The Beautiful Game takes center stage on the world stage in Russia next week, and it’s time all of us — even those of us still salty the United States failed to qualify for this tournament — got on board and embraced just how glorious this sport really is.
Ten Reasons World Cup 2018 is Worth Watching
10. Is baseball really that satisfying from Mid-June to Mid-July?
Most of you TCR readers are Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals fans — probably in that order. Respect to that. The White Sox aren’t going anywhere. The Cubs and Cardinals (and Brewers) appear to be duking it out for the NL Central crown, and while that’s all well and good, is it really exciting at this point in the early season??
Baseball is every year. Take a break from your baseball, you can always re-visit it in August when lord knows how many games are still left. Go to games. Enjoy your fun in the sun outdoors. Most of these World Cup games are in the morning or early afternoon anyway — so you can still watch soccer and watch and/or go to your favorite baseball team’s games in the evening.
9. Brazil’s opportunity for redemption and eternal salvation
Type in Wikipedia’s search page “7-1” and you’ll get this: An article on the most lopsided, stunning, most historic international game ever played. Brazil 1, Germany 7. A game played in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
It’s a game hundreds (and I mean that) of years from now people will read about and hear about as a game that brought national shame to an otherwise proud soccer nation. In that 7-1 game, Brazil’s superstar Neymar was injured and didn’t play, and only a small handful of the players on that team four years ago are on the 2018 roster. Would a World Cup title in Russia redeem Brazil? Yes, but the 2014 debacle will never go away.
8. Germany’s quest to repeat
Only two countries have won back-to-back World Cups. First it was Italy in 1934 and 1938. Second and latest was Brazil in 1958 and 1962.
In 2018, Germany is one of the favorites to take home the coveted prize again. Das Mannschaft as they are known not only has the talent to make it to the Final, but they have a massive, massive target on their backs. They’ll get every opponent’s best game. They’ve retained their intimidating yet soft-spoken boss-manager Joachim Low. Germany is a quality team that does not rely on just one or two players to get the job done. It’s a system that integrates versatile, precision passers (see Mesut Ozil and Toni Kroos) with young up-and-comers (see Timo Werner, Leon Goretzka) and veterans (see Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Thomas Muller) to create the ultimate, unified group ready for battle.
7. Retiring Spanish midfielder Andres Iniesta’s final international tournament
Andres Iniesta — a player who not only will go down in history as one of the greatest midfielders to ever play the game, but one who scored the most important goal of my lifetime — is hanging up his international boots after this World Cup and is taking his talents from FC Barcelona to Vissel Kobe in Japan once the tournament is over.
At this point in his career, Iniesta is pretty much incapable of playing a full 90 minutes at a high level, and that’s A-okay for a team with the depth Spain has.
6. All eyes on Spanish youngster Marco Asensio
Spain will be relying on a youngster who could be the next superstar on the world soccer stage in Real Madrid’s Marco Asensio. Asensio, 22 could be the most talented player on the Spanish roster — and that’s saying something. He’s got every trick in the bag. He’s lethal when he squares up to the goal. He’s powerfully built and he has an oh-so-smooth first touch any player would kill to have.
Asensio will have a significant role in Spanish manager Julen Lopetegui’s system. He’ll play more minutes on a regular basis for this team in the World Cup than he does at Real Madrid.
5. Nigeria’s uniforms
No African team has ever won the World Cup competition. A lot of the pre-World Cup hype has surrounded the Super Eagles from Nigeria, and much of that has to do with their funky kits they’ll be wearing this summer in Russia:
Three million were pre-ordered and people were queuing round the block to get their hands on it. Nigeria's #WorldCup kit has certainly caught the fans' attention.— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) June 1, 2018
More: https://t.co/WI0rTn6nJ4 #bbcworldcup pic.twitter.com/5ihhsZN1nh
Good luck finding one of these bad boys for sale, the home and away kits. They are popular and hard to find. It’s easy to see why.
4. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) and Lionel Messi (Argentina) have five Ballon d’Or’s apiece — that’s the award that goes to the world’s best player each year. Those two players have won that award more than anyone else in history, and both are eager to win the most coveted trophy there is: The World Cup title. Even for the casual or non-fan, watching these two players is a must. I’m no tennis fan, but I know when the Williams sisters play, or Rafael Nadal plays — I’m watching greatness, and I can respect and appreciate that.
I hate the debate about which player is better between Ronaldo and Messi. It’s a futile argument that leads to nowhere and nothing. Let’s all just take a giant step back and embrace watching these two magisterial wizards play their respective games and uplift their teammates. Soccer is a sport where one split second of brilliance is often the difference between winning and losing. Messi and Ronaldo are capable of providing those moments time and time again when the lights are brightest.
3. Flopping and diving isn’t what it used to be: That’s good.
In the last ten years or so, the flopping/diving part of the game is improving. In the Premier League (England’s top flight soccer league) and in most other top leagues in Europe, players are subject to yellow cards (penalties) and can even be tossed from a game (red card) for repeated instances of diving/simulation. It happens often.
Players like Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo for instance have earned reputations for diving, and thus referees are more inclined to penalize those two players because of that and not give them the benefit of the doubt in questionable situations. Call it “reverse superstar treatment”. In the World Cup, officials will be trained to look out for diving and flopping. Referees in all walks of sport never want to be the difference in a team winning and losing. A penalty call or non-call is just that. The game is better in that regard now than it was in World Cup 2010 and earlier.
(Editors note: Plus diving/flopping is worse in the NBA anyways don’t @ me.)
2. Egyptian National Team and Mohamed Salah
The most popular figure in Egypt, a country with 83 million people living in it, is Mohamed Salah. Salah wasn’t even born when Egypt qualified for its last World Cup in 1990. Why is this so significant? Egypt has the 15th most populous country in the world. Of countries that qualified for the World Cup, only Brazil, Nigeria, Russia (host), Japan and Mexico have more people.
Egyptian Mohamed Salah was the Premier League’s best player last season, carrying Liverpool Football Club to the Champions League Final and a top 4 finish in the world’s toughest domestic league. Salah scored a whopping 32 goals and had 10 assists for Liverpool. Salah will be instrumental in Egypt’s quest to get out of the group stage and advance to the knockout round of the competition. Egypt finds itself in a relatively easy group, paired with host nation Russia, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay. Uruguay is hands down the most talented team and the favorite to win the group, but second place and thus a spot in the knockout round is there and ripe for the taking.
1. Will we have a first time World Cup winner?
2017-18 was a big year for first-time championship winners in team sports. The Houston Astros did it last October. The Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl in February. The Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup on Thursday night. When there’s an opportunity for a team to win their first title, that naturally excites fans — especially the casual fans who are rooting for an underdog.
No one would mind another final like 2014, which featured Argentina versus Germany — two superpowers in the game. But, I think most would prefer an outsider to at least make the championship game, and that alone could and would draw more people to their TV screens come July 15.