World Cup 2018: A Game of Surprises
- July 21, 2018
- Posted by: admin
- Category: General Knowledge
The Fédération Internationale de Football Association(FIFA) World Cup is a competition where the best footballing talents on the planet battle it out to be crowned the champions of the world of football, the most popular sport on the planet. This quadrennial tournament brings together people from all around the world in a jubilant celebration of sportsmanship, unity, and exhilarating competition, all wrapped around the beautiful game of football.
Ever since its inception, the tournament has been hosted every 4 years barring 1942 and 1946, due to the second World War. First started in 1930 by the then president of FIFA, Jules Rimet, the inaugural competition was played between a meagre 13 teams that were invited by the organisation. Uruguay hosted the very first edition of the tournament as they had won both the Olympic competitions preceding this and became the first ever team to win the competition.
Brazil is the only team to have played in every single iteration of the tournament, winning it five times, more than any other country in the world. Germany and Italy come a close second with four titles each. The winners used to be awarded the Jules Rimet Trophy depicting the Greek goddess of victory Nike but in 1970, upon winning the tournament thrice, FIFA allowed Brazil to keep the trophy forever(the trophy was stolen in 1983 and is said to have been melted down and sold).
After 1970, FIFA officials had a new task on their hands- to find a new trophy as striking as the original. Experts from seven countries gathered to inspect 53 designs before finally going with the Italian designer Silvio Gazzaniga’s idea. This gave us the iconic trophy made of 75% solid 18-carat gold that we now know as the face of the competition, the FIFA World Cup Trophy. This new trophy is not awarded to teams permanently and teams are only given the trophy for as long as the post-match celebrations last. The winners are then given a gold-plated replica of the trophy immediately afterwards.
The idea of mascots was introduced in the 1966 England World Cup with “World Cup Willie” being the very first. He was lion donning a Union Flag jersey with the words “WORLD CUP” on it. Since then, for every tournament, a mascot typically representing the country’s flora, fauna or culture has been made. This year, the mascot has been named “Zabivaka“, Russian for The Goalscorer; a wolf clad in red shorts and a blue and white T-shirt, the official colours of the Russian national team, with “Russia 2018” written on it.
868 matches, 2454 scored goals and with approximately 19 million people watching, the stage was set for the biggest festival around the globe- the FIFA World Cup. Out of the 209 hopeful teams that participated in the qualifiers, only the crème de la crème, the top 32, would play in the World Cup finals. After the current champions Germany outplayed South American giants Argentina in a 1-0 victory in 2014, the world cup qualifiers commenced, following a brief pause of 9 months.
Adidas had designed the Telstar 18 football which was to be used throughout the competition. The naming was done commemorating the very first football that Adidas had made for the tournament, a job that the company has been given since 1970. The original Telstar was the first football ever to feature the iconic black and white colour scheme.
The qualifiers involve nations from all around the world battling it out to be represented at the topmost stage of Football. The fans support teams with all their vigour and the spirit of the game permeates the air, hence stories from the qualifying rounds are always interspersed with entertainment and surprise.
It all started here in Asia, with the 12 lowest ranked teams. With the former Portuguese colony of Timor-Leste scoring 4 goals and conceding 1 against Mongolia, the qualifiers officially began. The highlight match of these rounds was the one between Sri Lanka and Bhutan, the lowest ranked team in the world that was playing its first-ever game. They took the Sugathadasa Stadium by storm upon winning the game, captained by Karma Shedrup Tshering, a pilot for the Bhutan Airlines.
After a goalless draw between Peru and New Zealand in the Kiwis’ home, the latter arrived in Lima for the second leg of the match in the Oceania intercontinental playoffs. Peruvian fans burst firecrackers at 3a.m. in front of the All Whites’ hotel to keep them from sleeping. The next day at the Estadio Nacional de Lima, Peru qualified for their first Finals since 1982. The government announced the next day to be a national holiday.
The shocker of the North American round of these qualifiers was the United States of America. The US had not missed a World Cup since Mexico 1986 and had reached the Finals every single time since 1998. Costa Rica and Mexico had already made it to the final round of matches. All that The Stars and Stripes needed to do was beat an already eliminated team of Trinidad and Tobago and they would be through no matter what. Alas, it did not quite work out like that. They went 2-0 down in the first half and could not manage to claw their way out, despite Borussia Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic scoring a goal in the early minutes of the second half but they still went out 2-1.
In South America, the story is quite unlike the others. Every team from the continent plays each other in a league format and every single one, apart from Venezuela, has reached the World Cup Finals at least once. However, the quality of qualification did not translate to ease of winning for the continent’s biggest teams. Argentina stumbled through the qualifiers, losing their first game against Ecuador. Colombia, many people’s dark horse pick for World Cup 2014 had a slow start, as did the continental champions Chile. Whilst Brazil and Uruguay breezed through to Russia 2018, any one of the remaining five teams were in with a shout of making either one of the remaining automatic qualification places and the one playoff spot.
Matchday 18 was a rollercoaster ride for La Albiceleste. They had to win a game against Ecuador but amazingly went 0-1 down at the very start of the match. A loss would almost certainly translate to the decimation of their World Cup dream. After years of never really clicking with the national team and a short-lasting retirement, the footballing legend and winner of a quintet of Ballon D’ors, Lionel Messi, turned up and saved his nation’s World Cup hopes by scoring a hat-trick.
Although the World Cup qualifying process is long and arduous, there is perhaps no continent more difficult to play in than Africa. There are about 54 teams spread across the continent’s vastly varying terrain, any one of which could give others a run for their money. Yet, there are only 5 spots available. South Sudan, the world’s youngest country and hence the youngest national team, made its World Cup debut as the nation sunk further into turmoil. Sierra Leone was forced to play its games in Nigeria due to the Ebola outbreak in the country while Somalia played its games in exile due to political instability. Morocco qualified for their first Finals since 1998 in style, without having conceded a single goal.
The story to look out for in the European leg of the qualifiers was Iceland’s. With a population of roughly 3,00,000, they are a country with a population that is roughly 1/10 of Lucknow. Upon qualifying for the Euro Cup back in 2016, they shocked everyone by reaching the knockout stages and beating England. Zealous fans from all across the world came in support of the Nords, copying their famous thunderclap. The final round of qualifiers for Iceland came down to a game against Kosovo. In Reykjavik, the match was witnessed by 10,000 people as Iceland won 2-0.
The upset of the qualifiers in the knockout stages was Italy, as it went down 0-1 against Sweden. This resulted in the Azzurri missing their first World Cup Finals since 1958. Thereafter, the legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon retired from international football in tears.
With the qualifiers done and dusted and the best 32 teams from all over the oceans selected, it was time to head towards the global celebration that everyone had been eagerly waiting for- The FIFA World Cup Finals.
The opening ceremony consisted of Robbie Williams performing a medley of his hits. The ceremony differed from others of its kind in that whereas the others involved drawn-out artistic expressions and messages about environmental conservation, this one was snappy and fast-paced with more ball juggling and less tree-hugging. There were no long speeches involved either, apart from a welcome address by the Russian president Vladimir Putin. After a short while, the time had come for the moment we had all been waiting for— the kick-off.
The first match saw Russia, going up against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. The very first fixture set the precedent for what was to follow, with the hosts thrashing substandard Saudi Arabia with a 5-0 victory.
The next day, the European champions of Portugal faced mighty Spain, brimming with both young talents and experienced players, at the Fisht Stadium in Sochi. 4 minutes into the fixture, Portugal were awarded a penalty and who else but the skipper, Cristiano Ronaldo, stepped up to bang in what would be the first goal of the player’s first-ever World Cup hattrick. The match turned out to be a goal-fest with Spaniard Diego Costa scoring 2 goals and the final score being 3-3. The match went on to be touted as one of the World Cup’s greatest ever matches.
Elsewhere in Group F, defending world champions Germany faced a fiery Mexican side. In an underwhelming and “jinxed” performance, according to German coach Joachim Low, Die Mannschaft failed to put the ball into the net as the underdogs Mexico walked away victorious in a 1-0 win. The Germans had set out to perform the herculean task of retaining the Cup, a feat that only 2 teams, Italy(1934-38) and Brazil(1958-62) had accomplished. This match foreshadowed what one would come to expect from the 2018 World Cup.
In Group D Lionel Messi’s Argentina set out to play against Luka Modric led Croatia. A team that would go on to become title contenders, Croatia easily dismantled the South Americans in a feisty 3-0 victory. This would prove fatal for the underwhelming Argentina which would go on to play the other title contenders, France, with Argentine morale at an all-time low.
As Germany lost to South Korea in their last match of the group stages, they joined France, Brazil, Italy and winners of the 2010 South Africa World Cup, Spain, in a list of World Cup winners that were ousted in the successive tournament as early as the group stages.
As the knockout stages began, Argentina lost to the French in a ravishing 4-3 spectacle of a game at the Kazan Arena. Another fan-favourite for the top spot, Spain, went down against Russia after a 1-1 draw resulted in the game going to penalties, where La Roja came second. The 1978 edition of the World Cup had been the only one without a single penalty shootout since the introduction of the rule.
With only the top 8 teams remaining, the Quarter Finals were a lively affair. For match 57 of the tournament, Uruguay was up against France. With the reigns of the attack in the hands of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, the South Americans had become a force to reckon with, defeating European champions Portugal in the previous stage was a testament to their greatness. Ultimately, however, they proved to be no match for Les Bleus as they were sent home after a 2-0 loss where they were blatantly outplayed.
For the next match the most successful World Cup team, Brazil, geared up against a side filled to the brim with young talents, touted as the underdogs to look out for in the tournament, Belgium. The Belgian team, to the surprise of almost everyone, snatched the victory from the clutches of boisterous Brazil in a close 2-1 match.
In the final match of the Quarter Finals, the surprising Croatian side played against the hosts. Coincidentally the lowest ranked team in the entire tournament, Russia was a part of the tournament as they were the hosts. Most people doubted their ability to reach this far without the home ground advantage. With both the teams having secured their spot in the top 8 through penalty shootouts, the game rather unsurprisingly went to penalties. Croatia won, securing for themselves a spot in the Semi-Finals along with England who had previously defeated Sweden to do the same.
The Semi-Finals involved the four best teams in the world of football; they were bound to be dramatic. While France bagged a close victory against Belgium with the scoreboard reading 1-0, the real drama came from the match that took place in Moscow. Luka Modric’s Croatia was up against a young English side. Both teams were equal in fervour, which the scoreline clearly indicated at the full-time whistle. The match went on to extra time where an early goal in the second half by the Juventus player Mario Mandžukić proved to be the deciding factor. Croatia bagged the win.
This meant that the finals would take place between France, a country that had won the honour once in 1998 and Croatia, a surprising side that had lost all of their first matches in the 3 preceding World Cups. So, with the 2018 edition of the World Cup nearing its end, it is time to look towards what the future holds. As of January 10th, 2017 it has been confirmed that the Qatar edition of the World Cup will feature 48 teams, ensuring an even more exhilarating tournament.
France won the World Cup for the second time 4–2 against Croatia in Luzhniki Stadium, Russia
- BY ABHAYADITYA SINGH