As I did with Hurricane Irma, March Madness and other important events, some things are just so big, so exciting, and so important, that each letter of the alphabet can be dedicated to a facet of one specific event. The World Cup is going on right now, and it is my favorite sporting event on the planet. So it would be silly for me not to adress it.
A is for Americas
The Copa America trophy is given to the best team in the Americas. Chile won it in 2016 in New York.
The Americas, not the United States of America. Unfortunately, the USA is not in Russia this year (more on that later) but the American continent has put together some drama. Brazil looks really good so far, with their samba style of attack behind superstars galore. Lionel Messi continues to chase Maradona's ghost. Mexico shocked Germany. And upstarts Panama and Peru provided some intriguing storylines in Eastern Europe.
B is for Brazil
The five-time champions are through to the knockout stage. After a pair of scares in games against Switzerland and Costa Rica, O Selecao have shown their samba spirit. Unfortunately, the luck ran out in the Quarterfinals, losing 2-1 to upstart Belgium.
C is for Curse
Coming into 2018, the past two defending champions and three of the past four, have failed to advanced out of their group. France 2002, Italy in 2010, and then Spain in 2014. Germany came into 2018 as the defending champs and one of the favorites to win it all again. I don't know if former title holders fall to the pressure, they stubbornly stick with aging stars, or anything else, but Die Mannschaft were victims of the unthinkable, bowing out after a 2-0 loss to South Korea in group E.
D is for Daylight
It is the middle of the summer, and Russia is quite far north. So it may not surprise anyone that it stays light quite late in the day in Russia right now, with Moscow sunsets not occurring until around 9:30 PM. In St. Petersburg, it's another hour until the sun goes down. With the games happening in the morning/early afternoon US time, it's easy to forget that games are even played in "primetime" hours.
E is for Elimination
Germany's 2-0 loss eliminated them from the competition
Of the 32 teams in Russia this summer, 31 will be eliminated. They bring great joy to their motherlands, but for almost everyone, this journey sadly ends. But one good result can change the emotional outcome of any nation, even in eventual defeat because they got to experience the World Cup.
F is for France
Another perennial power, France entered to contest as one of the favorites to life the final trophy. Les Blues have a history of blowing out of tournaments very early, such as Korea/Japan 2002 or South Africa 2010, where they left without a win. But so far, so good for the French, who as this is being written will be playing Croatia in the World Cup Final.
G is for Germany
The German team walks off the field in disappointment after their 2-0 loss to South Korea knocked them out of the World Cup
Well, what do I say. The defending champions fell victim to the curse, as I said earlier. This team really struggled in the pre-compitition exhibition games, but we shrugged our shoulders and said, "they'll get it together." They fell to Mexico in their opening match, but we shrugged our shoulders and said, "they'll get it together." Toni Kroos gave the Germans a miracle win over Sweden in stoppage time in their second game and we said, "they got it together." But then, needing a win over South Korea, they fell flat on their face 2-0, and were left stunned as they exited Russia in shocking fashion.
H is for Haves
Luckily for this man, he can watch soccer.
Unlike many "American" sports, soccer uses two haves of 45 minutes, with one break in between. That's it. No commercials between quarters, no timeouts, no stoppage in play to sing about going to the ball game, no advertisement because Timmy's arm hurts, nothing. Two haves and one break in between.
I is for International
My time in Brazil during spring break inspired me to support O Selecao in the World Cup
The World Cup is the largest and most international sporting event in the world. As someone who has traveled to so many foreign countries my two hands can't even count them (and enjoyed every minute) I love being able to cheer on countries that have given me great experiences and memories.
J is for Jackpot
Yes FIFA is not without controversy. But the head of world football is going to rake in $6 billion from the tournament. Much of that money is invested in the development of the sport in the third world.
K is for Knockout Stage
The group stage is simple. 4 teams, one game against against each opponent, 1 point for a tie and 3 for a win. The top two teams advance to the knockout stage. This is where things get interesting, as contenders separate from the field, Cinderella stories develop, and entire nations go toe-to-toe for glory. There a no more ties-- there will be a winner. Even if that means slapping another half-hour on the already long game played, or even penalty kicks on top of that. When the margin between two teams is so slim, sometimes one kick is the difference.
L is for Lionel
Ah, Lionel Messi. Is the greatest player of all time? Is he even the greatest right now? Well, he is chasing history and Diego Maradona to win the hearts and minds of Argentineans, and the rest of the world. Can he deliver? The world is on his shoulders. UPDATE: No, he could not. France was too much, and the Sky Blues fell to the Frech 4-3 in the Round of 16. Warning: The next photo is NSFW
M is for Maradona
This man was the star on Argentina's 1986 championship team in Mexico. Despite all of Messi's accomplishments with his club, FC Barcelona, Maradona delivered a World Cup title to his nation, something Messi has come close to-- but never done before. As a result, most Argentinians still put Maradona ahead of Messi... for now. However, Maradona is not without controversy, as the former cocaine-addict was caught flipping the bird to cameras in celebration of the game winning goal against Nigeria.
N is for No Repeat Champion
I know I had a similar picture earlier, but perhaps repetition will get the idea through your head :)
In American pro sports, the same team often win the championship the year after...winning the championship. The same happens quite often in European soccer leagues as well. Not in the World Cup. Over a half century has passed since Brazil won in both 1958 and 1962, behind Pele. With Germany now out, this streak lives on.
O is for Offside
All the white shirts close the the goal are offside. Even if the pass recipient moved behind the blue shirts, they would still be offside.
Soccer is the beautiful game, and a very easy-to-understand game too. However, there is one rule that baffles people who are trying to learn: offside (not offsides, as it's commonly called). When the pass is SENT to another player, that player cannot be ahead of the other team's last defender RIGHT AS the pass is made. It does not matter what the position of the players is when the pass is received. When offside is called, the ref blows the whistle and the other team is given possession.
P is for Penalty Kick
Victor Moses takes a penalty kick against Argentina. Moses scored, but the South Americans would still go on to win 2-1, advising at the Super Eagle's expense.
Another confusing rule is how a team gets a free kick to shoot at the opponent's net. Usually, a free kick is awarded where a foul took place, the team that is fouled as allowed to shoot freely, but with a human wall of players meant to block the shot. If a foul happens inside the penalty area, a 18X18 years box closest to the goal, a penalty kick takes place, where it's just the striker and the goalkeeper. Because these kicks usealy result in goals, they are a big deal. If a knockout stage match (where there must be a winner) match remains tied after two hours, each team is given five penalty kicks, with the team scoring the most being declared the winner. It's a controversial, but very entertaining way to end a must-win match.
R is for Russia
The Red Square is a Russian symbol, which is also a key World Cup landmark this year
Mother Russia. The hosts of this tournament. Yes, this nation is in the news a lot, and can be very controversial. However, they have done more than a good job as hosts so far, and their team advanced out of the group stage, so I'd say they are doing well so far.
S is for Spain
Another one of the favorites this summer, who will play hosts Russia in the round of 16 at the time this is being written. Spain has always been talented, but they sort of trotted through the "almost champions" wilderness until 2008, when they won the European Championship. La Roja followed this up with an epic World Cup win in 2010, using an original tactic known as "tiki taka." This strategy balanced offense and defense by completing short, high-percentage passes that were designed for long periods of time with the ball. In theory with this tactic, one team always has the ball, Spain was effectively both attacking and defending the entire match. Therefore, they almost always won. After another Euro crown in 2012, they went into Brazil 2014 on what many believed was the greatest run in the history of the sport and looked to prove that point to absolute in South America. But they fell to the defending champions curse and left early. 2018 was not much better, falling in penalties to host nation Russia immediately after the group stage.
T is for Twenty Twenty-Six (Or just 2026)
The day before the 2018 FIFA World Cup kicked off in Russia, the hosts of the 2026 contest was announced in Moscow by FIFA officials. Having been snubbed by Qatar while bidding for the event in 2022, the United States this time teamed up with Mexico and Canada in a "united bid" to host in eight years. The result will see the world's biggest sporting event come back to North America for the first time since 1994, and will be held in three different nations for the very first time. This will provide an opportunity for the Americas (especially the US) to showcase the growth that soccer has achieved and will continue to achieve. The fact that America is the most national diverse country also helps.
V is for VAR
A referee makes sure his original call was correct
Officials miss important calls sometimes. In 2010, England scored against Germany in the round of 16. Or so we thought. The ref missed it, thinking the ball didn't cross the goal line. Germany went on to win. Bummer for England. But FIFA has now brought in Video Assistant Referee, known as VAR. The idea is to correct clear and obvious officiating errors through video replay. So far, several wrong calls have been reversed, adding drama and controversy. But it's working, and that's all that matters.
W is for the World Cup
The Rose Bowl in Southern California hosted the World Cup Final in 1994, where Brazil beat Italy on penalties to win their 4th world title. The '94 tournament still stands to this day as the highest attended ever, even as the competition has since expanded.
Because I can't think of anything x, y, or z, I'll wrap it up here. The World Cup is amazing. It is the greatest sporting event, or just single greatest event at all on the planet. When you combine 32 teams, 32 cultures, and 32 nations, and have them duel it out to be the very best, it becomes a show of pure sport, passion and patriotism. While many knock the sport for its lack of scoring, I rebuff this by pointing out that each goal truly, truly means something special. One goal is enough for a country, a people, a team, a nation to stop, celebrate, and man-make a literal earthquake, as Mexico did in their win over Germany. This is why the FIFA World Cup is just so special.