BETWEEN this year’s World Cup and the one four years ago, give me the last one anytime. I’m sure I’m not the only who feels this way. Game after game, I came away feeling cheated. Take that Germany-versus-South Korea game, for instance, the Germans literally gave away a free goal to the Koreans just because the goalkeeper decided he was more cut out to be a striker than a guardian of his own goalpost.
What about all the hot soccer teams—the star teams you were sure would not just give you a winning performance, but also world-class soccer? Brazil, Argentina, Portugal, Uruguay, England—all of these teams lost not because the underdogs they were up against played well, but because they played badly. And not just badly, some of them displayed such appalling attitude.
I’m sure you know who I’m referring to. Brazil’s star player Neymar, and also soccer’s hottest dude, Ronaldo. Here are two players the entire world watches with great enthusiasm, but when playtime comes along, what do they do? They put up a horrible acting performance, faking injury and wasting time, rather than giving the world truly sublime soccer, the kind they are known for. D-list actor is how the New York Times has described Neymar. Imagine him stooping to that level, an A-list soccer star! That’s just so sad.
Perhaps the saddest thing of all is this: The great Lionel Messi did not manage to score a single goal, and for this to be his last World Cup outing is just too tragic. But then again, maybe it’s not. Messi wasn’t in his element just because he was playing with his national team, and not his home team, F.C. Barcelona. Without his pals, Messi can never be the real Messi.
Messi may have faded, Neymar may have disappointed, but some unknown and upcoming stars saved the day. Croatia’s surprise victory over England, giving them a spot at the finals for the first time ever, was a reminder of how anything is possible. Theirs was an extraordinary story of the unexpected. It was a grand celebration of the underdogs.
Sure, we were all hoping for a France-England showdown, but somehow, a France-Croatia finals was just as good. Any team who makes it to finals does so not by just sheer luck.
So when the finals finally rolled in, you wonder, “What if Croatia wins?” Of course, most of us weren’t rooting for an underdog victory. I was just thinking of Les Bleues. But as the game rolled on, when France notched a 4-1 lead, the Croatians were still giving their all. The energy, the go-for-it, the never-give-up—they were all too palpable. Then, that second goal came so late into the game. These Croatians were still at it, a roaring fierce game.
By this time, at the 69th minute, it was clear that France would be the champions, but I thought, “Croatia, you’re good!” And even as I cheered at the French team’s victory, I felt the Croatians emerged triumphant in their own way. They have come very far—certainly not by sheer luck, but amazing and admirable grit.
Nicholas Tan, 9th Grade