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Best/Worst of 2018 World Cup

Best: Iceland’s run transcends sports

Iceland became the world’s favorite underdog in the World Cup.
Photo courtesy of foottheball.com

Even though 2018 was a terrible year for soccer in general, there was still an amazing accomplishment bigger than anything else in the sports world this year. Iceland qualifying for the World Cup is hands down the best part of the 2018 World Cup. 

 In recent years, FIFA has become so notorious for corruption that it makes Watergate look like a joke. The fact that such a small team, in terms of the country’s population and available funds, even made it to the tournament is such an insurmountable feat that their lackluster performance in the World Cup is excusable. It is a big deal anytime a team makes it to their first World Cup, but for Iceland, the story is much more euphoric.

The road to this victory began around two years ago when they qualified for their very first European Cup. Their performance that year was astonishing beyond belief. They not only made it through the group stages but defeated England in the Round of 16 and only lost to the host nation and favorite to win, France. 

By 2017, the “Skol” chant was ringing loud and clear for the World Cup qualifiers, with Iceland breezing past Kosovo, Ukraine, and Turkey. History was made, and Iceland proved to the world that a team from a country with a GDP the size of Vermont has what it takes to be the best in the world. Optimism was even higher when the tournament started and Iceland once again shocked everyone by humiliating Lionel Messi and the 2014 World Cup runner up, Argentina, with a 1-1 tie in their showdown in the group stage. 

 The success in the World Cup was short lived, however, as Iceland fell 2-0 to Nigeria, and 2-1 to the eventual runner up, Croatia, before being eliminated in the group stage.

In essence, Iceland is the soccer equivalent of the 2015 Chicago Cubs. What sets Iceland apart from other teams that qualified for the first time in 2018 is that Iceland has created a winning culture. They have the drive and the momentum to keep making strides and have once and for all shed the stigma of being the lovable loser.

Worst: The Italians massively disappointed

Italy’s complacency led to a historic omission in the 2018 World Cup.
Photo courtesy of goal.com

This year in sports, soccer fans were treated to the most boring World Cup ever. Too many games went to penalties, a lot of the other games were played on one side of the field with one team completely dominating, and teams that are typically fun to watch became painfully mediocre.

The fact that Italy, a four-time world champion and three-time runner up, did not qualify was the worst moment of the World Cup. It is embarrassing that with all the talent in Serie A, and all the money that goes into the Italian National Team, they still could not pull through to beat subpar teams, such as Sweden and Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in qualifying.

 In short, Italy’s incompetence on the sideline and the aging squad led to an inevitable collapse. After the 0-0 tie with Sweden that sealed Italy’s fate, team captain Gianluigi Buffon announced his retirement, and other teammates, such as Daniele De Rossi and Andrea Barzagli, followed suit. Even if those aging Italian stars return, they are only shells of their former talents.

 The worst part about the disastrous qualifying run is that even with the aging roster, they still could have made the World Cup if it hadn’t been for their inadequate coach, Gian Piero Ventura. Under the last coach, Antonio Conte, Italy was able to make it to the quarterfinals of the European Cup, and took Germany all the way to penalties, losing 6-5. When Conte left, the Italian National Team went with Ventura mainly because his contract was significantly cheaper. Soccer is a game that is saturated with money, so to make a decision about who will lead the team based on monetary concerns that do not exist yet is excruciatingly ignorant.

Let this be a lesson to the Italians: you get what you pay for, and they got nothing.

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