Hipster’s Guide to the World Cup Vol. 5: One to Remember
From Criminal Investigations to Earthquakes, this tournament has it all.
This is what the World Cup is all about: upsets, rivalries, goals, and drama. Russia 2018 has not disappointed in terms of surprise, but as the tournament continues to play out, fans are getting frustrated. This tournament has been everything, but normal.
Say Goodbye to the Champions
If there is one thing to point out from this year’s group stage, it’s spontaneity. No one is safe. With the elimination of Germany, the World Cup bids farewell to the reigning champs for the fourth time in the last five World Cups. It seems that there is a delayed curse that rests around the teams who win the World Cup. In 2002, France was eliminated in the group stage as well, then Italy in 2010, Spain in 2014, and now Germany. Brazil has been the only side to escape this tragedy, losing in the quarter-finals of 2006. Is it a coincidence, or does some supernatural power conquer the champions after four years?
Besides Germany, this round of play was a close call for many favorites. Argentina narrowly escapes elimination after defeating Nigeria 2-1 with a goal from Rojo in the 86th minute.
Maradona, one of the contestants for the best soccer player in history, alongside Pelé, also made headlines this group stage. During the clash with Nigeria, Maradona was seen making racist remarks and other explicit hand motions as Argentina scored their late winner. At the beginning of the match, he attracted a lot of attention as well when he leaned against the railing in a Christ the Redeemer manner. At the end of the match, Maradona was carried out by Medics. Suspicion is that he was under the influence (which isn’t abnormal for the ex-Argentina World Cup winner), but it hasn’t been confirmed. Maradona is seen as a divine power in the soccer world, but after his endless scandals and rude behavior, he negatively sparks controversy with fans from all over the world, who are asking for the legend’s ban from attending future games.
The Round of 16 said goodbye to many hopefuls as Argentina failed to defeat the powerhouse, France. In what might be Messi’s final World Cup of his career, he has to say goodbye in Russia to many of his fans. It must be tough to carry a nation’s expectations, but Messi’s precedented focus and skill were absent from the World Cup. Then, we have Ronaldo. Cristiano is not the most effective playmaker, but his finishing ability is undeniable. This is something that Portugal needed against Uruguay, and sadly he could not produce. Now it’s Neymar who has to make up for the slack of these two legendary players to see if Brazil can take the trophy home and grant prestige to a new king of soccer.
Underdogs Won Over the Love of Many
The odds were never in favor for the Iranian team. First, their last match before the tournament was canceled in Greece over lack of communication and political differences. Then, Nike drops their sponsorship of the national team because of the American Embargo (which was brought on by Donald Trump leaving the Nuclear Agreement). Players had to scramble all over Russia to find cleats before their first match, and even resorted to borrowing from Club teammates from opposing countries. Then, they had to custom make their jerseys from Adidas, who also decided not to sponsor the team. However, the German sports company sold them the kits for a very low price.
Withstanding all the obstacles and hardships that they faced, Iran still managed to put in a fantastic effort in the group stage. They defeated the best team in Africa, Morocco, with a late goal. Then, ignoring the intimidation set from superpowers Portugal and Spain, managed to play to the very last minute. Iran’s equalizer was unfortunately ruled offside against Spain. In the last match against Portugal, they left their hearts on the field. They tied the match 1-1, but Portugal and Spain’s undefeated records were enough to push through to the next round.
The third match had a lot of controversy though, as Ronaldo was seen hitting a player in the face after being obstructed from his run. Alireza Beiranvand (Iran’s goalkeeper) left his mark in that match as he stopped a penalty kick from Ronaldo to keep the scores close. The goalie has a remarkable history and is an inspiration for youngsters all around the world. He lived in poverty after running away from home to pursue soccer professionally in Iran’s capital. He worked in factories as a shepherd, and held countless other physical labor jobs, but always made time to practice what he loved. Berianvand is a player to watch out for as his display in Russia will undoubtedly lead to many offers from top clubs around the world. No matter what hardships one may face, one must never lose the sight of their passion. Read more about it here.
Another enlightening tale from this round of play belongs to Japan. After defeating Colombia in their first group match, the Asian team stayed after the game and helped pick up trash in the stadium. When other triumphant countries were out celebrating, this team was contributing to the wellbeing of the Russian community. Being humble goes a long way, which is why Japan was able to get past the group stage. It goes to show how beautiful the culture and norms of respect impact the beautiful game; this is what the World Cup is about.
If that wasn’t enough, South Korea is being loved by Mexican supporters from all around the world. Even though they had already won two games, Mexico was in dangerous territory after losing to Sweden 3-0. Their only hope was that Germany would lose to Korea. The odds were stacked heavily against them, but somehow Germany was not able to produce a single confident performance. South Korea defeated the ex-champions 2-0 to secure Mexico their place in the Round of 16.
Croatia is developing at an incredible pace this year. Cruising through their Group Stage against Argentina, Iceland, and Nigeria with 9 points; this is a team that no one saw coming. Although their squad always had promise with talents like Modric, Rakitic, and Mandzukic, Group D was still up for grabs.
“I didn’t say that Argentina was the easiest opponent. I said that this was the easiest game for us. We have nothing to lose. We are playing against one of the best.” – Zlatko Dalic, Croatia Coach
The Croatian squad destroyed Argentina 3-0 in the second game to show the world that this team is just getting started. Croatia edged by a confident Denmark in the Round of 16 through a penalty shootout. It’s debatable as to who deserved the win, but one thing is for certain, Croatia has one of the team with most heart and will leave it on the pitch against Russia.
Mexico Overwhelm Germany and the Rest of the World… in Good and Bad Ways
The game that really caused chaos was the triumph of Mexico over Germany. Mexico needed only one quick break to defeat the reigning champions 1-0. Germany controlled the rest of the match, but sadly there was no firepower up top to break through Mexico’s goalkeeper, the legendary Ochoa. It looks like Germany missed Mario Götze and Sané after all.
Mexico’s celebration didn’t end on the pitch though, in fact, it just started all over the world. An artificial earthquake was triggered in Mexico city as fans of the national team drank, cheered, and partied as if they had won the tournament altogether. According to National Geographic though, it appears as if they had just been cheering too closely to one of the sensors (which makes more sense). Streets in Southern California were shut down as Mexican fans started throwing block parties and small parades. It’s not every day that someone beats the No. 1 team in the world who currently holds the trophy. However, there is still a persistent lack of class from game attendees.
During the match, fans were yelling homophobic slurs directed at German goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer, during his goal kicks. FIFA is punishing the Mexican Football Federation yet again because this is not the first incident. In 2016, Mexico was also under fire for yelling slurs during goal kicks in the Copa America. This led to a ban on many of the Mexican fans who were displaying deviant behavior from attending games.
I look forward to the next round.