I’ll be honest: I didn’t expect much out of this year’s World Cup when it first started. The USA wasn’t participating and both Italy and the Netherlands, two countries known for being dominant in international play, didn’t qualify.
After all, what events could altogether top the memorable (and hysterical) 7-1 routing of Brazil by the hands of the Germany?
Much to the surprise of the soccer world, Germany’s dominance from four years ago failed to follow them to Russia. Going 1-2 in group play with shocking losses against Mexico and South Korea, they were eliminated from the competition.
The headlines didn’t stop there; as the tournament advanced into the knockout stage, we continued to see more upsets and heartbreaks.
After Cristiano Ronaldo and his Portuguese squad suffered a loss to his Real Madrid teammate Luis Suárez and Uruguay, rumors started to stir up about the five-time Ballon d’Or award winner leaving his club team in Spain. On July 10th, it was announced that he would be transferring to the Italian club Juventus as part of a four-year, €100 million deal.
A move that shook the entire soccer world, Ronaldo’s new deal was the highest ever for a player over 30 years old, and the highest ever paid by an Italian club. Wanting a new challenge in his career, he departed Real Madrid after nine years of play bidding the fans an emotional farewell.
“I just have enormous thanks for this club these fans, and this city. But I believe the time has come to open a new stage in my life, so I have asked the club to accept to let me go.” – Cristiano Ronaldo
Moving on through the tournament, we saw superstar Lionel Messi and Argentina unable to reach the final again, Russia shocking Spain in penalty kicks, Belgium brush aside Brazil, and Croatia reach their first ever World Cup final in team history.
Who could’ve predicted Croatia being the dark horse out of every other team in this year’s tournament? With their last fighting breath, they came back from an early England goal to win in extra time in the semifinals. That, to me, is a sensational story. With the class they showed and the drive they exhibited battling back from deficits during their games, they deserve all the recognition in the world.
Onto the final, France’s young squad consisting of Benjamin Pavard and 19-year-old Kylian Mbappé settled in with veterans Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann after struggling to get Croatia out of their defensive zone. After a controversial VAR call led to a successful Griezmann a penalty kick, the momentum shift was obvious. Paul Pogba and Mbappé would soon enough follow in scoring goals and bring home France’s second FIFA World Cup Trophy in 20 years.
You can’t say that international soccer isn’t exciting to watch, especially on a grand stage such as this. Yes I’ll admit, its popularity here in America has failed to live up to its potential. Even when the USA national team is competing, we couldn’t care less. Sad but true.
Every four years though, we get to witness one of the greatest events in all of sports and there’s no denying that these are some of the best, marketable athletes (and actors if you account for the flopping) in the world. Soccer is the world’s sport, where there’s no predicting who is the most dominant, and this year’s tournament proved that point.