World Cup Musings

Interest in the 2018 World Cup hasn’t been where it was in years past. Maybe it has something to do with Italy not being involved. Not that I expected much from the Azzurri, seeing as they didn’t qualify that alone speaks volumes. So without nation, not that I would ever think of supporting the US…then again, they couldn’t qualify either…that could be be related to the lack of excitement I have for the tournament.

We wait four long years through the UEFA European Championship, Copa América and other international tournaments, along with qualifying before we have 32 teams set to battle for the Jules Rimet Trophy. In 2022, we are off to Qatar. The corruption of FIFA never ceases to amaze. A country that barely encompasses the Bay Area in California is the stage for the largest football competition. However, in 2026 the World Cup must be shared by Canada, United States and Mexico. Something doesn’t really add up. I digress, as I getting off point.

When the World Cup rolls around, I expect to see the best teams in the world compete. Arguably, the best teams aren’t in the competition, but that’s the glory of qualification. Russia with their automatic berth has already secured a quarterfinal match up with Croatia. A few non calls in th 18-yard box in the waning stages of their 1-1 draw against Spain, that saw them advance after the penalty shootout. Vladimir, you can get off the phone now. Russia is ranked 70th in world, obviously not the best by a country mile, but have put in an admiral performance (with a little help) to date.

I do want to see teams like Spain, Germany. Holland and Italy playing in the competition. This year, none of these teams are in the quarterfinals poised to hoist the cup. Even into the Round of 16, joining Russia was Japan (ranked 61st) and Sweden (ranked 24th). Traditional, not football powerhouses we think of when it comes to the knockout stage. All these nations must be commended for making the best of the group stages in order to advance, even if some of their points came due to VAR.

This has been a point of contention for me, as VAR (video assistant referee) hasn’t impressed with its implementation in the 2018 World Cup. I understand managers, players and supporters want the “right call” but at what cost? We’ve seen a few examples of VAR used, but adding 7-10 minutes of extra time after 90′. Round 2 Brazil left it late, very late in fact to post a 2-0 win over Costa Rica (90+1′, 90+7′). Round 3 saw Iran grab a 90+3′ (penalty) to draw Portugal, 1-1. South Korea score three goals in the group stage, all their goals in fact in extra time with Son Heung-min grabbing the last goal in a 2-0 stunner over Germany at 90+6′! The extra time is just the result of the stoppages at the request of the booth to review.

FIFA have described VAR at the 2018 World Cup as “very, very close to perfection.” Not sure how the fuck they come up with this statement. I will forever be in the minority when I say keep the game on the pitch and out of the booth. I don’t believe all the decision made or not made have been correct this World Cup, as we have seen some on the pitch calls get the “play on” while others have left viewers asking, “why review it?” Maybe it’s an elitist view or purist view, but I don’t like watching ANY game that has constant stoppages. One reason I no longer watch the NFL, here in the states, the NBA is even worse!

The stoppages slow the game, but it also kills momentum and for me, the viewer enjoyment. Does VAR get the call right? Possibly, in the eyes of FIFA it’s nearly “perfect.” Yet it’s gets tiring to see players making that damn rectangular review sign on the pitch when a call doesn’t get a review or the infraction a card. VAR also shifts the controversy from the on pitch referee to the booth. I tend to side with Nordin Armabat’s opinion, “VAR is bullshit!” That pretty much sums up my opinion. Hopefully we NEVER see this implemented in the English Premier League. For or against, let the on pitch referee make the call and keep the game moving.

I’ll be the first to admit, I have not spent every minute, watching every game. Not like 2006, the year Italy won (or stole) the World Cup defeating France. There have been a handful of matches that have been a joy to watch. Round 1 saw a great 3-3 draw between Portugal v. Spain, but both teams failed to impress after that. In the same round, Mexico’s 1-0 thriller over Germany set the stage for the reigning champions failure to move beyond the group stage and El Tri momentum moving forward. Yesterday, England’s dramatic victory over Colombia gave fans hope, “It’s coming home!”

Maybe participating in the fantasy game has taken some of the thrill and excitement away from the “pure watch” aspect of football. To some degree, I feel it has ruined the World Cup experience for me. The solution is simple, take a break from the fantasy game and enjoy the game being played on the pitch (not in the booth).

As for expectations from the quarterfinals on, I am pulling for Uruguay and Brazil to face off in Saint Petersburg, giving South America representation in the finals. England, unless they fuck things up, should be able to defeat Sweden and either Russia or Croatia in the semi-finals to secure a place in the finals. First appearance since 1966.

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