In the Contest Between Nations, The World Cup is Not What it Seems. A Richmond Soccer Connoisseur Explains.

by | Jul 3, 2018 | SPORTS

As soccer fans throughout Richmond keep their eyes on their phones and bar TVs so as not to miss a single moment, the knockout stages of the 2018 World Cup Russia are in motion as a final 16 teams will be whittled down to eight by the end of today.

This year’s Cup is always more than a game for its beloved fans, but this year it’s a shocking turn of events for soccer junkies around the world. From Germany’s elimination in the group stages to Russia’s penalty shootout victory over Spain, World Cup 2018 has proved itself one for the books. Russia’s Cup has been goal-crazy; several games have seen their winning goals in the final seconds of stoppage time.

Major frontrunners have lost their footing this year. Germany–who took the Cup home in Brazil in 2014–have not been successful four years later, ending the group stages at the bottom of Group F, behind South Korea, Mexico and Sweden, respectively.

As reigning champions, the pressure for Germany’s success this year was sky-high, after demolishing host country Brazil at the 2014 Cup semi-final in a 7-1 victory. But the squad failed to perform–despite having their star players, they lost to Mexico in their opening game and South Korea in their last game of the group stages. Seeing the former Cup champions eliminated in the opening matches of the Cup was a shock to the soccer community.   

Aside from Germany, nations known for phenomenal soccer skills have left the World Cup surprisingly early, including Spain, Argentina and Portugal, who were fan favorites and potential bids to take the whole Cup. Spain’s loss to Russia in penalty shootouts changed the course of the competition as Spain has a squad strong enough to take a spot in the final four.

While soccer isn’t the most popular sport in the US, it is well-loved by fans across the globe. The FIFA World Cup is the most-watched sporting event in the world, and every four years, soccer fans gather to watch their countries compete. The World Cup is structured so that every nation has a chance to qualify for the tournament. Over a two-year period, all the national soccer teams compete regionally to qualify for one of the 32 spots at the next Cup. The host country–this year’s being Russia–automatically qualifies.

Photo by BBC UK

The 32 nations are split into eight separate groups of four. Each nation plays all the other teams in their group, and must finish in the top two of their group to move on to the next round. After the group stages, the games become knockout-style: You have to win to move on. Winners for tie-games are determined through penalty kicks.

2018’s host nation has surprised soccer fans globally, making it past the round of 16 with a squad proving to be an underdog. Finishing as a runner-up in Group A behind Uruguay, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Russia has secured a spot in the quarterfinal after beating Spain 4-3 on penalties, sending Spain packing and empty-handed.  

The Swedes have impressed as well, finishing at the top of their group without Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Swedish superstar who has scored more than 60 goals for Sweden’s national team since 2004).

Soccer superstars, including Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi who sat as the top two players to watch out for at this year’s Cup, have left Russia early in the game, failing to take a title back to their home countries. But World Cup 2018 is still seeing some breakthrough stars emerge. Frenchman Kylian Mbappé helped France’s national team soar into the quarterfinals, scoring two goals against Argentina in the round of 16. At only 19 years old, Mbappé is the first teenager to score two goals in a Cup game since Pelé in the 1958 Brazil vs Sweden final. England’s Harry Kane and Brazil’s Neymar have impressed as strikers during this year’s competition.  

A few of the biggest shocks for World Cup 2018 came before the Cup even began–some of the world’s strongest teams didn’t make it past the pre-Cup qualifying games. Most shocking? Italy, whose national team has not missed a Cup since 1958. Chile, Ivory Coast, Algeria, and the Netherlands suffered the same fate. And an upset to American fans came when the US national team finished fifth in their regional qualifying tournament, making it in the first time in over 30 years the US is not competing for the Cup.

Despite the shocking turns and surprises at every corner, World Cup 2018 is far from over. With the quarterfinals and semifinals ahead, soccer fans have a lot in store with the teams left fighting for the title. Germany, Spain, Portugal and Argentina were major frontrunners for the final four. Now the winner is anyone’s grab. Brazil, Uruguay and England are showing their skills this year and have a good shot for the title. But given the crazy twists we’ve seen so far, anything is quite possible at World Cup 2018.

Saffeya Ahmed

Saffeya Ahmed

Saffeya Ahmed is a senior at VCU studying journalism and political science. Enjoys painting, writing poems, and watching Friends.

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