Tasneem Tayeb: It's a great pleasure to have you all here today. The World Cup is turning more and more dramatic by the day, and it's exciting to have such passionate football fans joining us! Let's start with Hamin bhai! Tell us, which is your favorite team?
Hamin Ahmed: I cheer for the yellows. Brazil, forever!
Tasneem: Weren't you just saying that you vouch for the team that has advantage all the time! (Laughter)
Hamin: I was actually trying to feel the vibe in the room (Laughs)! You should always be careful about the crowd you are among, especially when there might be Argentina fans.
Tasneem: Perhaps we don't have any Argentina fans here today.
Hamin: That's a shocker!
Iresh Zaker: I have a whole family of Brazil supporters, so there has always been an anti-Argentina mentality around. But this World Cup, I actually prayed for Argentina to qualify for the second round only because of Messi. I think all the great players in the world should have a better go, when it's the greatest show on earth.
Tasneem: That's true! What about you, Selim bhai? Which team are you supporting?
Shahiduzzaman Selim: I was supporting Germany! I think the Germans kept their spirits high until the very dying seconds of their games. It is how they have been historically.
Tasneem: What about you Peya?
Peya Jannatul: Portugal forever!
Iresh: Being a regular club-football follower, the World Cup season is a rather relaxing time for me. For those who don't follow football regularly, this is just a month long test of anticipation. But we league watchers go through this nail-biting enthrallment week in - week out, for the whole season, every year! And since I am a diehard Liverpool fan, let's rather not talk about the tormenting love I have embraced. (Laughter) So I have a special empathy with Argentina supporters, because they support a team that is not really a giant threat, they have faced a lot of disappointments, and yet they always pass their loyalty challenge smoothly. I can relate to that very well as a Liverpool fan!
Tasneem: Liverpool is a team that has to endure frequent criticisms. And now there is Salah to add more fuel to the controversies, especially after his painful exit from the Champions League final.
Hamin: I think Iresh might as well have some feelings for Egypt, because of Salah!
Iresh: I tend to be ruthless on this matter. I have been praying for the teams where Liverpool players are playing to get eliminated soon, so that the players can go home and rest for the league title! (Laughter) Every minute brings unpredictability. They might get injured any time. So I am actually happy that Egypt has been eliminated!
Hamin: For the 30 year long hunger of Liverpool to win the league!
Iresh: Yes! Let's face it, some of us might have seen Liverpool lift a trophy in our lifetime. But there are kids these days, who have grown deep feelings for the reds, without even actually having seen their club win the league! We have a Liverpool fan club in Bangladesh, where probably only a hundred of us have seen Liverpool win titles, among about 1200 members.
Tasneem: I think our instincts play a crucial role in forming our passions. My husband is a loyal Liverpool supporter as well; and now even my toddler roots for the reds!
Hamin: This is very interesting. I just started watching football one fine morning. It was totally random, I wouldn't even understand everything at first. But as I kept following, I got hooked on to Man UTD so much that now I cannot imagine supporting any other club. I studied Man UTD like a book!
Tasneem: Currently, Neymar memes and trolls have taken over the internet like a storm. What are your thoughts on it?
Peya: Yeah, we are told to not turn on the ceiling fans in front of the TV, or Neymar might fall down and get injured! (Laughter)
Hamin: This is becoming a regular practice, I think. Players are now more interested to somehow get tangled and fall, rather than striving to find their balance. Sadly, Neymar is having to take it on the chin, although there are many more players with this tendency. Neymar needs to learn to adjust and adapt to his opposing team's strategy. As we have seen in the first few matches, he wasn't being allowed to finish his usual pacey dribbling. So there were frequent fouls and interruptions. Every time the game stops, teams lose their momentum.
Iresh: I agree. Brazil might need to adjust their game-plan. They were playing with Willian on the right, and they already had Paulinho in the back with a rather defensive mentality. I think Douglas Costa could be a vital replacement for Willian. Willian and Gabriel Jesus were somewhat not connecting. With Neymar playing almost like a False 9, I think Douglas could pace up the game much more. Willian is a player who fits better in a Chelsea-like game plan alongside strikers like Diego Costa.
Selim: This World Cup is turning out to be one of the most unpredictable ones of all time. The Asian and African teams have developed radically, especially if you look at Japan, and also Saudi Arabia who defeated Egypt ruthlessly.
Iresh: If we go back 8-10 years, Japan had Hidetoshi Nakata who was perhaps the most famous Asian footballer of his time. But now only except a central defender, the rest of the players of the Japanese team play for European clubs. Not even a single player of Senegal plays for their domestic league. The game has gone global. Players are facing other skillful players regularly in league clashes and studying their strategies. The term 'artistic football' has perhaps achieved an updated definition.
Peya: No team is an underdog when it comes to the World Cup. And we have seen the otherwise 'small teams' display their exquisite skills on the field to prove what caliber they really possess. So it has become hard to predict the results beforehand!
Selim: Previously we could bank on the Latin American teams easily for their history of artistic football. But now European football has become a whole different sensation, equally titillating. This World Cup we have seen numerous attempts on goal from even 20 yards outside the D-Box. We are seeing a lot more penalties and free kicks. I heard that this year there has already been a record number of cards shown so far. And shocking decisions have been given against the so-called giants as well. So it is clear that the FIFA officials are trying to make the games seem as non-biased as possible.
Tasneem: Another talk of the town is the new digital technology, VAR, freshly introduced in the World Cup. What's your take on this, Irish bhai?
Iresh: I don't think the World Cup is the right place to introduce such technologies. There should have been an adjustment period for the match officials. You can clearly see that the referees are not really comfortable with VAR yet. Also, we have seen radically different decisions given in cases of exact same scenarios in different games. Boateng got away with some serious charges because of field referee's liberal attitude.
Hamin: Exactly, I think the main challenge still lies within the mentality of the field referees.
Iresh: And think what might happen when it is applied in league matches! There's so much money bet on every single second of the games, the pressure on the referees is going to be absolutely nerve wrecking. As a result, 90 minute games might turn into 270 minute games, VAR being applied every time. This is why, many of the otherwise very modern footballers have voted against the VAR system, unless it sees development.
Hamin: Perhaps the field refs could communicate upstairs using devices. It looks so funny that the refs have to run back and forth to that box beside dugout (Laughter)! Do you remember the Ronaldo incident the other day? I think it was a clear red card.
Iresh: Come on! I agree it was a bit rough, but that's just the nature of the game! If one cannot get back from a rough tackle, he should rather go and play chess (Laughter)! Nonetheless, VAR is helping us decide which player is a better actor. I mean, I feel inferiority complex when I watch Neymar. I could never be as good, in terms of my playing ability. But he is far more talented than I am as an actor as well!(Laughter) On a serious note though, Messi gets free-kick almost every time he is charged. The reason is also very simple. Every time Messi will fall, he will get up and run for the ball again. So the referees have a firm belief that when Messi does not get up after a charge, that definitely is a foul. Messi is not into false shenanigans, and so he gets his rewards rightfully. I wonder why Neymar, even after playing so many matches with Messi, has become more like Cristiano (Laughter)!
Peya: That's not fair! I am a diehard CR7 fan, as well as a Portugal supporter. Ronaldo has played some good matches this World Cup.
Iresh: That's true. Let's not go into that age old debate of who is better than whom. When it comes to being the greatest of their generation, both Messi and Ronaldo are equally strong contenders. One has better club records; another has better national team success.
Hamin: This is an issue that keeps surfacing during football discussions. Their performances in national jersey and club jersey are on different poles, which create much of the controversies. Although Ronaldo has paid back some of his debts wearing Portugal colors, Messi had a lot to give. If they are truly the world's greatest footballers, how come they could not prove their prowess during the World Cup?
Selim: You have to keep in mind the difference in the quality of the other players in their teams.
Iresh: Would you like it if I pick up the bass now and start playing for Miles? (Laughter) You know how pathetic I am going to sound! And there lies your answer.
Hamin: But they are being compared to players like Maradona. Maradona never cared about who is running beside him, or perhaps who was playing the bass in his band! (Laughter)
Iresh: I think Maradona is a totally different kind of a player. Maradona is the best player of all time in my opinion. He was the lone stallion pulling the entire chariot of Argentina and Napoli back in his time.
Hamin: He still has that same flare to himself. Who else wears two watches in two hands? (Laughter)
Iresh: The philosophy of football has changed a lot over the years. Football is now much more systematic. If you look closely, unlike Barcelona under Guardiola, Real Madrid never really had any fixed setup. Their players change, managers change very often. And before coming to Madrid, Ronaldo played for Man UTD. I think this gives him an advantage of being used to playing with alternating setups. He has adapted to it. On the other hand, it is difficult for Messi to play for Argentina because he has been playing for Barca for a long time, alongside almost the same players with the same strategies.
Hamin: Another important thing is how much time and effort these players invest to integrate themselves with the national team. How well the players are gelling together determines the fate of a team.
Peya: But don't you think the pressure on Messi is always at a maximum level?
Iresh: Yes, and it shouldn't be that way.
Hamin: Talk about their coach, Sampaoli!
Iresh: Yes, that guy! Thank god, he wore something he wouldn't take off during the match with Nigeria (Laughter)
Hamin: Any way, I think this is becoming a really memorable World Cup in Russia this time.
Iresh: I think the quality of the game has rather dropped, because the players are somewhat being protected. And it's obvious, if Messi or Neymar gets injured, it'll result in the loss of millions of dollars.
Hamin: I still remember the incident of Ronaldo being forced to play despite not being match fit. Which World Cup was that?
Iresh: The final match of the 1998 World Cup!
Hamin: Oh yes. And later it was disclosed that the sponsors pushed the team management to do it.
Peya: With teams like Argentina, Germany and Portugal out of the World Cup, I think for many the excitement has faded already.
Tasneem: So to wrap it up, let's hear your predictions!
Hamin: I will be very surprised if Belgium's name isn't amongst the toppers.
Selim: The cup will remain in Europe.
Peya: No, you have to be more specific, Selim bhai! (Laughter) I think the cup is going to Belgium!
Hamin: The British might have the final laugh as well, you never know!
Tasneem: It was amazing to talk to you all. Thanks a lot for joining the conversation. Let's hope that the World Cup gets much more dramatic than it has been so far and at the same time does not lose its glam!