The World Cup (without the United States)

Americans do not care about soccer. The United States not being one of 32 teams to make the World Cup is not a valid excuse for ignorance, as the entire rest of the world still watched from the first whistle on June 14 to the last on July 15. Missing the tournament just means our team sucks. The U.S. national team’s absence was sealed after a 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago last October after their poor qualifying performance against other North American teams. Mexico, Costa Rica and even Panama made it to this year’s World Cup. Mexico was the team from North America that made it the farthest, to the first knockout stage. But the United States would likely have lost in the group stage anyway. American soccer fans should be content with watching incredible players like Messi and Ronaldo and strong teams like France and England. Americans should be able to appreciate underdogs like Croatia and upsets like Russia’s win over Spain and actively enjoy the most popular sporting event in the world.

Let’s overview each round of the World Cup that led up to France’s victory. The group stage consists of eight randomly selected groups of four teams each, and these four teams with varying skill levels play each other once. Whichever two teams have the most points (three points for a win, one for a tie and none for a loss) after these three games move on to the knockout stage. This small group round-robin system usually causes the better teams to move on, and while there were some upsets in this early stage, the only major surprise this year was that underdogs Mexico and South Korea both took down mighty Germany in their group, causing them to miss the first knockout stage.

The round of 16, or the first elimination round, saw the early exit of Ronaldo and Messi, as their teams Portugal and Argentina, respectively, both lost in the first two games of the round. The rest of the round saw Russia’s, Croatia’s and England’s wild wins on penalty kicks. In addition, Brazil had a decisive victory over Mexico, Belgium managed to just beat Japan and Sweden upset favored Switzerland.

The quarterfinals were where the great teams began to emerge. France and England had solid 2-0 wins over Uruguay and Sweden, respectively. Belgium scored early and held off mighty Brazil in a 2-1 win thanks to an own goal in Belgium’s favor in the 13th minute. Croatia and Russia had a riveting match, with Russia managing to score once against Croatia’s possession-style team early. Croatia quickly answered and the game stalemated until both teams scored once in extra time. Then, Croatia managed to score four penalties over Russia’s three to advance.

The semifinals saw France hold off well-controlled Belgium in a 1-0 win decided by Samuel Umtiti’s goal in the 51st minute. The other game saw Croatia’s third come-from-behind win after England scored in the 5th minute. Croatia tied it at 1 in the middle of the game and scored once more in extra time to take a 2-1 victory.

The final was down to France and Croatia. The start of the game began with Croatia possessing the ball well, and yet, a controversial call off a flop allowed for France to take a free kick deep in Croatia’s half to score an own-goal header off of one of Croatia’s prime midfielders, Mario Mandžukić, in just the eighth minute. Only 10 minutes later, Ivan Perišić tied the game up at one for Croatia. In another 10 minutes, a call was reviewed with video replay and rightfully overturned that allowed French forward Antoine Griezmann to score a penalty kick, making the score 2-1 France in 28 brief minutes of play. The Croatians continued to possess the ball well into the second half. Croatia had the potential to come from behind once more. Then, Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappé scored in the 59th and 65th minute to seal the French victory. Mario Mandžukić scored for Croatia just after, but the goal was too little, too late, and France took the Cup in a 4-2 victory.

This was the “best World Cup in any of our lifetimes” as described by a commentator in the final. I just hope many Americans can fully appreciate this worldwide spectacle of the beautiful game every four years, no matter their team’s role.