I confess my love of the world’s game: soccer. Though we American’s haven’t quit caught on, I am confident American mothers will ensure that soccer will continue to grow in popularity. Most mothers, simply put, don’t want their little boys to turn their brains into mashed potatoes on the football field. Advantage futbol.
Regardless, the 2018 World Cup has been much anticipated. I’ve been looking forward to it for a while and have watched as much of it as I could. Although I am no soccer pundit, I thought I would offer a change of pace for the website and offer a few thoughts on this run of the World Cup while we wait for next years women’s World Cup.
There Was a Lot of Parody
By the end of the round of sixteen, the powerhouses of Germany, Spain, Argentina, and Portugal were all eliminated. Early favorites Brazil would fall in the next round. This surprised everyone. I had Germany winning it all and yet they did not make it out of the group stage. My reasoning was simple, having watched them demolish every team they faced in a major international tournament last year without any signs of being slowed down and then being put in a group that favored them, they looked like a clear favorite. Yet, they placed uninspired soccer and were rightly punished.
Like Germany, Argentina played poorly. I suspected they would not go far, but I doubt anyone thought they would play as poorly as they did. The beauty of soccer is that it is truly a team game. Having the world’s best player isn’t enough. Argentina was abismal and advanced by the skin of their teeth.
This makes sports fun, but eventually we stop watching if there is too much parody. March Madness is the best example of this. We love upsets, but not too much. Germany and Brazil draw eyes because they have quality players, Russia doesn’t. So unlike previous World Cup, the tournament was very unpredictable, but in the end, four of the best teams playing their best soccer made it to the quarter finals.
The Celebrated Stars Performed Poorly
Most would agree that the three best players in the world are Leonel Messi, Christiano Ronaldo, and Neymar. Of the three, Ronaldo had the better tournament, followed by Naymar. I’m not sure Messi ever arrived in Russia.
For the most part though, these three, and others could be added to the list, played poorly. Ronaldo’s best game, the first one against Spain, included long periods of being absent. Neymar became a parody of flops and overdramatic whining. And Messi played with the same energy as the rest of his team.
This is bad for the game of soccer. What is worse is there lacked other quality players of their age that played at their levels. There was no Robin or a host of other players in the tournament. Much of the press on was these three and when they either didn’t play well or were eliminated, it was a disappointment.
The Young Stars Performed Brillantly
The big three may have played poorly, but the young stars did not. Perhaps the star of the tournament was Frenchman Kylian Mbappe. The world is beginning to wonder if he is the next Messi/Ronaldo. When they finally retire, someone young like Mbappe will be at the right age to carry the mantle.
Another name worth mentioning is the Golden Boot award winner Harry Kane. Coming off of a successful season with Tottenham, Kane carried England to the semifinals. England was a hard team to figure out before the tournament. The talent was there, but could they finish strong. England, like Mexico and the US, tend to show promise but ultimately lay an egg. Not this time and Kane was a major reason why.
One other name worth mentioning is Christian Eriksen from Denmark. Perhaps no one carried their team to success more than him.
The Tournament Suffered From The Teams That Didn’t Qualify
There were some notable teams that did not qualify for the World Cup. These include the Netherlands, Italy, Chile, and, of course, the United States. The Netherlands were the most exciting team four years ago. Italy has a long history of success in the World Cup. Chile is highly ranked and armed with great talent. And then is the United States. Having finally become a staple in the World Cup, they failed miserably in qualifications. Unable to even tie Trinidad and Tobaggo, the US were kept out of a tournament they could have found success in.
The stories are already out that ratings are down the World Cup. This isn’t surprising. Most of the games were in the morning and early afternoon and without the massive appeal of Italy and the US, ratings were bound to be down. The World Cup will increase the number of teams next time around which will almost gaurantee these teams will be a staple.
But then again, the US men’s team never seem to disapponit.
The Tournament Benefited From Exciting “Underdog” Teams
Though the tournament suffered from poor performes of Germany and the rest and the absence of Italy and others, multiple teams filled the void. Mexico, it pains me to say, was fun to watch until they faced Brazil. Croatia proved to be a team of real talent. And there was the biggest surprise of the tournament: host Russia. No one played with the sort of heart and want more than Russia and understandably so. They slayed Spain, kicked the tournament off with style, and almost beat Croatia. Hats off to our political enemies. Tournaments often bring the best out of teams like these and we enjoy every minute.
And Iceland was fun.
Who is the Next International Star?
Here is the question everyone is asking. Who is the next Ronaldo and Messi? The two leading candidates coming out of the World Cup is likely Mbappe and Neymar. We can’t forget Salah who had an unfortanate tournament for Egypt. Some point to Toni Kroos but that seems unlikely. Harry Kane? Christian Eriksen? Cavani? I’m a fan of Dembele from France (who mostly sat on the bench) and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Arsenal FC, but then again, I’m an Arsenal fan.
The beauty of being a soccer fan in America is there is no off season. In the fall and winter Europe is in full club season. The English Premier League along with Serie A and La Liga offer plenty of material. In the summer, the MLS kicks off. In between all of that are various international matches.
Next year is the Women’s World Cup which means the US women’s national team will start their qualifying soon. The women’s game is exciting and underrated. Come World Cup time, expect a lot of interest in America as they have solid chance of winning it again.
Until then, we find ourselves in the midst of a competitive MLS season that now features Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimović and soon the EPL begins on August 10. Go Gunners!