“Well, that’s the end of the dream then, eh Tom?” a friend of mine said in a text message from New York, as Algeria were knocked out of the World Cup in the dying minutes of extra time in their match against Germany.
But the World Cup – every time it rolls around – is pretty good at building dreams. The promise of a reshuffling of the world order – for a fleeting moment on the football pitch at least – is a delicious prospect that’s hard not indulge in every four years.
When New Zealand held Italy to a draw at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the sight of the New Zealand commentators in the stadium weeping and cheering at this minor triumph on the football pitch was a moment to savour.
That most of the New Zealand team were part-time players who had organised six-week holidays from their jobs in banks, schools and businesses across the country made the result all the more extraordinary – and the celebrations that followed all the sweeter.
For an underdog at the World Cup the rewards are great and spill well beyond the confines of the football field. Costa Rica’s tourist board has just announced it is to extend its ads – currently being broadcast in Europe and the US – for as long as “La Sele” – as the team is known – last in the tournament, hailing the team’s success over Greece as a historic moment for the Central American state.
As a Welshman, being an underdog on the football field is nothing new. The last and only time my team qualified for a World Cup was in 1958. We made it to the quarter finals – not bad – only to be knocked out of the tournament in Sweden by a young Brazilian player who scored his first international goal in that game in Gothenburg, called Pelé.
A victory for an underdog can make national treasures of those who achieved it. The defeat of an underdog brings little pride to either victors or the vanquished.
So it’s through the dreams of the World Cup’s underdogs that I’ll be living this World Cup – and every World Cup until Wales qualifies.
The tournament may be over for Algeria, Bosnia Herzegovina, Honduras and the others who beat the odds to reach the finals in Brazil. But the dream isn’t over; the dreams of the underdogs never die. And so I’ve got my eyes on one team for the rest of this World Cup. Viva “La Sele”. Viva Costa Rica.
Tomos Lewis is a producer for Monocle 24.