As many have been saying since the start of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, this has been an “interesting” tournament. One of the most striking moments so far would have to be South Korea’s win over Germany earlier this week. Beyond it being a major upset, it also booted the defending champions out of the competition. With Mexico falling to Sweden on the other side of Group F, Germany’s defeat paved the way for Mexico’s qualification.
What followed swarmed social media and was reported on by sports press around the world. Images of Mexican-Korean celebrations sprung up all over the place, with Mexican fans proclaiming “¡Coreano, hermano, ya eres Mexicano! (Koreans, brother, you are now Mexican!)”
It’s the type of unity organizers and advertisers say international competitions, like the World Cup, bring forth.
There’s also been the unsurprising drama surrounding Argentina. A team with all the makings of a World Cup winner, but never appears able to deliver that final effort to take the trophy.
Even in qualifying, they faced difficulty in their South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) competition, literally earning their berth in the final qualification round after not only beating Ecuador but needing Brazil to defeat Chile and Peru and Colombia playing to a draw – the stars were aligned for the Argentines that day.
With two World Cups to their name, the last coming in 1986, La Albiceleste has since made appearances in the quarterfinals and round of 16 in subsequent competitions. They finished runners-up in the last World Cup, in 2014, which was followed by consecutive runner-up finishes in the Copa América (their fourth second place finish in the last five times the CONMEBOL competition has been played).
With the weight of the team said to be solely on the shoulder’s of FC Barcelona star Lionel Messi, supporters are urging team coordination, while haters use the team’s inconsistency to claim the striker is overrated – interesting how critics mock Barça by claiming they depend too heavily on Messi, but complain when he doesn’t single-handedly carry the national team. Have always been told by friends to not pay too much attention to media reports (especially during the off-season, when all the sales and trades take place – a.k.a. “Silly Season”), it’s clear why.
With Chelsea’s Willy Caballero at goal; Javier Mascherano, formerly of Liverpool and Barcelona, alongside Manchester United’s Marcos Rojo and Manchester City’s Nicolás Otamendi in defense; AC Milan’s Lucas Biglia, Sevilla’s Éver Banega, and Paris Sant-Germain’s Ángel Di María taking up the midfield; and Messi, Sergio Agüero of Manchester City, and Gonzalo Higuaín and Paulo Dybala of Juventus up front, who can argue this isn’t a team with depth? Yet, somehow, when they don’t deliver devastating wins, it all falls on one guy.
Luckily, they are in the round of 16 and, hopefully, after such a difficult group stage, they’re now mentally ready for the rest of the competition.
Spain, who unsuccessfully bid to co-host the 2018 World Cup with Portugal, has also underperformed.
Personally, with every World Cup as of late, there is always a decision to support either Spain or Argentina. Backed them in 2010, when they won their first trophy, which was followed by taking the UEFA European Championship in 2012 – their second in a row. Today, they enter the Round of 16 after a rather dreary group stage with one win and two draws.
With FC Barcelona midfielder Andrés Iniesta most likely retiring from international competition, after announcing his departure from FC Barcelona earlier this year, where he has played since joining the B team in 2001, one would imagine La Roja would be inspired to bring home another trophy, especially since it was an Iniesta goal that won the title in 2010.
In terms of “surprises,” however, while they do boast talent among their ranks, not sure anybody was really looking at Croatia to make a huge mark on the competition. One sports commentator, prior to the tournament, said Croatia could make an impact if Argentina floundered. The team is going into the round of 16 undefeated, including a 3-0 win over Argentina, which propelled them to sports headlines around the world.
Despite being captained by Real Madrid’s Luka Modrić and equipped with FC Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitić, Inter Milan’s Ivan Perišić, and Mario Mandžukić of Juventus, they were definitely not on the radar at any point before the competition kicked off.
Although, during the 2016 Euros, Croatia also put up an impressive record in the group stage, which included a 2-1 win over Spain. However, in the subsequent round of 16, they lost 1-0 in extra time to eventual-champions Portugal.
With Denmark next on the Croats’ agenda, logic says to lean towards Croatia making the quarterfinals, but given the results from the competition so far, who knows?
To be continued./WDJ