FIFA World Cup

Russia’s 5-0 drubbing of Saudi Arabia showcases the gap between Asia and the rest of the world

The gulf in quality was apparent every step of the way in the World Cup opener.

It wasn’t expected to be a great game, and it wasn’t.

Russia are ranked 66th in the world, Saudi Arabia are 67th. Between them, they are the two lowest-ranked sides in the World Cup and the quality of the football wasn’t expected to be very high. It wasn’t.

But the 5-0 result in a surprisingly one-sided game would have pleased hosts Russia no end. They could not have asked for a better start to their campaign. Saudi Arabia were poor – in defence and in attack (they didn’t have a single shot on target despite having pretty good possession numbers) and they paid the price for it. But Russia made their opportunities count and in a World Cup, nothing matters more than that.

Coming into the World Cup, the Saudi defence was supposed to be susceptible to pace and Russia managed to get behind them with surprising ease. It clearly was a case of one of the best Asian teams not knowing what to do against top-calibre attackers. Slightly off-tangent but if this could happen to the Saudis, imagine what would happen to India whose Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Rathore believes the national team will make it to the World Cup soon. The gulf in quality was apparent every step of the way.

Back to the match, Russia employed the high press and chased down the ball early in the first half. They hardly ever gave Saudi Arabia time to settle down and it paid dividends when Yuriy Gazinsky headed the hosts into the lead in the 12th minute. It should have spurred Saudi Arabia into action but they did precious little. They continued in the same vein — giving the ball away at every possible opportunity and looking mostly lost on the field.

Denis Cheryshev (43’, 90’), Artem Dzyuba (71’) and Alexandr Golovin (94’) added to their misery with some wonderful goals. Particularly heartening from Russia’s point of view was the influence of Golovin on the game.

When Alan Dzagoev, Russia’s most exciting creative force of the past decade, was forced to go off injured, it looked liked the hosts, whose own form has been suspect, might struggle. But the 22-year-old Golovin stepped into the breach and produced a game of rare class. The Saudis might have made his job easier but two assists and a goal will leave him feel rather confident about his game when they run into Egypt next.

Asian dream

From an Asian perspective, Saudi Arabia’s loss was disappointing to say the least. Japan’s 3-1 win over Denmark in the 2010 World Cup was the last time an Asian side won in the showpiece event. Since then, four draws and 12 defeats.

Before the game, Saudi coach Juan Antonio Pizzi told Arab News about how he expected his team to play: “I like to press high up the park and put the opponents under pressure. Take the ball to the offensive line and get into a situation where we can score. Sometimes that happens and other times it is not very effective, but that’s the general objective.”

Since taking over, Pizzi – who led Chile to the 2016 Copa América title – has tried to truly change the way Saudi Arabia play football. He has organised three European camps, plenty of friendlies and extensive intensive camps with the team.

And given that money isn’t an issue for the Saudis, they should have been better prepared. They should have. But instead, they seemed flat. It makes one wonder whether other Asian teams could do any better?

Japan and Korea have a better domestic structure and they are certainly managing to attract the attention of European teams but there are still not enough. The numbers aren’t huge but they will be more competitive. And the same is true of Iran too.

But will it be enough to break into the top tier of world football? If we take the the Saudi Arabia-Russia result as evidence, it won’t but stranger things have happened in sport.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.