Here’s to the flying chessboards

To?! That’s “What?!” in Croatian. We all knew Croatia could do some damage at this tournament. We knew they had two El Clásico-dwelling monsters in Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, plus a less-famous array of quick, big and accomplished technicians all over the pitch. But who seriously backed them to go all the way? If you did, I salute you.

Suddenly, surreally, the prospect of Croatian hands lifting the fabled trophy is plausible. Ask the French: they would have preferred England as their opponents on Sunday evening.

The history of the World Cup has conditioned us to expect the trophy to be reserved for the major football nations — those blessed with substantial populations, economic might and glamorous, wealthy club leagues. When France and then Spain lifted the cup for the first time, their victories were seen as the natural and inevitable reward for decades of centrality in the football power map.

But that unwritten rule has just been broken by the patient excellence of these tireless flying chessboards, who represent the dreams of just four million souls at the sleepy edge of Europe. Not since Hungary and Sweden got to the final, way back in the 1950s, has such a tiny country travelled so far on the world’s greatest sporting stage.

Croatia’s progress has been arduous and stylish in equal measure. They are murderously fit, and they are totally unafraid of any team they come across. And their team spirit is impregnable: whenever a Croat miscues an attempted through-ball, the intended recipient applauds the intention warmly, no matter how crappy the pass actually was. They brace each other’s morale.


Not that these dudes need much psychological coddling when things get messy: they have nerves like jumper cables. When they fell behind early to Kieran Trippier’s free kick, the English jumped to unwarranted conclusions. The Croats simply shrugged it off and got down to business.

Of course, this imposing generation of Frenchmen will be the toughest side that the underdogs have faced in this campaign — and Les Bleus have themselves proven their mental resilience with that superb comeback victory against Argentina. Will the extra 90 minutes played by the Croats in the knockout rounds — three periods of extra time in succession — prove critical? Perhaps. But as we’ve already seen, the siren of unprecedented glory is a miracle cure for muscular wear and tear.

The odds favour France — but the gods surely favour Croatia.

Subscribe to the M&G for R2 a month

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

And for this weekend only, you can become a subscriber by paying just R2 a month for your first three months.

Carlos Amato
Carlos Amato is an editorial cartoonist, writer and illustrator living in Johannesburg, with a focus on sport, culture and politics. He has degrees in literature and animation, used to edit the ‘Sunday Times Lifestyle’ magazine and is the author of ‘Wayde van Niekerk: Road to Glory’ (Jonathan Ball, 2018).

Related stories

Covid-19 vaccines offer hope as world leaders plan for future

Hopes over Covid-19 vaccines have given a boost to virus-weary citizens across the globe, but the disease remains rampant and world leaders are urging people to be patient

$500m for Covid test, treat, vaccine

France, Spain, the European Commission and Britain as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have pledged money for equity in the treatment of Covid-19

Tax the super rich and raise inflation to cut state debt, inequality and poverty

The richest 10% of South Africans own over 85% of all private wealth and a once-off 25% tax would reduce government debt by more than half. Imagine what a five-year wealth tax could do

The European companies that armed the Ivorian civil war

AN OCCRP investigation reveals that Gunvor and Semlex brokered weapons-for-oil deals in early 2011 when Côte d’Ivoire was in crisis, despite a UN arms embargo

Emery Mwazulu Diyabanza: Liberating Africa from land of liberté

The cultural and political activist is on a quest to bring looted treasures back home

France will test flying taxis from next year, say operators

A drone-like, fully-electric vertical take-off and landing vehicle (VTOL) dubbed VoloCity, produced by German company Volocopter, was chosen for the innovative trial with flying taxis in a peri-urban area
Advertising

Subscribers only

ANC: ‘We’re operating under conditions of anarchy’

In its latest policy documents, the ANC is self-critical and wants ‘consequence management’, yet it’s letting its members off the hook again

Q&A Sessions: ‘I think I was born way before my...

The chief executive of the Estate Agency Affairs Board and the deputy chair of the SABC board, shares her take on retrenchments at the public broadcaster and reveals why she hates horror movies

More top stories

Zuma maintains his true colours at Zondo commission

The former president’s escapades at the commission of inquiry into state capture are a far cry from Nelson Mandela’s response when summonsed to testify in the high court

Gordhan tells Zondo how Moyane wanted to advance the objectives...

The public enterprises minister is being cross-examined by Tom Moyane’s lawyers at the state capture inquiry, as both men seek to defend their reputations

Burundian refugees in Tanzania face increasing danger

Human Rights Watch has documented cases of Burundian refugees being tortured and forcibly returned by Tanzanian authorities

Exclusive: Top-secret testimonies implicate Rwanda’s president in war crimes

Explosive witness testimony from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda implicates Paul Kagame and the RPF in mass killings before, during and after the 1994 genocide.
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…