Russia 2018: The underdogs World Cup
For the first time since anyone can remember, the lowest ranked team coming into a FIFA World Cup will play in the quarter-final. Don’t pour hate and disdain on FIFA rankings, Russia 2018 has been a World Cup for the underdogs.
They’ve endured it long enough. This time though, the dark horses are making themselves more visible than ever. The 2018 edition of FIFA’s biggest money-spinning competition has been an absolute blockbuster. There have been so many thrills to recount.
For ardent World Cup followers, you’d agree with me that this campaign hasn't fallen short in any regard. Although we had our doubts about Russia as hosts, we’re yet to get an I-told-you-so moment at this finals. Better still, fans have been treated to dogged, yet entertaining displays from less fancied teams. The big names still progressing in this tournament are doing so with every drop of blood.
2014 finalists don’t feel so good
If you watched Avengers Infinity War (SPOILER ALERT), you’d have been frustrated at how the big super-heroes withered away and disappeared after Thanos laid his hands on all infinity stones. Spiderman vanishes while complaining bitterly to Ironman that he “doesn’t feel so good”. The same story can be told of Argentina and Germany at this World Cup.
Both countries are football powerhouses of great repute. They came into the tournament ranked among the top five by FIFA. Germany was actually ranked first. Interestingly, it was the duo who featured at the last World Cup final. After we counted three matchdays, Germany was on a flight to Berlin. Argentina made it to four but they too were on a trip to Buenos Aires soon after.
Germany were favourites in a group that had Mexico, Sweden and South Korea. They lost twice and finished last. Argentina was lucky to escape as the runner-up from group D. It meant an encounter against France or the end of the road, whichever you prefer.
TeamRussia now the darling of 140 million people
Football fans are like spoilt kids. They underrate you at the slightest inclination that you can’t give them goodies; like breathtaking victories and excitement, Before this competition started, Russia was belittled by the majority of the Russian populace. They hadn’t won a match in 2018 and were rated 70th by FIFA – no team was rated lower.
It took one game to spark the plug of belief from the Russian fan-base. By the second game they were singing in the streets celebrating ecstatically – Russia was through to the last 16.
The hosts were overwhelming underdogs against Spain. Their competition's climax seemed closer than ever. But someway, somehow, Russia beat La Roja. The scenes in Samara was unimaginable. All over the country, too.
No matter what happens in the quarterfinal against Croatia, TeamRussia has proven everyone wrong. They've turned pessimism to love in Moscow.
What is Japan?
Japan is a country that came mightily close to knocking out Belgium. Before bringing out the best from the Red Devils, the Blue Samurai beat Columbia and held Senegal to emerge from Group H. Against the Europeans in the round of 16, the popular prediction was a merciless whitewash from the star-packed Belgian's. Barely 50 minutes into that game, Genki Haraguchi struck gold. Four minutes later, Japan was in dreamland, leading 2-0 against a team rated 58 places above them. An embarrassing knockout defeat loomed for one of the favourites. No one saw that coming.
Japan didn’t win that game but they gave us a contest to remember for a long time. And yes, they taught Belgium a football lesson, regardless.
England wake from Colombian nightmares
Since the World Cup started, the slogan for England fans has been “it’s coming home.” You'll understand; a supposedly "easy" path to the final had opened up for the English. Beat Colombia, Sweden and the winner between Russia and Croatia and the Three Lions are into the final for the first time since 1966. But England almost fell at the first hurdle.
Yerry Mina headed home a 90th-minute equaliser which forced penalties. England were whiskers away from exiting at the last 16 following Jordan Henderson’s miss. Colombia bowed out valiantly but not without putting English hearts in their mouths first.
Sweden is a Team
England will play Sweden next. Again, Lions is favourites to win and progress but against a never-say-die interwoven unit like Sweden, it might be another tight game that leaves fans on the edge.
Sweden has shown their capability of playing compact football and working together as a team to achieve results. In fact, playing without Zlatan Ibrahimovic has done them more good. Reaching the quarter-final means they’ve gotten further at the World Cup than they ever did with Ibra leading the charge. Without any individual superstar, Janne Anderson’s Sweden has excelled as a collective unit.
With the way this tournament is unfolding, my mind is made up; I won’t be surprised if Sweden or Russia wins it. Possibilities are fast turning into reality for the underdogs.