“Croatia has played an extra game and had a day’s less rest… They might just go out there and say, ‘You know, we’ve got nothing to lose. Let’s go!’” –Former US U-20 national soccer team coach Thomas Rongen
Cannot say France and Croatia were teams I considered for the finals prior to the opening of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. As mentioned in previous columns, have traditionally gone with either Spain or Argentina; picked Spain in 2010 and they won, went with Argentina in 2014 and they finished as runners-up. This year, didn’t even get the consolation of a semifinal appearance and a chance at the third place prize.
When first writing about this year’s World Cup, discussed my typical selections and highlighted Croatia as a “surprise” team. In the follow-up piece, highlighted the team again after they eliminated Russia, and now they are in the finals against France. At this point, pretty sure Croatia would be my pick, but I’ve also had a really bad track record this year.
In a pool of 14, I’m currently ranked 11th.
Heart or mind?
A friend and former colleague asked who my pick for the final was. I said, “My brain say France, but my heart says Croatia.”
Now, playing with my heart has not been very effective this year.
Supporting Argentina from the beginning, continued to select them despite consistently disappointing performances. In addition, evaluating matches with teams like Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Peru, and other teams not often in the headlines, many of those picks were purely shots in the dark.
Playing with my heart did earn some massive points after picking Mexico over Germany – a selection that came with the disclaimer: “1% of players picked Mexico to win.” However, playing with my heart did not offer the same fortune selecting South Korea in their losses to Sweden and Mexico (it was a battle of emotions in the latter). Then, decided to go with my brain when they played Germany and picked the defending champions – and South Korea won!
I also felt the sting after Australia lost to Denmark and Peru. Used my brain in their opening match against France, though, and thought it was a good sign for how my picks would fare – looking at it now, not so much.
Took a look back at my selections throughout the tournament to compare how many points I accumulated through France and Croatia and found they earned the same amount of points. Turns out, my selections have only been correct on two occasions for each team.
With Croatia, I underestimated them from the beginning and selected Nigeria over them, then they played Argentina – that pick seemed obvious, and got my first points when they beat Iceland, 2-1. As earlier discussed, they were impressive and I started leaning towards them winning more often, and then they entered the knockout stage going to penalties. It wasn’t until their win over England that some points were finally earned.
As mentioned, I opened my World Cup pool with the reluctant selection of France over Australia, which was followed by more points after they beat Peru. They then proceeded to draw with Denmark and played Argentina and Uruguay in the knockout stages – both teams of personal preference. This concluded with selecting Belgium for the finals.
Thought some physical number would have helped in securing a choice – nope.
Maybe it’s a sign
Am starting to think it may have been a sign that Croatia, of the then-16 countries still in the race for the World Cup, was selected for a mention in my initial World Cup column. A majority of the article discussed Argentina and Spain (who were both subsequently eliminated that round) and didn’t bother mentioning other strong teams like France, Uruguay, or Brazil. Something about them just stood out (and it was not only a partiality for FC Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitić).
According to the World Cup pool, out of 62 matches, I got 25 correct. Will hope picking Croatia becomes #26./WDJ