Finding The Magic In The 2018 World Cup

The soccer gods are cruel. Saudi Arabia played fearless football in the 2018 World Cup opener vs. the home side in Russia. They lost 5-0. The soccer gods also demand sacrifices, the United States Men’s National team is one of many victims ahead of this World Cup.

You must learn that these things happen. Netherlands and Italy, two nations with longer and stronger soccer histories, met the same fate this year. Netherlands have been in three World Cup finals. Italy has won it all four times. The soccer gods are cruel for taking the USMNT away from us, but the time is coming for everyone (the next time England* misses the World Cup will be HILARIOUS).

So how do we get to enjoy the World Cup? Fair question.

You can watch for the players, for their emotions or their talents** or as thank-yous extending beyond the end of the continental league seasons. You can pick a nation’s team by some sort of personal affiliation, as long as it’s not England* because 2018 is about self care and you don’t need that in your life, sweetie.

There are a thousand other reasons why you can watch, none of them any less valid than any other.

But, dear reader, there is one thing that keeps me tuning in that I love more than anything else–the slightest chance of something absolutely insane happening.

Let’s rewind to Brazil in 2014. Netherlands are leading Australia, the lowest-ranked team in the tournament that year, thanks to a goal that an incredibly good Arjen Robben just scored approximately 10,000 times before.

Tim Cahill hasn’t scored a goal like that before or after Brazil in 2014. Dutch players are walking around in a stupor. The very good, very orange Dutch fans who were celebrating less than a minute earlier are now wondering what fresh hell this is.

Australia eventually went on to lead the Dutch briefly in the second half before losing 3-2. Australia left Brazil with zero points in their group, just one fewer than England*. In the grand scheme of things, that goal never mattered at all.

And yet I can still tell you more about it than any of the USMNT’s game that year. A severely outgunned Australia conjured up magic that, for a fleeting moment, shocked the world.

It’s not like these moments happen once or twice a tournament, either. You can even look at today’s game that pitted Saudi Arabia against Russia, the host of this year’s World Cup.

It’s always hard to play right when you’re up against heavy favorites. Russia isn’t great, but there’s still a huge gulf between the two teams. In those cases, a lot of teams would play for a draw or a 1-0 win. But there Saudi Arabia was, playing beautiful, attacking soccer against a team much stronger than them.

You say “So what? They lost 5-0!” I say, I know. I still found magic in Saudi Arabia’s game. I found that tiny shard of something special beneath a mollywhopping. Saudi Arabia played one-touch soccer, went on long, serpentine runs and pressed high up the pitch. You did something right, Saudi Arabia. You did something fine and beautiful, something small but still with just a bit of magic to it.

Now, there will be plenty of games when teams score none and it’s a 90-minute exercise class. More often than not, those games will be boring as all hell and you’ll get up wishing you’d never sat down to watch.

But you can find magic there too. 2014, Brazil vs. Mexico, final game of the group stages. It’s the 26th minute and a surefire goal is coming for Brazil as the ball floats to the far post. Except Guillermo Ochoa is there, the most talented unemployed goalkeeper in the world at that time.

Ochoa made six saves that day. On that first one, he decided that Brazil, the most soccering-est nation that has ever soccered, was not going to score. In a tournament it was hosting.

He beat back waves of Brazilian attackers and very short range shots again and again, all the while hollering at his defense to keep them organized. He was the hero that day, and by his magic, there were no goals scored in that game.

If you sit down and watch every last World Cup game this summer, you’re going to waste at least some of your time. You’re going to see a bad game with nothing in it.

But you could see something truly special. Something worth holding on to, that will make you wish this next month wasn’t so fleeting.

I hope that you, reader, find some similar magic in this World Cup like degenerates might in a casino forum, if only to spite the cruel soccer gods.

*England has a fine team that is very capable of winning a World Cup. Somebody is legally required to catch these jokes and it’s never funnier than when it’s England.

** Don’t let the announcer fool you, Ronaldinho meant every last bit of that goal. Nobody has more sauce than Ronaldinho.

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