“Other countries have also come on leaps and bounds and their players have become much more technically refined. Comparing different generations doesn’t often get you anywhere. You simply have to keep up with the development of the sport.” –Bayern Munich and Germany striker Thomas Müller
Playing in a couple (friendly) betting pools since the onset of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, am currently in possession of a completely mangled bracket, along with earning zero points after the quarterfinals. The countries with all the hype, Spain, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and 2014 World Cup champions Germany are all eliminated; should have sensed something was off about this year the moment Italy and the United States didn’t even qualify for the tournament.
In the last column, just at the close of the group stage, discussed Argentina and Spain – both with lackluster performances in the competition and both subsequently eliminated in the round of 16. Another World Cup eluded Lionel Messi and Andrés Iniesta retired from international football without a second World Cup trophy.
However, of the then-16 remaining teams, made a special mention in the column for Croatia; calling them a “surprise,” despite boasting major talent on their squad. They remain as one of the final four teams left in the hunt and would probably be the team I would support at this point – but my endorsements this year have turned out to be jinxes; maybe best to just wait it out.
Taking a look at the current draw, France would perhaps be the favorites at this point.
In the same way Argentina was discussed in the last column, the amount of star power in the French squad is just as impressive. Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris; defenders Raphaël Varane of Real Madrid and Samuel Umtiti of FC Barcelona; Paul Pogba of Manchester United and N’Golo Kanté of Chelsea in the midfield; and a strikers list including Antoine Griezmann of Atlético Madrid, Olivier Giroud of Chelsea, Kylian Mbappé of Paris Saint-Germain, and Ousmane Dembélé of FC Barcelona.
Contrary to Argentina, though, France has managed to organize their team well.
Despite that, I did pick Belgium over France (probably why my bracket has been so miserable this year).
In this bracket, one earns points by picking the correct result, predicting the exact score, and coming close to the exact score. After 60 matches, I’ve made four exact results. There are way too many “L” marks to count, but according to the website, my success rate is 40 percent.
The consolation is that it has been an odd World Cup.
One of the main talking points following Brazil’s loss to Belgium in the quarterfinals was that 2018 would be the first World Cup without Argentina, Germany, or Brazil in the semifinals.
Bobby McMahon reviewed the Brazil-Belgium match-up for The Washington Post, noting one of the reasons for the win was “Belgian guts and a bit of luck.” There was also the goal Griezmann scored against Uruguay, where Urguayan keeper Fernando Muslera’s block, instead of pushing it away, the ball spun over his head and into the goal; along with the goal Cristiano Ronaldo scored after Spanish goalie David De Gea mishandled the ball and it bounced into the net.
While commentating for the BBC, Chelsea and Spain midfielder Cesc Fàbregas said, “It’s unusual – it’s an unusual mistake.”
With two semifinal matches, a consolation match, and the finals left, am hoping to at least recover some point. The best scenario, based on my locked-in picks, is a Belgium versus Croatia final./WDJ