Article by Johan Englen
Seven years ago, 22 people sat in a room in snow-draped Zurich Switzerland. The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) Executive Committee voted to decide which country would host the 2018 FIFA World Cup – the most revered international soccer tournament which takes place every four years. The victor of this vote would receive millions of dollars in capital inflows and most importantly the world’s attention. The decision was made that the World Cup would be hosted by Russia. These plans will soon come to fruition with the 2018 World Cup this summer.
Not your average World Cup
The teams qualifying for next year’s tournament are brutal and saw many upsets and surprises. Traditionally, dominant and high-level regional teams like Chile, Ghana, Italy, the Netherlands, Honduras, Ivory Coast and even the United States failed to qualify for this tournament, while emphatic newcomers such as Iceland and Panama found their way into the World Cup for the first time.
Italy was the champions of the 2006 World Cup but failed to qualify for next year’s tournament. Italy lost their last game of qualification to Sweden, 1-0 on aggregate. This propelled the Swedes into their first World Cup since 2006 because they failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. It also marked the end of an era for Italy as it was the last competitive international game for Italian legends Buffon, De Rossi, Chiellini, and Barzagli.
Ellen Sjöberg, sophomore international Swedish student women’s soccer team member, is excited to see her home country compete.
“When Sweden qualified to the World Cup I was of course very happy, but also very shocked,” Sjöberg explained. “First of all, because the majority of the Swedish people, as well as, myself had given up our hope of going to the World Cup when we were drawn against Italy in the playoffs. But then when the final whistle blew at San Siro, I was so relieved and so happy. I could not believe we had actually done it – little Sweden knocked out Italy who have been in the World Cup every year since 1958.”
The World Cup was close to lacking one of the world’s best players and teams. Lionel Messi’s Argentina, runners up at the last tournament, were in a close race with other South American teams to qualify.
After combating with (arguably subpar) Venezuela and Peru, Messi put 31 grown Argentine men on his back. He proceeded to single-handedly carry Argentina to a 3-1 victory over Ecuador with a hat-trick that lifted Argentina into the qualification zone for the World Cup.
Gabby Menendez, a senior and member of the women’s soccer team, is a fan of the Argentinian men’s national team.
“I honestly was expecting it,” Menendez said. “I thought it would be a close game, but needless to say I was definitely happy to hear the news.”
Syria got tantalizingly close to qualifying for the World Cup. What could have been a symbol of unity and hope to the divided and diasporic Syrian people, was crushed by the Australians in a 3-2 extra-time aggregate loss for the Syrians.
What should fans expect?
The World Cup itself is shaping up to be an interesting tournament, as well. Iran and Saudi Arabia could potentially go toe-to-toe. The two countries have many geopolitical tensions and consistently push one another in the Middle Eastern region. Iran is a majority Shia Muslim country, while the majority of Saudi Arabia’s population is Sunni Muslim.
France could find itself playing against Portugal in the knockout stages of the tournament, the team they lost to in the 2016 European championship. Much of the French team bitterly refused to wear their second-place medals after the final whistle because of how upset they had been at losing the final to a last-second Portuguese goal. This could make the 2018 World Cup a chance for sweet revenge or continued defeat.
The top thirteen teams in the world, according to FIFA’s Coca-Cola World Rankings, found their way into the tournament minus Chile, placed #9. Also, all but one of the 2014 World Cup’s quarter finalists have made it to this tournament.
Zach Thomas, senior political science and criminology major, is an avid soccer fan.
“Given that the United States is not playing in this summer’s World Cup,” Thomas explained. “I will be rooting for the defending champions: Germany. My favorite soccer team is German Club Bayern Munich and many of its players are on the German national team, which is why I will be rooting for them.”
The worst possible “group of death” he can think of with the current pots would be Germany, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Serbia.
The somewhat gruesome definition refers to a scenario in which three or more potential contenders are drawn into the same group, with only two advancing to the knockout stage.
Sjöberg is cautious about her team’s chances.
“I don’t think we can make it very far. Depending on which group we end up in, we may have a chance to make it to the round of 16,” Sjöberg explained. “But it is also hard to say because the team we have now is not very good on paper, but have won against teams like France and Italy. So, they have shown that you don’t have to have the best players if you play like a team.”
Sjöberg argues that the worst possible group of death that Sweden could be in is one with Germany, Uruguay and Australia.
Matt Caley, junior and player on the men’s soccer team is from Chelmsford, England. He also had some ideas about this coming World Cup in regards to his English homeland. Traditionally, the English men’s soccer team always looks good on paper at large international tournaments but fails to meet expectations. Though, Caley is optimistic about England’s chances.
“There has been a huge over haul of English football in the past five years,” said Caley. “You can tell it has been working due to the [English] youth team’s success in last 18 months. They won the under 17 and 20 World Cups. The under 19s were runner’s up in their World Cup tournaments. I think [the senior English team] will make the quarter finals this World Cup.”
Caley also believes that Nigeria, Egypt and Croatia will do better than expected. Caley thinks that Russia should not host the World Cup due to the FIFA corruption allegations.
Menendez has a few players in mind to keep track of during the tournament – Messi, Neymar Jr., Suarez, Marcelo, Ronaldo, and Werner, to be specific.
“If I had to make a guess on who is going to win the 2018 World Cup, my money would be on Germany,” Menendez explained. “They have a lot of talent on their squad, so it would not surprise me to see them bring home the cup again.”
Whatever the outcome of this World Cup the process is sure to be just as dramatic, if not more so, than the qualification process.