Six days in and the 2018 FIFA World Cup has already delivered a long list of surprising results. From tournament-defining victories to off the field stories that remind even a tunnel-visioned soccer fan like myself that the tournament is more than just cluster of games on full display.
No, I am not going to sit here and try to convince you that the World Cup is perfect because, in reality, it is far from that. Nor am I going to sit here and write a list of subjective opinions in an effort to convince you that the World Cup in itself is special because, honestly, I’ve spent enough time hearing both sides of the argument that at this point there really is no gray area; you either like soccer or you don’t.
But one aspect of the tournament that I will fill you in on are the guts of the tournament that you won’t find on any font page; the small stories that get buried under the bevy of games.
For instance, this year two teams made their first ever World Cup appearance in the current 32-team format in Iceland and Panama. And, yes, I’m sure by now you’ve heard that Iceland is the smallest country ever to qualify for the World Cup with a population of just over 300,000. However, did you know that the team’s first game against powerhouse Argentina was viewed by 99.6 percent of the country?
While America hasn’t quite reached that level of excitement for the tournament that engulfs the planet every four years, there is one element that has taken center stage at this World Cup (and honestly one that was missing from this year’s NBA Finals): The element of uncertainty.
Sunday’s game between Mexico and Germany was a perfect example of that. Mexico’s 1-0 victory over the reining Cup champions not only caused a small man-made earthquake in Mexico City (when masses of crowds erupted in jubilation simultaneously), but went a long way to proving that while there may be favorites and underdogs in this tournament, anything can happen.
Sometimes determination and perseverance go toe-to-toe with certainty and win. Like Portugal’s Elder Bautista who traveled approximately 2,900 miles in 45 days through rain and hail on a bicycle to Russia to raise money for charity.
In an interview with Reuters, Bautista said that there were plenty of times he wanted to stop and turn back, but the thought of the charity he was supporting kept him going.
And, yes while our U.S. Men’s National Team might have missed out on the planet’s biggest “party,” in the end it’s a clear reminder that in life nothing is ever guaranteed.