The World Cup in the Mission: It’s the Euro Cup now

South America will have to wait.

For the orthodox fanatic, it is refreshing to hear so many English speakers calling our sport “football.” Soccer? Does not compute. Not for the hundreds of English fans inundating the Mission for an 11 a.m. lunch-break sing-along of  “It’s Coming Home.” For once, it could very well be.

England not only has a team in the World Cup semifinals for the first time in 28 years, but its league currently employs 40 of the 92 remaining players in the tournament. The Premier League happens to be the most popular in the United States, so the faces are starting to become very familiar.

Fans at The Phoenix bar on Friday afternoon couldn’t stop cheering for Belgium’s Rommie (Romelu Lukaku) and KDB (Kevin de Bruyne), and Brazil’s Bobby (Roberto Firmino) and Phil (Philippe Coutinho), among others. The Englishmen in the crowd were roaring so hard, you would think they forgot their team was still alive.

With the departure of Uruguay and Brazil, all Latin Americans have left to root for are systems, decisions and, maybe, a trace of heritage. But, should you find yourself at a loss, here’s some assistance to help you climb on the next bandwagon.

Who is the favorite now?

Given the jinx we’ve thrown on half of the teams parading along this category, let’s check all four semifinalists’ chances for the final week.

France has been criticized plenty for not breaking a sweat too early and sticking rigorously to a tight-fisted plan. Goals are their way of minimizing risk. Their squad could be a world-beater, but manager Didier Deschamps would rather have a strong defense first. It’s there that the team’s confidence and bravado is born, even if it shows it for only minutes at a time. And it’s working.

Belgium’s Roberto Martínez may be the best coach of this World Cup, and that alone is dangerous to the competition. He wrong-footed Brazil’s Tite by changing his two midfielders and populating all three alleys at the front with full-on sprinters. His talented bunch has been playing together for a while now; they are all in tune with the exhausting, vertical game of the Premier League.

The outcome of the France-Belgium semifinal (Tuesday at 11 a.m.) may depend on reasons as capricious as peaking at the right hour. Or the right minute.

Croatia advanced to the semifinals by virtue of outrunning (and, later, out-walking) the overachieving Russia, and the price of 120 minutes and change of effort for the second game in a row may be high. On the bright side, Luka Modric’s legs and brains were still working while his teammates were only running with their hearts. The team is incredibly talented up front — Rebic is a serious threat to England’s left back section — but their shaky defense and wounded goalie are big concerns.

England finally has a respectable goalkeeper in Jordan Pickford, and that alone has taken it through the easiest path to the final week: victories against Tunisia and Panama, defeat by Belgium, tie against Colombia, victory over Sweden. England’s good aerial game on the box has been a Deus ex machina of sorts when it’s time to score goals; Lingard and Alli’s mobility could bring a different harvest against Croatia.

The second semifinal will be played on Wednesday at 11 a.m.

Is South American football in crisis? Is Europe just the best?

They are the richest around, and this moment seems to be reflecting global demographics as much as any. The World Cup used to be the occassion when South American teams could compete with their European peers, but the resources can’t even be compared. Like Uruguay’s teacher-manager Óscar Tabárez said after his side’s defeat against France: “To talk about European football’s supremacy is to ignore the sport’s historic, economic and infrastructural reality.”

Football still is a game of many variables, especially in a short tournament, and small turns of fate have hit South American sides hard at this World Cup. Both Colombia and Uruguay lost their best players to injury ahead of their final elimination games. Brazil seemed in control of its quarterfinal before a Belgian corner hit Fernandinho an inch too low. Players and coaches control what they can control, but preparation and sacrifice can only get you so far without a bit of luck.

I don’t want to root for a former empire anymore! Where are the underdogs?

There is one tableclothed federation still running football as a colonial estate — a setting that may appeal to the Latin American fan for its familiarity. Born as a country in 1993, Croatia has always associated nationalism with football, a link further engraved by their side’s third-place finish at the 1998 World Cup.

Unlike the Messis and Cristianos of the world, Croatia’s players are not involved in tax evasion, but in major-scale corruption related to transfer fees. Modric, the team’s tiny dynamo and captain, could end up in jail after the World Cup. Unless, of course, the people agree on collective amnesia, and the judges on a grateful pardon. Sounds legit.

Please copy-paste all the things I MUST know to understand what’s going on:

  • If any game is tied after 90 minutes, the teams will play two more periods, of 15 minutes each. Although players are in great shape, extra time can be a lengthy agony for everyone involved. Even worse? Trying to shoot a penalty with aplomb after all of that.
  • Penalty shootouts tend to go to the “best of five.” Nerves and exhaustion tend to result in at least one failed shot, if not the skill of the goalie. (Prepare your tissues).
  • If the teams are still tied by then, additional rounds of one kick are used to break it, in what is called “sudden death.” This puts even more pressure on the team that kicks last. The importance of winning a coin toss!
  • All yellow cards from the previous rounds have been expunged now. (This was part of the rules, not an impromptu pardon).

Where can I eat, drink and lament that the World Cup is almost over?

Four teams, four games left. Tears are coming. But the mid-week blessing is that the semifinals will be played at a time when one can reasonably, artfully pretend like it’s only a very long lunch break. Please be forgiving, if you happen to be the boss. And be moderate if you’re the unruly employee.

Already hungry? Here’s the map for you to scout. We’re also accepting invitations for World Cup final brunch parties. Keep us posted at info@missionlocal.com and we’ll bring the mimosas to your door.

Cheers!

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