From the moment the tournament began on June 14 to the final seconds of the championship match on July 15, the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia captivated soccer — or “football” — fanatics across the globe.

Rather than promote the event on big names, such as Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal  and Lionel Messi of Argentina, this World Cup, instead, chose to display the unforgettable wit and talent of lesser known athletes and underdog countries who, despite all put in their way, defied odds and made it to the top.

When the last FIFA World Cup ended in Brazil in 2014, I could barely wait for the next tournament to arrive. I was excited to reconnect with teams I hadn’t known beforehand, like France, Spain and Nigeria, and to see if Germany was capable of achieving its goal of becoming the first-ever country to win the World Cup consecutively.

Much to my surprise and delight, however, this FIFA Cup evidently had other plans for the countries and players. From the kickoff of the first match, this World Cup was immediately set apart from past tournaments.

Germany lost 1-0 against Mexico and didn’t advance past the group stage; so much for winning two World Cups in a row.

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• Kudos to Nigeria

Brazil made an epic comeback this year after a devastating defeat as the host country four years ago, beating Germany 7-0. Unfortunately, even after Brazil made it to the quarterfinals, I’m still trying to get pictures of sobbing Brazilians erased from my memory.

Looking at the difference in skill and sportsmanship between these two teams at the 2018 FIFA Cup compared to tournaments in the past is, unbelievably, just the tip of the iceberg.

I cannot tell you how much joy I discovered in watching the impoverished country of Nigeria play in this tournament. What I found so enthralling about this country was team captain John Obi Mikel, who was told while in Russia that his father was being held for a ransom of $28,000 and that his dad would be killed if anyone notified the authorities. Despite all of this going on back in Nigeria, Mikel decided not to tell his coach and other teammates of his father’s situation. Instead, he supported his country and played in the team’s upcoming match with true stamina.

I was devastated when Nigeria was beaten 2-1 by Argentina, which put them out of the tournament. However, I will never forget their team’s strength and creativity, and their captain putting everything aside to represent his country.

Sixteen teams made it into the Round of 16, commonly referred to as the dreaded “Knockout Phase.” Eight were eliminated, including Portugal, Spain and Mexico, three countries I had been rooting for.

• Rooting for the winner

Being a follower of REAL Madrid, you could probably guess that I’m a big Ronaldo fan. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a shock that I was pretty let down by the loss Portugal suffered against Uruguay, 2-1. With four goals scored after just two World Cup matches, Ronaldo was one of only a few players viewed as worthy of achieving the 2018 Golden Boot — the prize given to the top goalscorer. However, things changed drastically as Ronaldo gave one of his worst performances and Portugal was kicked out.

With both Ronaldo and Messi gone from the World Cup, many players’ shoulders were lifted when it came to the quarterfinal matches.

Eight countries went into the quarterfinals and only four came out: Croatia, England, France and Belgium. At this point, it’s customary for viewers to choose which of the remaining countries they’re hoping makes it to the final. I usually change which team I wish to win at least four or five times throughout the tournament. Yet, when we reached this year’s quarterfinals, I knew exactly who I wanted as the winner: France.

After winning a total of five matches and Antoine Griezmann never missing any penalty kicks, France made it to the FIFA World Cup final and had a 4-2 victory over Croatia, the second smallest nation ever to make it to the championship match. France wholeheartedly deserved the win; their energy and talent stole the show every game they played. 

The French team also illustrated how new, intriguing talent is coming and ready to replace the famous, but older, soccer names of today.

France had the youngest player of the tournament, a 19-year-old named Kylian Mbappé, and man, did he capture some serious attention. Scoring four goals at the World Cup, one in the final match, Mbappé received the award for best young player in Russia and proved just how valued, welcomed, and needed fresh skill is in a sport that Ronaldo and Messi, both in their 30s, have been dominating for years.

• After the whistle

On FIFA World Cup’s official website, refs of the matches tallied up the stats to show that after 64 matches, 455 incidents checked (7.1 checks per game), and 20 referee reviews, it truly was an overwhelmingly exciting tournament.

Now that the final whistle has been blown and all teams have returned home, it’s nice to look back on this World Cup with satisfaction and pride. Although the U.S. did not qualify for this year’s tournament, I felt the FIFA World Cup couldn’t have gone any better. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing stories from my dad, who was in Europe for 17 of the 31 days of the tournament, about how fun it was to be in different countries during the Cup, each one sharing enthusiasm and love for their team.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino perfectly summarized the tournament for every soccer fan, saying, “We said we wanted this to be the best World Cup ever and it’s been the best World Cup ever.”

Siena Cummings will be a sophomore this fall at Fremont High School. She loves classic books and movies. Email her at cummingssi@wsdstudent.net,

 

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