Looking Forward to 2018: Expect More of the Unexpected
As I try to sit here and contemplate a common theme or fabric for how I would summarize the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, I am having a hard time focusing as it is the day after Germany scored a “touchdown” against the host nation in their 7-1 semifinal shellacking of Brazil. Just to put things into perspective, until yesterday, Brazil had not lost on home soil during their previous 63 matches, dating back to a 1975 Cope America tourney loss against Peru. As a matter of fact, you have to go back to the 1950 World Cup final to find the last time that Brazil had lost a World Cup match on home soil. The 1950 loss was taken so hard that the Seleção Brasileira went as far as to change its kit completely in an effort to wash away the rancid memory of that defeat. So, expect change to come out of yesterday’s wretched affair. But I feel therein are the common themes I should draw from this quadrennial edition of this tournament: expecting both the unexpected and change!
There hasn’t been a World Cup tournament in recent memory where so many unexpected events have occurred and, from the perspective of an already engaged fan based in the U.S., this has helped provide a perfect storm that has coalesced in a fervor for the game that is as vibrant as it’s ever been. It may feel like you are playing the World Cup edition of the popular trivia app, QuizUp, but allow me to jog your memory a bit of some of the more notable events from the past month, from the amazing to the puzzling, and see how many of these you have seen, heard about or even lived.
Who scored the First Goal? OK, quick. Who scored the first goal of this World Cup tourney? Well I have good news and bad for you, depending on your opinion of polarizing Brazilian defender Marcelo. He was the first person to score a goal at this event and he is Brazilian from the host nation so that’s great, right? Well, not really. He actually scored against his own team on an unfortunate deflection during Brazil’s opener against Croatia.
John Brooks, Super-sub: The U.S. men’s national team appeared to be rapidly tiring and in trouble when key defender Matt Besler came out with a hamstring strain at half time and John Brooks was asked to come in over Omar González and replace Besler having only played four times previously for the U.S. senior national team. In the 86th minute though, it was Brooks’ header that put the U.S. ahead for good over Ghana and made him cover-of-Wheaties-box famous in an instant. According to FIFA, his goal caused a 450-plus-tweet-per-minute eruption that set a tone for soccer engagement within the U.S. that lasted throughout the U.S. run during the tournament.
The Flying Dutchmen: Coming into the tournament, many thought that their opening opponent, Holland, may have a down tournament as key players like Rafael van der Vaart were missing due to injuries. Well, so much for that logic. The Dutch have shocked the world and, while they are far from a global underdog, most would agree that their performance and final four berth has exceeded the expectations of most in the global footballing community. Starting with their opening destruction of defending champions Spain, they have, along with Germany, France and Belgium, led a much stronger European showing at this World Cup than history would have led you to believe was possible.
Did you get the Memo? Mexican goalkeeper, Guillermo “Memo” Ochoa, has become a superstar. And, while we’re on the topic, this has been a World Cup of sensational goalkeeping performances all around that made good defensive performances in soccer a lot sexier in concept than it likely has been in the past. Three notable examples come to mind and I’m probably forgetting others but my top three Keeper performances of the past month are:
Memo Ochoa (MEX) vs. Brazil during their unbelievable 0-0 draw against the host nation where Ochoa saved six shots at nearly point blank range, cementing Memo’s standing as the keeper for El Tri, likely for life!
Tim Howard (USA) vs. Belgium in the round of 16. Howard made 15 saves to set a record for US keepers in a performance for the ages. However, the US fans were denied a victory after Chris Wondolowski missed a sure goal in injury time of regulation that will have American soccer fans, both old and new, talking until about 2018 or so.
Keylor Navas (CRC) vs. Holland in the quarter finals. Though he eventually lost gas in the penalty shootouts, the quality and quantity of the saves made by the Costa Rican keeper against Holland may have been the performance of the tournament. Navas has been amazing and a treat to watch during this entire tournament!
Luis Suárez still bites people: He did it again. For the third time, that we know of. Luis Suárez, Uruguay’s immensely talented forward, bit an opposing player when Italy met Uruguay in the final match for each nation in Group D play. This time, his victim was Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini. He later apologized. Chiellini graciously accepted his apology and Suárez was banned from all footballing activities by FIFA for four months. Get help, Luis. You are too talented to allow this to be the legacy you leave behind.
I know I am leaving so many wonderful stories behind. I encourage you to let me know which high- and low-lights you feel should have been included. You may choose to take issue with my omission of:
The South American invasion of dancing, goal scoring brilliance, courtesy of Colombia, Chile and Argentina.
How England and Italy looked like, well, how most English and Italians thought the U.S. and Costa Ricans would look like on the pitch.
Will Ferrell and Teddy Goalsevelt teaming up to get fans in the U..S. fired up about the U.S. men’s national team’s march through and beyond the Group of Death.
In the U.S., there is always a healthy dose of those who come out to support soccer once every four years when the World Cup comes into focus again and then promptly forget about it afterward. However, what I have seen and heard over the past month tells me that the unexpected, “wow moments”, experienced during this Cup run have been great theater for both the hardcore and the fickle fan alike.
And too, there seems to be an air of change on the global footballing stage. The balance of soccer power combined with the science of the sport feels to be shifting the potential of nations that have historically been a tier or two below those others that we know to make up the historical pantheon of soccer greats. I see these ingredients combining together to sustain a steady upsurge in interest in the sport in the U.S.
Does this mean that this World Cup will be remembered as the event that finally made soccer a relevant sport in the United States? It seems, after all, that we’ve been hearing this for decades now. However we are a culture that seems to love both the unexpected and change in sports. The soil would seem to be fertile for soccer to take off here.
Let’s check back with one another in 2018, at the next World Cup, and see if this prediction comes to pass.
Vargas is chief technology rebelde at LatinoRebels.com. Email comments to: [email protected].