama that is going on in Russia. And no, I don’t mean the investigations by Robert Muller of Russian meddling into American politics. I mean the quadrennial tournament that billions of people get all excited for, mthis event they call simply as the World Cup.

There are many so-called “world cups,” of course. Basketball has one of its own, that until fairly recently the US never took interest in. So too does rugby, which though I like it, only really a dozen nations truly get excited over the spectacle. And the sport of cricket has its world cup, too. Arguably millions of spectators do keep their eyes glued to the television while this is going on – but that is because this is the national passion of India and Pakistan – two of the most populous nations on earth.

The football world cup, however, is quite literally in a league all its own. Countries cannot normally agree among themselves over many things. Trade, for example – where Donald Trump insists that the rest of the world is just cheating America, and hence he has to retaliate in kind. Human rights, even as universal as it is touted to be, is something that does not always find common ground everywhere. What’s waterboarding for some, is just a national security necessity for others.

However, almost every nation understands what the offside rule means, and when a penalty kick is awarded. No one argues over these concepts, and even the novel ways that they are applied—such as the use of what is considered very controversial Video-Assisted Referee technology to spot infractions normally difficult to detect with human umpires—almost always gains common consensus.

It goes without saying then that when the World Cup is around, the world is not really its normal self.

Not least of course when what the world thinks would normally happen in a World Cup, doesn’t. And not just doesn’t, but in a really very unthinkable way.

Who would think, for example, that flamboyant Brazil would be held to a standstill by the resilient Swiss? Or that the swashbuckling Mexicans would finally register a first-ever win over the Mercedes Benz-like efficiency of the Germans? Or that the nation that claims the world’s greatest footballer in Lionel Messi as its very own son would now actually be staring at an early and ignominious exit?

No one would. And yet everyone expected that something really strange and unexpected would happen. Just as they do in every World Cup. And just as certainly in this one as well.

So far, as twists and turns go, this one has not failed to disappoint. A full two weeks on, we still do not know if the latter stages of the tournament would feature the current world champions Germany. Or in fact if powerhouse Argentina would be able to make it out of their group. Or if even the mighty Brazilians themselves may still be in danger of disappointing their legions of expectant fans.

But this is how the World Cup is. Unpredictable and full of as many twists and turns as (Lionel) Messi and (Cristiano) Ronaldo could manage. And that’s why it’s called The Greatest Show on Earth.

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