Cope: The schadenfreude is real at the World Cup (column)
June 29, 2018
What a World Cup this has been.
On my post-game dog walk Wednesday morning, June 27, I met a young man, wearing a Mexico jersey while helping his mom unload supplies at a townhome. His grin when we high-fived let me know that he had either delayed the start of his day or had snuck a glance or two at his phone. Mexico had just lost 3-0 to Sweden but still, deservedly, advanced due to South Korea's unlikely defeat of Germany. Never before had a nation so rejoiced in a 3-0 loss. Indeed, the South Korean ambassador was lifted onto the shoulders of people celebrating in the streets of Mexico City, sharing a Tequila toast while they chanted, "Korea hermano, eres Mexicano!"
Russia is hosting this World Cup but the world is living it.
While the group phase may have fizzled out on the last day, the rest of the week's final group games have been quite dramatic. Germany's exit on Wednesday was the highlight for neutral fans, mostly due to jealousy of Germany's consistent success. Schadenfreude is real my friends, and it's not the name of your local sports editor.
Argentina had squad turmoil, coach strife and tangoed with disastrous elimination before surviving to fight another day. Nigeria and Iceland had each nearly taken out Argentina, Iceland drawing 1-1 and Nigeria losing 2-1 on a piece of Messi artistry and a wonder goal by Marcus Rojo in the dying moments.
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France will play Argentina on Saturday at 8 a.m. in a round of 16 matchup. The French are a hugely talented squad whose most impressive contribution thus far has been Paul Pogba answering questions in French, Spanish, English and Italian. On the field, they've been less impressive but might be just showing up fashionably late. Argentina provided peak TV viewing. Yes, the Messi goal was classic Messi, but even then he was overshadowed by Diego Maradona's antics in the stands, from flipping off opposing fans, to napping when they were losing, to Messianic celebrations after both goals, just before checking in for medical attention in the stadium after the game. Diego, please stay out of rehab until after the tournament. It wouldn't be the same without you.
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The noon game on Saturday features the best defense in the competition, Uruguay, who has yet to yield a single goal vs. the top attacking player in Cristiano Ronaldo. I am well aware that England's Harry Kane has one more goal than Ronaldo, but two of those were penalties and one deflected off him from another player's shot. Sir Harry of Kane still needs to earn that Golden Boot he is currently clutching. Uruguay, meanwhile, has been superb, with a mature Luis Suarez scoring more goals and biting less people than in 2014.
Sunday sees two of the favorites in action. Spain plays Russia at 8 a.m. How would you like to be the referee of that game? Spain should realize that this is like a Western Slope trip to Glenwood Springs, better not leave it close, because anything can happen. Spain has been weaving some of its intricate tapestries of passing moves, even if it hasn't been dominant yet. The team will improve as the competition advances.
Croatia has been, arguably, the most impressive team thus far. The team combines the artistry of Modric with the steel of Rakitic. The team has demolished Argentina on the way to a perfect nine points in perhaps the toughest group, also featuring Iceland and Nigeria. None of these teams would have been out of place in the quarterfinal. Croatia should advance past Denmark and will go deep.
COULD A NEW TEAM WIN?
England has a tricky matchup with Colombia on Tuesday. Rumor had it the team preferred second place to winning its group, but the lack of urgency in the team's final group game vs. Belgium was appalling and may come back to haunt them. Colombia, on the other hand, won on the final day and came from third place to qualify first, carrying momentum into the next round. The winner of this match faces the winner of the Sweden vs. Switzerland match, also on Tuesday. Belgium won England's group and face Japan on Monday, with a matchup vs. Brazil or Mexico looming.
Perhaps the most enticing game of this round takes place Monday when Brazil plays Mexico. Both teams have shown flashes of brilliance and moments of vulnerability. Mexico has a good chance to reach that fifth game that they have been pursuing for six World Cups now. Brazil hasn't hit the heights yet and this may be the World Cup that could be won by a new team, such as Croatia, Switzerland or Mexico. So if you hear some giant cheers around Eagle County on Monday, then you will know that Mexico have advanced to the quarterfinal and the Mexican diaspora around the world is rejoicing. But more importantly, if you employ teenagers who show up a little bit late Monday morning with huge grins, then please forgive them. Mexico might have just made history.
David Cope teaches social studies and coaches the boys and girls soccer teams at Battle Mountain High School in Edwards. Follow him on twitter at @huskynationcope.
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