Hipster’s Guide to the World Cup Vol. 2: The Surprises
Underdogs, reigning champs, and wildcards... who will take it all?
You can check pt 1 here.
With the elimination of tough competition such as: Chile, Italy, and the Netherlands, the qualifiers has opened the World Cup’s possibilities to everyone participating this summer. The tournament is going to be a stalemate with underdog teams bringing a level of play that will surprise the dominant countries. To cut it short, it’s going to be exciting.
Unlike in American sports, where the rankings can accurately predict the outcome of a match (just look at March Madness), soccer ignores these numbers to present a display of passion and heart. The Coca Cola FIFA rankings are incredibly random and are based on tournament participation, and other factors that are irrelevant. Chile is apparently ninth in the world… but where are they at though?
A soccer team can win a tournament with only one win during the whole thing, just look at Portugal in the Euros. It doesn’t matter because any team can rise to the top. Let’s take note of the groups to see who has the potential of breaking through the stage and hoist the trophy at the end of the tournament. (To make this easier, I will italicize the teams that are predicted to get through to the finals— not the last game, but the elimination stage).
“You have to show up in the World Cup, and in the World Cup anything can happen.” – Lionel Messi
The obvious nominees to win the tournament this year are: France, Brazil, Spain, and perhaps Germany (reigning champs are tough to beat). However, because of all the factors that go into sports, such as referees, injuries, and expulsions, any team can quickly lose an advantage and fall short at the end of the game.
Soccer has grander odds than most sports though. The game is 90 minutes long, with each half being 45 minutes. Throughout the whole game you can only substitute THREE players once. That’s it. There is no offense or defensive line that can continue to rotate. If a player is expelled with a red card (either direct or by two yellows) then the team must play with one less player for the rest of the game. Not five minutes. It’s a game of strategy, resources, and skill, but sometimes the team with only the best tactics can win.
So, who might surprise us this summer and defeat the fan favorites?
The home team always has to be taken into account during these tournaments because don’t underestimate the crowd effect. Soccer is as much of a mental game as it is physical, and with an entire stadium going against you, it is going to affect your level of play. Not just that, but soccer has continued to grow in Russia since their continued investment in the Russian Premier League. Club teams, such as FC Zenit St. Petersburg and FC Spartak Moscow develop their talent well, and have stunned viewers at the recent European Champions League.
Although I didn’t pick them to get through the group stage, they will be playing with incentive that might bring a refreshing aspect of play from the Russian side that is unprecedented. If they get through and qualify over Egypt, then this wildcard team hast the potential to eliminate everyone else. If they do, the other teams will cower as they face a team with national pride and the wave of supporters behind them.
Colombia is a team that plays beautifully for the most part. They aren’t the best, but they are nowhere near the worst squad in the world. The talent of midfielders, Cuadrado and James Rodriguez, are all the country needs to pass around teams and put the ball in the back of the net. As if those superstars aren’t enough, Falcao is announced to lead the team as its captain. El Tigre is one of the most lethal strikers to have ever touched a soccer ball, and since this is most likely his last international tournament, he will give it all he’s got.
Furthermore, soccer is a part of Colombia; their culture revolves around the game. In 2014, James Rodriguez won the Puskás award for his beautiful goal in Brazil. His presence inspired fans to watch every single game no matter what part of the world they were in. When I was in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the bars overflowed with Colombian fans when they played in the Copa America. Imagine what it will be like when Los Cafeteros proves that with their class, they can bring the trophy home.
Peru, a team that is not the cleanest of the bunch. Their physicality has continued to demonstrate a prowess and level of play that triumphs over their opposition. They play with an unorthodox style that leaves teams surprised from the very beginning. Instead of trying to keep the ball and play possession, their tenacious game is meant to leave other players crying on the grass, while they shoot the ball into the net. However, they can’t win just off their aggression, which is why Paolo Guerrero is there to clean it all up.
Guerrero is another Latin-American striker that scores like it’s nobody’s business. He is the country’s record goalscorer and captain with a criminal record. In fact, the forward is training hard with club team Flamenco to come back after a six-month ban from the sport for testing positive for cocaine. Although he might not be in his best form, you can count that most of the team’s goal will come from their captain’s effort.
England is one of the teams that I will be rooting for during the World Cup. Their youth and clean slate looks promising on paper, but can they bring it home for Mother England? Hopefully they at least put up a fight. The English national team has shown in recent performances that their young players are capable of great things, which is good for sport in the country.
Since they are the home of one of the most challenging leagues in the world, the English Premier League, you’d expect for there to be rivalries within the country. Players, like Sterling, Rashford, and Chamberlain, all play on different teams. Sterling with Manchester City, Rashford for Manchester United, and Chamberlain for Liverpool. These three teams form some of the most heated games in all of soccer. However, what is impressive is that in their recent games, these players have put their history aside and worked together to be deadly. In their last twelve international games, they’ve only lost two (against Germany and France)! That was in 2017, but in their recent trails against Germany, Italy, and Netherlands, they’ve either tied or won; no one can take away their improvement.
It will be entertaining to watch all these young players show their skills and teamwork during the tournament. All they need to do is make sure they classify over Panama and Tunisia, which come on, it’s not that hard… unless you’re the United States.
Cristiano Ronaldo. That’s probably what you thought of right now when you glanced over the country’s name. Don’t lie to yourself, it’s understandable.
Ronaldo and his peers were able to defeat France to win the Euros in 2016, and all with a mediocre display of soccer; CR7 wasn’t even in form. His ankle injury persisted and even got him out of the final where he coached, alongside his manager to witness his team win in extra time. In 2014, Ronaldo was also suffering from an injury that led to a very poor display by both him and his team, but what will it be like when the five-time Balon d’Or winner plays fully healthy? I don’t know if we will find out because earlier in March, during el Clasico against FC Barcelona, Ronaldo was taken out at half time for what? Another ankle injury.
The Real Madrid coach promises that it was not a serious injury, but one can only wonder. Portugal really doesn’t have anything special going on besides the fact that they can get incredibly lucky. There might be a divine power that allows the team to effortlessly win a tournament, but I don’t know if it will be enough for the World Cup. I will say this though, except for Spain, the group stage should be a breeze for Portugal. These underdogs defy odds, and maybe that possibility will be all they need.
Russia 2018 might not be the most exciting World Cup because of a missing Group of Death, but it will be a good spectacle nonetheless. The games are balanced in a way that I have never seen before, which makes the group stage much more interesting. The teams will leave all they have on the field, and the results will fluctuate. There isn’t anything that is set in stone when it comes to this beautiful game.
Whether with skill or by luck, these teams can’t be taken for granted, and who knows, they might surprise you.