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Have you seen some zombie-like figures in the office lately? Have you recently noticed a mysterious malady striking your co-workers, causing a spike in tardiness and calling-in-sick? Noticed those bulging eyebags or reddened eyes? Have you been jolted awake by sudden shrieks and shouts from your neighbors in the middle of the night?
Don’t fret. It’s not the end of the world yet. (Though for some devotees across the globe, it would certainly seem so.) Those zombies you see with bloodshot eyes are football fanatics who have been staying awake watching the ongoing World Cup in Russia on their TV sets. And the screaming and shouting in the middle of the night are not robbery victims, but obsessed and crazy football addicts celebrating a beautifully-crafted goal that will remain ingrained in their minds till the next one comes.
The FIFA World Cup is once again upon us. It is a quadrennial international competition showcasing the best football players in the world. It is a sports extravaganza that is almost like a life-and-death struggle for some, but is at the same time celebrated with so much fun, revelry and brotherly love.
In some countries, it is said that life stops when the games begin. Streets are deserted; everyone is glued to the TV sets; beer is overflowing; even sex, violence and politics are forgotten. (Hmmm, something must be terribly wrong with these people!) Sports – and soccer football in particular – has truly proven to be the great miracle worker unifying a fractious world.
Russia is said to have spent close to a whopping $15B to make this the most expensive, yet most impressive World Cup ever. A total of 12 stadiums in 11 key Russian cities were built or renovated for this football festival. A total of 32 base camps were organized to host the 32 national teams which came to compete for the most prestigious crown of the most prestigious sport in the world today. And each of these teams brought in tens of thousands of fans to cheer them on, filling the stadiums to their maximum capacities, ranging from 30 plus to 81 thousand. Indeed, Russia has rolled out the gleaming red carpet to show the world its unique kind of hospitality.
In the first round of this month-long World Cup, the 32 teams have been divided into 8 Groups of four. The four-team groups are presently playing a round-robin mini-tournament, with the top two teams moving up to the second round. The 16 surviving teams teams then enter the knockout stages of the match, where it is win or go home. From the Round of 16, it goes to the quarterfinals, the semis, and finally, the World Cup Finals.
The 2018 World Cup Finals is set on July 15 at the newly-renovated Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. With a seating capacity of 81,000, it is the largest football stadium in Russia and one of the largest in Europe. It has had a record attendance of close to 103,000 in a football match pitting Russia with Italy.
Seeded to reach the higher rounds before the tourney started were the teams from Brazil, Germany, France, Spain, Argentina and Belgium. However, at this stage of the round-robin matches, the defending champions from Germany have suffered a serious upset to Mexico 1-0, and is in danger of being shamefully booted out early. The 2014 runner-up Argentina is in grave danger of exiting early, having been ingloriously struck down by Croatia 3-0!
As of this writing, Russia is already assured of reaching the next round, with convincing wins over Saudi Arabia and Egypt in Group A. Uruguay joined Russia in the early 2nd round entries with 2 hard fought wins in Group A as well. In Group B, it looks like Spain and Portugal will advance to the next round. In Group C, France has advanced to the round of 16. In Group D, Croatia’s upset of Argentina has assured it of a place in the next round. In the other groups, each team has only played a game each so far, making it difficult to make early predictions.
Portugal’s superstar, Cristiano Ronaldo is leading the goal scorers with 4 goals in 2 matches, followed closely by Spain’s Diego Costa and Russia’s surprising Denis Cheryshev with 3 apiece. The Golden Boot Award is given to the player who scores the most number of goals in the tournament. A sideshow event here is the debate on who is the best footballer in the world today: Ronaldo or Argentina’s Lionel Messi. It will be recalled that in the 2014 World Cup, Messi scored 4 goals, leading Argentina to the Finals; while Ronaldo could only display a single goal for the tournament. This time, Ronaldo has the upper hand.
The champion of this competition will win a prize of $38M, while the runner-up gets $28M. But much, much more than that, the winner takes home the pride and glory as the world champions in this beautiful game considered as the most popular and most-watched sport in the world today.
So if you see some living dead pretending to work in the office these days, or if you hear sudden screams and shouts in your neighborhood in the early hours of the morning, just let them be. It is the World Cup fever that is afflicting them, and there has been no cure discovered for their unfortunate malady.
But then, perhaps, you may want to join us? Who do you think will reach the quarters and the semis? Who do you want to win? My head says it’s Brazil and Spain, but my heart goes to Iceland. For a small country of 337 thousand people, and having qualified for the World Cup for only the first time ever, Iceland is giving the heavyweights a run for their hard-earned money. And I’m betting my mother-in-law on them!!! Let’s go, Iceland!
For more sports stuff, visit my blog at Color My World.