Eric Parks, Section Editor
The 2018 World Cup, which took place in Russia, was one of the most engaging World Cups ever. Although the World Cup ended with a lopsided 4-2 French victory over Croatia, the path to the end was especially entertaining.
While France was thought of as one of the top teams entering the tournament, they were not heavily favored to win. They entered the Cup ranked No. 7, and while they were a talented team, they had a young roster. France’s star forward, Kylian Mbappe, is a mere 19 years old, while their star midfielder, Paul Pogba, is only 25. France made it out of the group stage without much trouble, beating Peru and Australia while drawing against Denmark. In the first round of the knockout stage, France came from behind against Lionel Messi’s Argentina squad to win 4-3. In the quarterfinals, the French topped Uruguay 2-0, and Samuel Umtiti scored the lone goal in the team’s 1-0 semifinal victory over Belgium.
Although few were surprised with France’s performance in this World Cup, Croatia greatly exceeded expectations. Despite losing in the finals, Croatian fans must be pleased with how their team fared in the tournament. At the beginning of the World Cup, Croatia was ranked No. 20 and was not expected to play deep into the knockout stage. While they played in a weak group with Iceland and Nigeria, Argentina was expected to win the group. Croatia spoiled Argentina’s plans by winning all three group matches, including a 3-0 dismantling of Argentina. Croatia played in extra time during every round of the knockout stage except the finals, winning in penalty kicks twice. The team beat Denmark and Russia in penalty kicks to advance to the semifinals, where they surprised England 2-1 in extra time.
France was the first to score in the match when Antoine Griezmann took the free kick, and Croatian defender Mario Mandzukic miscalculated the play to score in his own net. Ten minutes later, a free kick for Croatia resulted in Ivan Perisic scoring to even the match. Towards the end of the first half, Perisic committed a handball within his own box, awarding a penalty kick to the French. Griezmann scored on the opportunity, and France went into halftime with a 2-1 lead. Early in the second half, Pogba and Mbappe each scored for France, which all but sealed the game. Croatia, who was winded from playing 120 minutes in each previous match of the knockout stage, was unable to erase the 4-1 deficit in 25 minutes, and the final score was 4-2.
Other than the youth of France defeating the surprising underdog Croatia, the major headline of this World Cup was top teams underperforming. Coming into the tournament, Germany was ranked No. 1, but failed to make it out of the group stage. Poland, No. 8, also failed to make the knockout stage, while No. 9 Chile did not even qualify for the Cup. Four other teams in the top 10, Portugal at No. 4, Argentina at No. 5, Switzerland at No. 6 and Spain at No. 10, all failed to reach the quarterfinals. These surprising shortcomings puzzled analysts and added to the interest and chaos of the 2018 World Cup.
While the fans of the United States were disappointed their team did not make the World Cup, the country’s joint bid for the 2026 tournament with Canada and Mexico was accepted. Most of the matches will be played in the US, and Seattle is a potential city to host matches. The host country makes their own World Cup automatically, which ensures that American fans will be able to cheer for their own team in 2026.