FIFA World Cup

From the sidelines of Russia 2018: Mexicans cast a spell, a joke on the Azzurri and more

Mexicans are seeking divine intervention to end their poor run at the World Cup.

The 21st Fifa World Cup kicks off on Thursday. It’s the first World Cup to be held in Russia, and, despite political tensions in the lead-up, the excitement levels are reaching a high – like only it can before the start of the football World Cup.

Here’s a look at some of the stories from the sidelines of the tournament.

Cast a spell on you

With the help of two priestesses and a rain stick shaped like an ancient Mesoamerican god, Mexico’s “Grand Warlock” has cast a spell to help the national team.

In a public ceremony, Antonio Vazquez – better known as the psychic “El Brujo Mayor” – invoked the plumed serpent god Quetzalcoatl to help Mexico end their 32-year wait to reach the quarter-finals.

The Mexicans have lost in the last 16 in six successive World Cups.

“Quetzalcoatl, give me all your force and power to break through heaven’s doors,” he said, his long white beard standing out against his green Mexico jersey.

Up in the gods

People seated in the Yekaterinburg Arena’s now-infamous temporary stands behind each goal will certainly need to be fit.

Fans will have to scale 250 metal steps to reach the dizzying top rows and once they get there they will also need a head for heights.

They would be advised to pack a raincoat – the stands are open to the elements – and a pair of binoculars will also come in handy.

The two stands, which are each the equivalent height of a 14-storey building, were constructed specially for the World Cup to increase the stadium’s capacity to 35,000.

Hairy moments

Australia’s Jackson Irvine laughed off suggestions that teammate Trent Sainsbury will “shave his (Irvine’s) hair off” if Irvine scores a goal. The midfielder stands out from the rest of the Socceroos squad because of his long locks.

“It came up last night actually,” he said. “Trent Sainsbury tried to convince me if I score, then he gets to shave my hair off after the game so... I haven’t quite agreed to that bet yet but it has become part of my trademark. I’ve become quite emotionally attached to it so I can’t see it going anywhere soon.”

A red-hot start?

The Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations has warned that “frosts are expected” on Thursday in the Leningrad region.

But it added that there would also be “extreme fire danger” in the western part of the region for the first three days of the tournament.

Keep calm, pass it to Christian

Danish fans have enjoyed poking fun at their team in the build-up to the tournament, even making a joke shirt that shows their “tactics” on the back.

The cunning gameplan involves always attempting to pass to Tottenham star Christian Eriksen, who scored a stunning hat-trick in the 4-1 play-off victory against Ireland.

But the Danes will be without Nicklas Bendtner through injury. A petition to postpone the World Cup until the much-maligned former Arsenal striker is fit has garnered more than 11,000 signatures.

Anger in Colombia

Fans in Colombia have been left incensed after Spanish magazine Panenka’s parody of their side ‘the XI of the Narcos’ depicted a team led by infamous drug traffickers such as Pablo Escobar, Carlos Lehder, Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela and Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha.

The magazine was forced to apologise after an outcry on social media, saying: “We have always wanted to treat the country with love and respect.”

Rugby dig

“Maybe if Italy had entered the @federugby (Italian rugby) team, they’d have something to cheer about this #FIFAWorldCup” – World Rugby can’t resist a cross-code dig at the Azzurri’s failure to qualify for the finals in Russia as it tweets footage of Italy’s rugby players showing impressive round-ball skills.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Do you really need to use that plastic straw?

The hazards of single-use plastic items, and what to use instead.

In June 2018, a distressed whale in Thailand made headlines around the world. After an autopsy it’s cause of death was determined to be more than 80 plastic bags it had ingested. The pictures caused great concern and brought into focus the urgency of the fight against single-use plastic. This term refers to use-and-throw plastic products that are designed for one-time use, such as takeaway spoons and forks, polythene bags styrofoam cups etc. In its report on single-use plastics, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has described how single-use plastics have a far-reaching impact in the environment.

Dense quantity of plastic litter means sights such as the distressed whale in Thailand aren’t uncommon. Plastic products have been found in the airways and stomachs of hundreds of marine and land species. Plastic bags, especially, confuse turtles who mistake them for jellyfish - their food. They can even exacerbate health crises, such as a malarial outbreak, by clogging sewers and creating ideal conditions for vector-borne diseases to thrive. In 1988, poor drainage made worse by plastic clogging contributed to the devastating Bangladesh floods in which two-thirds of the country was submerged.

Plastic litter can, moreover, cause physiological harm. Burning plastic waste for cooking fuel and in open air pits releases harmful gases in the air, contributing to poor air quality especially in poorer countries where these practices are common. But plastic needn’t even be burned to cause physiological harm. The toxic chemical additives in the manufacturing process of plastics remain in animal tissue, which is then consumed by humans. These highly toxic and carcinogenic substances (benzene, styrene etc.) can cause damage to nervous systems, lungs and reproductive organs.

The European Commission recently released a list of top 10 single-use plastic items that it plans to ban in the near future. These items are ubiquitous as trash across the world’s beaches, even the pristine, seemingly untouched ones. Some of them, such as styrofoam cups, take up to a 1,000 years to photodegrade (the breakdown of substances by exposure to UV and infrared rays from sunlight), disintegrating into microplastics, another health hazard.

More than 60 countries have introduced levies and bans to discourage the use of single-use plastics. Morocco and Rwanda have emerged as inspiring success stories of such policies. Rwanda, in fact, is now among the cleanest countries on Earth. In India, Maharashtra became the 18th state to effect a ban on disposable plastic items in March 2018. Now India plans to replicate the decision on a national level, aiming to eliminate single-use plastics entirely by 2022. While government efforts are important to encourage industries to redesign their production methods, individuals too can take steps to minimise their consumption, and littering, of single-use plastics. Most of these actions are low on effort, but can cause a significant reduction in plastic waste in the environment, if the return of Olive Ridley turtles to a Mumbai beach are anything to go by.

To know more about the single-use plastics problem, visit Planet or Plastic portal, National Geographic’s multi-year effort to raise awareness about the global plastic trash crisis. From microplastics in cosmetics to haunting art on plastic pollution, Planet or Plastic is a comprehensive resource on the problem. You can take the pledge to reduce your use of single-use plastics, here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of National Geographic, and not by the Scroll editorial team.