The summer of 2018 was a strange time for US citizens, as they found themselves on the outside looking in during arguably the biggest sporting event in the world. The 2018 World Cup marked the first in nearly 20 years that the US men’s team failed to qualify. After losing to Trinidad and Tobago 2-1 in the qualifying tournament, it was official: the United States squad would not be travelling to Russia in 2018.
FIFA projected that over 3.2 billion people tuned into the US/Trinidad and Tobago match. In others words, almost half of Earth’s population watched an American soccer humiliation. The US’ pride wasn’t the only thing to take a hit due to the men’s team’s absence, its economy suffered in a similar fashion. Despite the team never having won a World Cup, the financial benefits of even placing into the tournament are impossible to ignore. FOX, the highest bidder for the 2018 and 2022 English versions of World Cup broadcasting, invested a total of $400 million for the broadcasting rights.
Going out and watching the World Cup at a bar or a viewing area with friends is an experience that people look forward to for years, and Americans were not willing to let the fun pass by just because their team didn’t make the cut. Family ties, underdogs, or even just plain old fashion competition was enough for many fans to remain engaged in the tournament. This year’s Cup had plenty to remain engaged with, no doubt.
For starters, this World Cup featured the most own goals ever – not by a slim margin either. A whopping 12 own goals secured the 2018 Russia World Cup its place at the top of the leaderboards, with the 1998 France World Cup coming in second with just six.
With this tournament, many of the most popular countries to rally behind fell short in an unpredictable manner. Germany, the winning nation from 2014, shocked the world early on by falling short to South Korea and Mexico in Group F play. Teams that fans rally behind because of their most popular players included Portugal (Christiano Ronaldo), Argentina (Lionel Messi) and Brazil (Neymar). These three countries all left fans wanting more. Portugal and Argentina failed to advance past the round of 16, and Brazil fell shortly after in the quarter-finals.
Despite regular fan-favorites not sticking around until the end of the tournament, each World Cup brings unexpected stars to the spotlight – for the final match was between France and Croatia. For Croatia, midfielder Luka Modrić asserted himself throughout the tournament, earning the “Golden Ball” for being the best player at the tournament. Modrić has been a great player for a long time, but this tournament he ascended to a level not many were sure he was capable of.
Possibly the biggest surprise of the tournament was the play of Kylian Mbappé, 19-year-old forward for the French National team. Mbappé, having just appeared in his first World Cup, has quickly been anointed by many enthusiasts the “future best player in the world.” Mbappé finished the tournament tied with teammate Antoine Griezmann with four goals a piece, tied for second most by any individual player in the tournament. En route to winning the World Cup in his first appearance, Mbappé became the youngest French goalscorer in tournament history.
All of these factors, along with many more, combined to become an electrifying World Cup. Whether your country’s squad made it to the final match, or failed to make it past the qualifying round, there was enough going on in the tournament to keep eyes all around the world glued to TV screens. Soccer fans all around the world can walk away with a better sense of perspective after this year’s Cup, now knowing the vast spectrum of outcomes that can come on the biggest stage of the world’s most popular sport.