Where did the voodoo go wrong?
A skilful elemental shaman is a fearsome thing; he can smite the mightiest of warriors and bring down the holiest of priests, a man equally capable of healing the weak and of destroying the powerful. That, however, is only true in World of Warcraft. In reality, shamans are the ‘holy’ equivalent of the homeless man who talks into his cup.
This World Cup though has seen its fair share of priests and shamans claiming use of their ‘powers’ to influence matches. It started off with a Ghanaian witch doctor claiming to be behind Cristiano Ronaldo’s injury worries before Portugal’s match against the Black Stars. The injury, he claimed, could not be cured by any medic. Of course, the Portuguese captain not only played in that match but also scored the winner; his only goal of the tournament.
Another voodoo master emerged and he claimed of having the power to do what no team in this tournament has done; defeat the Germans. What followed will go down as the most embarrassing moment in the history of one of the world’s most successful football teams.
‘Black magic enthusiast’ Helio Sillman had used his incredible powers in the Selecao’s last game against Columbia as well, to ensure that James Rodriguez does not do anything. Rodriguez, however, managed to score from the spot and was the most influential Columbian on the pitch. Sillman was still happy with his work, taking full credit for Brazil’s unbeaten run in the tournament so far. How he would atone for the loss that he claimed his voodoo will prevent would be interesting to see.
Felipe Scolari, however, would have happily traded Sillman’s antics for the services of his captain Thiago Silva, who was sorely missed in the heart of the defence as the Canarinhos were on the wrong end of a 7-1 drubbing on the hands of the Germans; the worst defeat ever in a semi-final. Unfortunately, such feats are beyond even the great voodoo master.
However, since luck plays such a huge part in football, as in any other sport, players and coaches are often known to dabble in superstition.
Argentina’s World Cup winning coach, Carlos Bilardo, insisted on borrowing toothpaste from one of his players before every match since he had done so in the first and Argentina had emerged victorious. The toothpaste clearly had divine powers since it delivered the World Cup title, or it may have something to do with a little Argentine called Diego Maradona being in the form of his life.
Former Arsenal player Kolo Toure insisted on being the last player on the pitch; so much so that he almost missed the start of the second half of Arsenal’s match against Roma waiting for his defence partner William Gallas, who was receiving treatment on an injury, to step out before him and ended up receiving a yellow card for his troubles.
England’s World Cup winning captain, defender Bobby Moore, also had a superstition similar to that of Toure’s. He insisted on being the last person to wear his shorts before a match, holding his shorts in his hands as he waited for his teammates to dress up. England and West Ham teammate, Martin Peters, would often amuse himself by taking off his shorts after Moore had worn his. Moore would then be forced by his superstition to take off his own and wait, shorts in hand, for his teammate to don his back on.
Former England goalkeeper David James, famous for his eccentric nature, would often stop talking to everyone on Friday night before a weekend game. He would also go into empty urinals and spit on the walls.
Dutch great Johan Cruyff, despite condemning superstitious behaviour later on in his life, had a strange pre-match ritual at his first club, Ajax. After coming out onto the pitch, he would slap the belly of goalkeeper Gert Bals and would then spit a chewing gum in the opposition’s half.
The French team’s bus seating rituals have also been notoriously superstitious in recent times. Every member of the 1998 World Cup winning team had designated seats and always sat on their own. The seating arrangements became so ingrained in the team that when, years later, Samir Nasri sat in Theirry Henry’s spot in the bus, it ended in a bust-up that reportedly destroyed the entire unity of the French squad.
However, that is not the only superstition that the French 1998 team had, with Laurent Blanc kissing goalkeeper Fabian Barthez’s bald head before every match. However, the victory in the final was more due to two goals scored by Zinidine Zidane’s balding head, as compared to the bald one of Barthez.
Chelsea captain John Terry is also infamous for having a set routine to prepare for a match, parking his car in the same spot, tying tape around his socks the same number of times and cutting the tubular grip the exact size every time. Terry would also use the exact same urinal before the match.
Argentine goalkeeper Sergio Goycochea’s superstition was a little more unsanitary. He would urinate on the pitch before every penalty shootout. It is unclear though if his unusual success in the shootouts was due to some mysterious power or due to his actions unnerving the oppositions.
A case of the superstitions does not only ail the most famous of footballers, with relatively unknown Malvin Kamara becoming more famous for his pre-match antics than his talents on the pitch, insisting on watching Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory before every match.
The power of voodoo may not be real, but that of belief surely is, and on Tuesday night, in a shock to match that of the Maracanazo, it was the team in German black and red, rather than the one in Brazilian yellow, that had the belief. And all of Sillman’s voodoo could do nothing about it.
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