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The Beautiful Game’s Russian Blemish?

 

2018 world cup poster

(The official poster for the 2018 World Cup in Russia spotlights former Soviet goalie and esteemed Ballon d’Or winner Lev Yashin, courtesy of FIFA World Cup’s Facebook page)

And the 2018 World Cup groupings are…

  • Group A: Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Uruguay 
  • Group B: Iran, Morocco, Portugal, Spain
  • Group C: Australia, Denmark, France, Peru
  • Group D: Argentina, Croatia, Iceland, Nigeria
  • Group E: Brazil, Costa Rica, Serbia, Switzerland
  • Group F: Germany, Mexico, South Korea, Sweden
  • Group G: Belgium, England, Panama, Tunisia
  • Group H: Colombia, Japan, Poland, Senegal

Way Too Early Predictions of the Group Winner & Runner-Up are in bold.   

Instant Reaction: There’s no “Group of Death” and the 2018 World Cup in Russia will showcase a seemingly underwhelming collection of the (supposedly) best 32 national soccer teams in the world. Without any matches even occurring, one of the major stories related to next summer’s competition is the group of prominent nations that won’t stepping onto soccer’s biggest, brightest stage.

Slightly Longer Reaction: Despite some of soccer’s most notable nations and their leading star players and, in some cases, burgeoning international soccer brands noticeably absent (the United States with Christian Pulisic, Italy with Gianluigi Buffon, Netherlands with Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder, Chile with Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sánchez, Austria with David Alaba and Wales with Gareth Bale), a World Cup provides the ideal opportunity to elevate the sport’s next big name who presently flies beneath the radar focused almost exclusively on Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Manuel Neuer. Think back to 2010 and 2014 with Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben of the Dutch and Uruguay’s sniper and FIFA’s 2010 World Cup Golden Ball winner (tournament’s best player) Diego Forlán.

Who’s going to deliver a World Cup performance akin to Diego Forlán or Arjen Robben? Watch out for Poland’s Robert Lewandowski, France’s tank Paul Pogba and its talented youth movement, Argentina’s Paulo Dybala, Brazil’s speedster on the flank Douglas Costa and Germany’s Joshua Kimmich and Thomas Müller, for starters.

*Also, keep an eye on the fundamentally sound players for Japan regarding ball control. Trust me.

Insanely Early World Cup Final Prediction: How about Germany vs. Argentina, a repeat of the 2014 World Cup Final that so the Germans lift soccer’s greatest trophy? I may go back-and-forth several times in the next few months for giving Germany or France the advantage in a potential game to reach the final that would be determined by a razor-thin margin, as of right now.

When was the last time a World Cup Final featured the same two national teams in consecutive cycles? Glad you asked. It was 1986 and 1990 between, that’s right, Argentina and West Germany. Argentina won in 1986 and West Germany hoisted the golden trophy to the soccer gods in 1990. Furthermore, West Germany was the runner-up to Itlay in the 1982 World Cup.

Crazy Early and Stressful World Cup Champions Prediction: Argentina (see paragraph above for intriguing precedent occurring again)

More importantly, this could be Messi’s last best chance to win a World Cup for his legacy (he’s 30-years-old), which could be the special “it” factor for Argentina against its toughest opponents in Russia next summer. Cristiano Ronaldo (will be 33-years-old next summer) has that incentive too, but Portugal’s squad may or may not be equipped to string together a magical World Cup title run.

We’re only a couple weeks six-and-a-half months from the thrilling, world-class opening June 14 match of the 2018 World Cup in Russia that will feature global superpowers host Russia and Saudi Arabia. Remember that slightly underwhelming dynamic surrounding this World Cup mentioned earlier in this blog post?

There’s just no concealing it.

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FIFA: What is Your Malfunction?

As my old club soccer coach famously yelled to me across the indoor pitch after I made my very first mistake with my new team, “Boy, what is your malfunction?”

Read the quote below and you’ll understand why I opened with that priceless soccer memory.

“An initial stage of 16 groups of three teams will precede a knockout stage for the remaining 32 when the change is made for the 2026 tournament.

The sport’s world governing body voted unanimously in favour of the change at a meeting in Zurich on Tuesday.”
–BBC Football Online

Shocking? No. Sad? Yes.

Most importantly: Will the World Cup evolve into a better tournament through this expansion effort in 2026? No.

As has been recently discussed in more depth on Jimmy’s Daily Planet back on December 28th (Participation Trophies…for Adults?), the competitiveness of the World Cup will suffer with this expansion. Additionally, FIFA, which is governed by the new president Gianni Infantino, has voluntarily prolonged the embarrassing era with its overarching reputation of bribery and corruption.

To Mr. Infantino and the soccer federations, however, perhaps the influx of money will (again) be enough to quell legitimate concerns of dedicated fans around the world of lessening the competitiveness and difficulty of simply qualifying for the golden opportunity of competing on soccer’s grandest stage.

The future of 48 teams in a World Cup is set to become reality. It’s happening (insert groans here). And those who will argue that this addition of a dozen teams will be superior to the current model with 32 teams were also likely arguing for the Microsoft Zune over the Apple iPod way back when…

On that note: Do you own a Zune? Just because something is new doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better. There can be unforeseen (and very easily seen) malfunctions that occur with its users.

Lucky for me, my aforementioned malfunction was a solitary bad pass. FIFA’s malfunctions will have much more serious, enduring consequences.

Participation Trophies…for Adults?

Sports are about competition, which creates pressure. So, what exactly is the opposite of this construct? And is it worth watching/engaging in?

Ladies and gentlemen, soccer (or football) fans everywhere, we may be finding out the answer to this in the not-so-distant future…

“We would still consider to increase the competition to 40 or 48 teams. A tournament of 48 teams would have the same period of the current one, and federations are all clearly in favour of a World Cup with more teams.”
–FIFA president Gianni Infantino

The modern World Cup features the best 32 national teams as determined by the qualifying-by-region dynamic (North and Central America, Europe, South America, Africa, etc.). As a lifelong soccer fan, the thought of needing or wanting more national teams included in the World Cup has never entered my mind. Never. 32 is a good number. As a matter of fact, 32 is ideal. It’s one thing to ponder expansion if (the key word) adding more teams would improve the greatest tournament on the planet.

The addition of 8-16 national sides won’t make the World Cup better.

The consequence of this decision will dilute the accomplishment of the “original” 32 teams that had to work hard, deal with limited personnel for critical games, sort out inner-squad turmoil and a wide-range of challenges to earn the right to compete for a World Cup every four years with the best-of-the-best. Rich nations qualify and succeed and poor nations qualify and succeed. It’s truly a wonderful sport.

The quote above, courtesy of FIFA president Gianni Infantino, states that the federations are in favor of such an expansion of more national teams.

Duh. It means more money for them.

Wasn’t a focus on money (and the corruption that followed) at the heart of Sepp Blatter’s downfall, as well as being FIFA’s most publicly concerning characteristic? Soccer and world-class competition tragically took a backseat to the former for years and years and years.

More teams = More FIFA. Is this really the best equation for the future of the beautiful game?

If anything, FIFA’s overarching role should be subtracted.

FIFA’s Questionable Call

What is the opposite of a shocking revelation?

“While acknowledging for the first time that votes were bought in past World Cup hosting contests, FIFA is seeking to claim “tens of millions of dollars” in bribe money seized by U.S. federal prosecutors.”
–Associated Press

Then there’s this.

“FIFA claims it is the victim of corrupt individuals, despite widespread criticism that bribe-taking was embedded in its culture in the presidencies of Joao Havelange and Sepp Blatter, who was forced from office after 17 years by the current scandal.”
–Associated Press

Should we be shocked at this point?

First, there have been countless assertions throughout the past decade of institutions failing all around us. Remember though, it’s not so much the institutions failing as much as the people running those institutions who are letting people down.

Second, when leaders in powerful positions are revealed as corrupt, the guilty parties should/need to recognize and sincerely apologize for their deceit and/or willful ignorance to the public. Sadly, this doesn’t appear to be the stance of FIFA. When widespread hearsay became an infuriating reality for the global soccer organization in the summer of 2015, one presumed a 180-degree turn in tone and approach.

One would be wrong.

Does FIFA have a legitimate gripe?

In a courtroom, perhaps.

In the real world, seen through the lens of soccer’s most impassioned fans?

Everyone roll your eyes and put your hands in the air with a dispirited expression aimed into the unknown.

Soccer doesn’t have instant replay, but FIFA’s assertions certainly requires a second and third look to be believed for its specious contention.

At first glance, it looks out-of-bounds.