Originally published in Christianity Today
They say faith and football don’t mix (‘they’ being Wayne Rooney’s PR team). But the 2014 World Cup has been packed with examples of the blurry line between the two. From players thanking Jesus to others just acting like him, the fingerprints of God have been all over the tournament. Here’s our top ten so far…
10. Edison Cavani gives Uruguayan strikers a better name
An evangelical Christian, Cavani so endeared himself to the church in Naples (where he once played) that the local Archbishop declared ‘God serves himself by having Cavani score goals.’ Cavani’s goal against Costa Rica wasn’t enough to win the game for Uruguay, but he was still clear about giving God the credit for his personal success. When asked by a newspaper if he is an athlete of Christ, he replied ‘no, no, no. I am an athlete for Christ.’
9. Vincent Kompany shows how to be a sportsman
After USA Goalkeeper and devout Christian Tim Howard gave the performance of his life in the defeat to Belgium, victorious captain Vincent Kompany took to twitter to praise Howard’s performance rather than celebrating his own. A great example of a sporting role model being first, and yet also last, all at the same time.
8. Joel Campbell’s Psalm 27 secret comes good
Every World Cup tournament throws up a new star name from nowhere – a hero who emerges from relative obscurity to light up the global stage. One such player at World Cup 2014 has been 22-year-old Joel Campbell, who has been the talisman of Costa Rica’s unlikely success. Campbell says that God is the first pillar in his life, ahead even of family, and recites Psalm 27 before every game – including the match against Uruguay, in which he scored.
7. When no other explanation would do – Argentina invoke God again
When tournament favourites Argentina scraped through a second-round tie with Switzerland, their national press returned to familiar territory. ‘The Post of God’, was their best explanation for why Swiss substitute Blerim Dzemaili’s goal-bound header bounced back off the woodwork – a reference to Diego Maradona’s infamous 1986 ‘Hand of God’ goal against England.
6. Daniel Sturridge praises Jesus
It was the moment that briefly inspired a nation: Daniel Sturridge’s equaliser for England against Italy put his team back in the tournament – for a while. As he wheeled away, the TV cameras caught him praising God with the words: ‘I love you Jesus, and I praise you father.’
5. Redemption for Julio Cesar
After a bizarre turn of events meant he was both Brazil’s no.1 and QPR’s third choice goalkeeper, Julio Cesar had a lot to prove as he stepped into the Cauldron of a second-round penalty shoot-out against Chile. Moments before he faced the first spot-kick, his friend and fellow goalkeeper Victor handed him a rosary and crucifix, which he placed in the goal. His magnificent performance – saving two penalties – led to widespread acclaim, and – as he was interviewed after the match, Cesar breaking down in tears. ‘Only God and my family know what I went through (at QPR)’ he wept.
4. Lionel Messi thanks the heavens
Devout Catholic Lionel Messi has friends in high places – last year he was granted a meeting with fellow Argentine Pope Francis. For two reasons then, the pontiff will have reasons to cheer as Messi has lit up the World Cup with his silky skills and explosive finishing – not to mention his God-honouring celebrations.
3. Giorgio Chiellini extends grace to Suarez
It was the most controversial moment of the whole World Cup, as Uruguayan front man Luis Suarez chomped Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder, leaving behind a very nasty dental imprint. Suarez was given a huge ban, but his victim refused to kick him when he was down. “It’s all forgotten,” the Italian wrote on Twitter. “I hope FIFA will reduce your suspension.”
2. The amazing Colombia team give God the glory
Led by new superstar James (say ‘Hamez’) Rodriquez, the brilliant young Colombian side are in no doubts about who has the overall victory. The side is full of Christians, while arguably their best player, Radamel Falcao, is a volunteer youth pastor who has missed the tournament through injury.
1. Neymar – the 10% man – lives up to the hype
The pressure on his shoulders as the home hero has been immense, but with four goals in the first three games, Brazil’s Neymar demonstrated remarkable composure for a man so young (he’s just 22). Part of the reason could be his stable faith in God; a committed Christian, he tithes 10% of his astronomical Barcelona salary to his church.