Three billion people cannot be wrong; that’s almost half of the world who watched the 2014 World Cup. Why watch? Thirty-two international teams playing 64 matches; what could possibly go wrong? Everything. What could go right? Everything again. In 2014, Uruguay’s Luiz Suarez actually bit another player, and Germany crushed Brazil’s soul in a stunning 7-1 upset in an unprecedented semifinal. Already in 2018, an assistant referee from Kenya was caught taking a bribe last week. Let the games begin.
Russia, riddled with global political scandal, will be hosting the 2018 matches starting June 14, with the final on July 15. The country will need to keep its game face on, as well as Putin’s shirt, and pray the games come off without any more international incidents, aside from the fact there is little chance of Russia leaving group stage.
What else to expect this year? The U.S. did not qualify; a U.S. v. Russia match would have been, well awkward. Also, giants like Italy, Netherlands and Ireland are out. The top four teams to beat are looking like Germany (2014 winner), Brazil, Spain and France; but keep an eye on Belgium, Argentina, Poland and Portugal as contenders.
Germany, ranked number 1 by FIFA and 2 by ELO, will attempt two in a row, which no other team has done, and match Brazil for five World Cup wins. Germany has the best goalie in the world, Manuel Neuer, but Neuer has been out with a foot injury most of the year, so scheisse, and best coach, Joachim Löw. Brazil has the dazzling Neymar, Spain has the seasoned Andres Iniesta, and France’s Antoine Griezmann won the Golden Boot as top scorer at Euros. There is so much young talent on each team, breakout stars will surely prevail.
If it does come down to goals, then fear seasoned strikers Robert Lewandowski for Poland, Lionel Messi for Argentina and of course, Christiano Ronaldo who helped Portugal win Euros in 2016. They are the best in the world, even if their teams are not.
Are there dark horses? Absolutely. Iceland, the smallest country ever to qualify, blew England out of the water at Euros 2016 and is out to prove it isn’t a one hit wonder. As for England, it hasn’t done well in the past two tournaments, but hey, it’s England, with the number one striker in the Premier League, Harry Kane.
Making these games different is the level of Arab participation, with a historic four teams Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Morocco. Also, this will be the first World Cup with goal line technology and video replay. Bad ref calls are the biggest swear-inducing moments for fans and players, and now a ref can review goals and penalties on a sideline video monitor. There undoubtedly be a lot of other game changers, unimaginable moments, heartbreaks and triumphs. In the end, just one winner will prevail, aside from the fans who get a whole month of the best of the best of soccer.
Places to Watch
IN KEY WEST: Shanna Key & Mary Ellen’s
IN MARATHON: Overseas Pub and Marathon Grill & Ale
IN UPPER KEYS: Hog Heaven and Sharky’s