So, that dreaded month is upon us – a month that can be very challenging, yet incredibly rewarding. Nope, it’s not Ramadan again! It’s the World Cup!
Excitement fills me even as I type the words.
But I can hear the voices already.
“It’s not actually that interesting …”
“The players are always diving around like little b*****s!”
“It’s run by a group of criminals!” *
“There’s a lot of violence.”
“It happens every four years anyway!”
To which I say:
I know that.
And finally, what the heck is wrong with you?!
The World Cup is one of the only events, in any sport, that really deserves the title of a “world cup,” as it actually involves every recognized footballing nation, big or small. Whether you call it football, like smart people, or soccer like … others, it’s a huge deal all around the world. I challenge you to name one other thing that has this much of an impact, brings this many people together, and is this full of entertainment.
To those people who have been under a rock for eternity, and don’t know anything about football: I feel sorry for you. Nothing can be more fun than seeing 22 sweaty men treating a ball with more love and care than one of their five girlfriends. Actually, seeing them score a goal, and then celebrate by sliding on their knees is quite fun, too, especially as most players spend the entire game spitting all over the pitch.
I could talk forever about the World Cup, [Editors’ Note: Yes, he can. *eye roll*] but instead, what I want to do is to give newcomers a chance to get the best out of the group stage.
So, welcome to my must-watch and don’t-even-bother selections. However, before I reveal that information, it’s important that you understand the basics of this year’s World Cup:
- It’s being played in the very ‘welcoming’ country of Russia.
- The opening game is on June 14th, with the final match being played on July 15th.
- Thirty-two nations, from five different continents, are competing: Africa x 5; Asia x 4; Europe x 14, including host Russia; North and Central America x 3; Oceania x 1; South America x 5.
- There are initially eight groups of four teams.
- In the group stage, all teams play each other for points, with the top two teams going through to the knockout phase.
- Knockout games are one-off games, which will go to extra time and penalties if there is no winner.
If you want to enjoy this tournament, then there are many games that you should avoid, but before we get to those, lets look at the must-sees:
Games to Watch
Portugal vs Spain
This game will be on Saturday at 2 a.m. Beijing time, and my alarm is already set. It is a historical footballing battle between two of the better nations in the tournament. Portugal are the reigning European Champions, and Spain are globally accepted as having the second best domestic football league in the world (second to the English Premier League). More interestingly, Spain have no coach now, after Lopetegui got sacked for accepting a job from Spanish giants Real Madrid without asking for The Spanish Football Association’s permission. If you’re still not sure about tuning in, the players on show are of world-class reckoning.
Plus, we get to see the amazing talent of Cristiano Ronaldo (Don’t even dare ask “Who?”) come up against his teammate Sergio Ramos. Normally, games between these two teams can be hit or miss, but the chance of seeing my man-crush Ronaldo – alongside the actor who played Aquaman in “The Justice League,” – in what is very likely to be his last-ever World Cup. Yes, please!
All of Group D
Every major tournament has a group branded the “Group of Death,” and this year it is Group D. Argentina, Croatia, Nigeria and Iceland. Every game in this group will be interesting. Any one of these four nations could win the group or come last. Argentina will undoubtedly be favorites, but they’re not well-balanced. The Argies are very top-heavy, like the guys who go to the gym but always miss out leg day. They play Iceland in the first game and it will give us a good idea as to how well Argentina will do. It doesn’t help that there’s a lot of controversy surrounding their coach, Sampaoli. Rumor has it that he has been a very, very bad man.
Iceland, around two decades ago, were classed as a minnow of international football, even tagged as “whipping boys.” But now, they’re about to play in their first-ever World Cup. They don’t have any major stars, but Iceland are a great example of a team. They qualified from arguably the most difficult group, overcoming Ukraine, Turkey, and Croatia to win the group. The latter they will play again during the group stages. They are a great team to watch, and not just because of the ‘Viking Clap’.
Still not happy? Maybe you will want to see Croatia, in their amazing tea towel-looking football shirts, or Nigeria with their confusing ones.
Brazil vs Switzerland
You have to watch Brazil. They are the most coveted nation, winning the World Cup a record FIVE times, and they are once again favourites. But this time, rightly so: For the first time in a long time, Brazil has strength and depth, the likes they haven’t had since the millennium. This is their toughest game of the groups, and one that I expect them to win. The more important thing for me is to see how many games Brazil can go without conceding a goal. Unbelievably, in the build-up to this year’s tournament, Brazil has only conceded one goal, despite playing friendlies against decent footballing nations. Plus, you get to see Neymar, the most expensive player in history. He is a delight to watch, especially surrounded by players like Coutinho, Willian and Jesus. No, he looks nothing like the one you are thinking of.
The most important aspect of this game is that it is the first World Cup game Brazil will play since their humiliating defeat against Germany in the Semi-Finals of the tournament 4 years ago, which was held in front of their home fans.
Denmark vs France
This game is likely to be a group-decider. France are one of the favourites for the tournament, but they have a tendency to capitulate in tournaments that are not held in their home country. The main reason: squad harmony. I know you are surprised to hear that, as the French never moan about anything … *queue skeptic eye-rolls*
Denmark are a good side, and will be a difficult team to play. In Christian Eriksen, they have a play-maker who is as good as anyone else in the world. He will be influential if the Danish – mmmmmm, a danish … wait, concentrate, where was I? Ah, yes, Eriksen. He will be influential if the Danish are to progress in this tournament.
Germany vs Mexico
Germany have had a bit of a strange 2018 so far. They have lost the majority of their games played, and are looking very weak. In their last friendly, they won 2-1, which would be a good sign, but they played Saudi Arabia. The game against Mexico will definitely be an entertaining one for the neutral. Expect a bucket full of goals. I predict four, at least. Both Germany and Mexico are high-tempo attacking teams. Hopefully they won’t change their styles.
England vs Belgium
This will be the final group game of the tournament, and what a game it should be. If all goes to plan, which it usually does not, this match should be a decider to see who will finish top of the group, as both teams are likely to win against Tunisia and Panama, respectively.
As for the all of the other games, you shouldn’t really make an effort to watch them. Definitely don’t wake up in the middle of the night to watch any of them. (That last note is more for personal use. I know my partner appreciates the self-reminder.)
However, if you do feel like you want to watch other games, you should definitely avoid the following:
Games To Avoid
Russia vs Saudi Arabia
Normally the opening game of a tournament is huge … except this time. The game is between a Russian team, who are awful at best, against a nation who are always prone to a 7-0 loss. I’m expecting a very boring draw – maybe 1-1. Not even the Russians and Saudis will want to watch this, so why would you?
Belgium vs Panama
This game will be the World Cup equivalent of the initial confrontation between the “Sky-People” and the Na’vi. (If you are not sure of the analogy, then instead of watching this game, turn on Avatar. You can thank me after.)
England vs Panama
Again, I would urge you to watch Avatar. Even for a second time. This game will be very boring. England have a tendency to play boring football against weaker teams, and win 2-0.
Uruguay vs Russia
It’s very likely that Uruguay will have wrapped up the top spot by the third game, and watching their reserves kick lumps out of old men isn’t my idea of fun. If it is yours, then by all means, enjoy.
Panama vs Tunisia
Poor Panama. I didn’t realize that I had selected every one of their games on this list. I have nothing against them, really, apart from that they will be boring, none more-so than in this game, which I expect to be a dead rubber. Normally, when a game lacks stress, teams will end up playing good, expressive football. I don’t expect that to happen here. I will even stick my neck out and say that Panama has featured in this section more times than the number of goals they will score in the competition.
I realize that this article would have been a lot easier to write four years ago, when I nearly put myself into an early grave by attempting to watch every game. This time around, I have decided that it might be better for my health and well-being to moderate. Plus, it will keep my partner happier with me. [Editor’s Note: Wise move, sir.]
Whether you like the FIFA World Cup or not, you cannot undermine its importance for billions of people around the world. So, even if you are not a fan of football, and hate FIFA, give this tournament a chance.
You won’t regret it.
* FIFA is an organization riddled with massive, cringe-worthy problems. Don’t believe me? Check out John Oliver’s pithy summation of the whole thing. Released four years ago, it’s as salient now than ever.