Bartender Henry hosts and serves the thirsty soccer fanatics at Barrel Proof, on June 11, 2018.

Hubris comes back at you fast. Doubly fast in Russia, where teams that settled for mediocrity were swiftly escorted out of the building by the opponent who was rolling on the pitch a minute before. Not even the forbearers of the game they named football are safe from the walking, running and scoring dead.

Given its chosen “easier” path to the World Cup final, England may have plenty of representatives at the Moscow Olympic Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Just none on the playing field.

During the group round, England and Belgium fielded their subs so as to lose and land on the gentler side of the draw. And now they get to field their subs again for the honor of a third-place finish. Call it karma’s rematch.

[dropcap]Major[/dropcap] displays of national pride have gone back behind closed doors in the Mission now that everyone’s teams are mostly out of the World Cup. English fans are more discreet when in foreign territory, but a fifth-minute free-kick by Kieran Trippier broke the early silence at Barrel Proof. No one was warm enough to spill their beers all over, though.

The “It’s coming home!” chant was doing the rounds again.

For an hour or so, it certainly seemed like they would get their wish. The young England team was outrunning the tired and more veteran Croatian side, but struggled to convert the second goal that would have practically sealed their pass. Instead, Croatia’s Perisic went leg-first as Walker dived to clear a cross. Fresher legs had been outsmarted by the streetwise elder.

Even American soccer fans were stressing for the former colonial overseer. Loosely paying attention to the screens, owner and bartender Henry was shooting tequila after mezcal after beer with the pressured crowd. Too excitable to talk, but still seemingly coherent, a blond English fan in a Beckham-era jersey kept screaming “what the hell?!” in his glottal accent.

What the hell, indeed. Midway extra time, Mario Mandzukic was poleaxed by English goalie Jordan Pickford, and remained on the pitch practically on one good leg. Five minutes later, his shot was in, and the graphic reporter was knocked out.

Hubris comes back at you fast. So does the Mick Jagger curse.

[dropcap]There[/dropcap] is a very straightforward Latin American expression for teams like England and Belgium: “mentira” (“lie”). Overhyped squads that have historically come short of expectations, often moving through the draws thanks to little else than a succession of lucky breaks, only to fall at the first tricky obstacle. Liar teams are usually the cold-chested ones; they lack the necessary rage to never settle.

On top of the lie, English media lost its mind after its squad’s victory against the pedestrian Swedish. Their big-headedness gave the Croatians some bulletin board material.

By surviving three extra times amounting to a full extra game, Croatia will become the smallest country to play in the World Cup final since Uruguay in 1950. At 4.2 million people, there is no clear indication of what processes enabled its soccer prowess, outside of cultural devotion to the sport.

Croatia has no general program overseeing development across the country. Very few stadiums and training grounds have been renovated since the times of old Yugoslavia. Their coach, Zlatko Dalic, was appointed 48 hours before their last qualification game. The ethos of his players — most of whom were children during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s — seems to be just to take their chances. As their efforts have proved successful so far; they will dig deep to make it happen.

As another exciting World Cup bids adieu, so does the romantic idea of sport for everybody. Russia 2018 was a rough awakening for any Latin American fan who tried to mask via soccer the harsh realities of their region. Even with the meager results, soccer is the area where we actually overachieve. We will explore how our “paisas” are dealing with that and who they’re rooting for in an upcoming post.

For now, may we enjoy the vicarious life for a little longer.

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