World Cup 2018

A series of essays on the World Cup, guest-edited by Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, featuring Vanessa Barbara on Brazil, Francisco Goldman on Mexico, Geoff Dyer on England, Elda Cantú on Peru, Gabriel Pasquini on Argentina, Oumar Ba on Senegal, Laurent Dubois on Belgium, S. Nathan Park on South Korea, Mona Eltahawy on Egypt, Aida Alami on Morocco, Peter L’Official on France, Piotr Orlov on Russia, Christopher de Bellaigue on England, Ivan Sršen on Croatia, and Simon Kuper in Russia.

Matthias Hangst/Getty Images France celebrating their win against Croatia with the World Cup Trophy, Moscow, July 15, 2018

It was about mid-way through the first half, at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, when those of us in the US who joined the billion or so humans who watched the World Cup Final on TV were given our first view, accompanied by mentions from our announcers on Fox about lightning nearby, of the angry grey skies over Russia’s capital. By that point, the fittingly eventful finale to a most eventful tournament had already seen three goals. The wily Croatians, zipping the ball forward with intent, had dominated the opening exchanges. But France, as a top team set up by its old defensive midfielder of a coach less to dominate matches than to win them, had taken an undeserved lead.…  Seguir leyendo »

Fans watch Belgium v Panama in an Irish Bar in Moscow, Russia, June 18, 2018. As well as shooting all the matches, Reuters photographers are producing pictures showing their own quirky view from the sidelines of the World Cup. REUTERS/Carl Recine - RC1C677D22D0

I’ve been staying in an Airbnb in a Soviet-era apartment block in Moscow to cover the World Cup, but my children back home in Paris are living the tournament more intensely than I am. Though I’m British and my wife is American, our children were born in Paris and identify uncomplicatedly as French. For France’s first few games, each of their gang of friends took turns to host a viewing party at home.

Parents and kids would cram into somebody’s little apartment, cheer on France over helpings of pizza, then sing Beatles songs together and watch whichever match was up next.…  Seguir leyendo »

A Croatian football fan sitting in front of an art installation showing a former Yugoslav National Army tank in collision with a small red car, commemorating an actual event regarded by many as marking the beginning of the 1991–1995 war, Osijek, eastern Croatia, 2012

The summer of 1990, for those who lived in what was then Yugoslavia, was something like the summer of 1939 in Europe: warm and easy-going, spent mostly on the beach with a cold beer in hand, or—if you were far from any sea or lake—in the shade of a tree or a tall building, comfortably cooling your feet in a washbowl. No one expected the sudden break-up of that Balkan country, or at least not me, then an eleven-year-old boy.

I was busy playing soccer on my street in my hometown, Zagreb, where there was little traffic in the warmer months.…  Seguir leyendo »

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JULY 3: Harry Maguire of England and his girlfriend Fern Hawkins following the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Round of 16 match between Colombia and England at Spartak Stadium on July 3, 2018 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

“It’s coming home,” a young man told me as we passed in the street in South London after our 2-0 defeat of Sweden in the quarter-finals of the World Cup on Sunday afternoon. He was heading toward Clapham Junction railway station, where later that day a man jumped off the roof of a double-decker and crashed through the awning of a bus stop—landing unharmed, as it turned out, amid a large crowd of revelers.

In Stratford, East London, some England fans entered a branch of IKEA, that reliable Scandi surrogate, and wreaked good-natured havoc on the home furnishings, sending cushions flying and assistants in hijab scattering for cover, as the fans waved their shirts over their heads and murdered the chorus of “It’s coming home.”…  Seguir leyendo »

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JULY 01: Aleksandr Erokhin of Russia celebrates after his team win a penalty shoot out during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Round of 16 match between Spain and Russia at Luzhniki Stadium on July 1, 2018 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

There was a citywide party on Sunday night in Moscow that local reports are calling historic—and if you’ve ever been in the capital of a footballing nation on the day that its team wins a knockout World Cup match, you know there’s a good chance the reports were not exaggerating. It’s especially poignant that the people who were getting their collective freak on were the Russians, for no stroll through the country’s recent history will reveal an event that could as thoroughly and unexpectedly unite its citizens across political and social lines as the national squad’s upset defeat of Spain in the World Cup’s round of sixteen at the city’s Luzhniki Stadium.…  Seguir leyendo »

France 98's players celebrate after Zinedine Zidane scored a goal during an exhibition football match between France's 1998 World Cup's French football national team and FIFA 98 composed with former international players, to mark the 20th anniversary of France's 1998 World Cup victory, on June 12, 2018 at the U Arena in Nanterre, near Paris. (Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images)

It will escape hardly a single fan of Les Bleus that July 12, 2018, will mark the twentieth anniversary of France’s 3-0 triumph over Brazil to win the World Cup at home at the Stade de France outside Paris, after which a million revelers—black, blanc, beur (black, white, Arab) alike, as the story goes—stormed the Champs-Élysées, commencing Bastille Day celebrations a couple of days early and heralding, in the eyes of the hopeful, a new multicultural dawn for the Fifth Republic. Even those who were not yet born then—a group that includes Kylian Mbappé, perhaps the most electrifying player on the current France team, who was born later that year in the Parisian suburb of Bondy—will find it hard not to think about that 1998 victory.…  Seguir leyendo »

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JUNE 20: Noureddine Amrabat of Morocco throws away his skull cap during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group B match between Portugal and Morocco at Luzhniki Stadium on June 20, 2018 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Simon Hofmann - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

For Morocco, this World Cup began with defeat. We were favored to win our first match, against Iran, but in a turn of fate, with the game tied nil-all and minutes before the end, one of the Moroccan players scored an own-goal. That 1-0 loss crushed our slim hopes to shine and to advance from a challenging group. Sure enough, in our second game, against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, we proceeded to lose—despite dominating the match. On Monday, against Spain, we had little left to play for—except, perhaps, some honor. But in an amazing game that twice saw Morocco go ahead against one of the world’s top teams, we earned a 2-2 draw that left Moroccans proud of the national team despite its not making it to the next round.…  Seguir leyendo »

Egyptian soccer fans react as they watch the FIFA World Cup 2018 group A preliminary round soccer match between Egypt and Russia in downtown Cairo, Egypt, on 19 June 2018. (Photo by Ahmed Awaad/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Soon after my family moved from Egypt to London, when I was seven years old and my brother was three, my mother sat us down for a talk: we are Egyptian and Muslim, she told us, remember that.

My father did not have to sit us down for a talk. But we learned every Saturday night, as we sat by his side watching “Match of the Day” broadcast one of that day’s English Division One football games, that we were also football fans (ever since, my dad and brother have supported Liverpool, while I’ve been a fan of Manchester United). And we remembered that.…  Seguir leyendo »

South Korean football fans react as they watch on a large screen the 2018 World Cup football match between South Korea and Sweden at Gwanghwamun square in Seoul on June 18, 2018. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP) (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)

The World Cup, in South Korea, is usually a huge deal—but not this year. The South Korean media has barely covered it, and conversations rarely turn to it. Part of the reason is that the 2018 Korean squad is pretty bad. A dedicated Korea fan could find some solace in the fact that the Taegeuk Warriors—so named after the Korean word for the red and blue yin-yang symbol in the middle of the South Korean flag—have qualified for ten World Cups in all and the past nine in a row, a record for an Asian country. Our ebullient striker Son Heung-min can be a joy to watch—if only there were a few more world-class talents around him.…  Seguir leyendo »

Belgium's Christian Benteke takes part in a press conference of the Belgian national soccer team Red Devils on May 24, 2018, in Tubize prior to the final squad selection for the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia. (Photo by BRUNO FAHY / various sources / AFP) / Belgium OUT (Photo credit should read BRUNO FAHY/AFP/Getty Images)

The only true Belgian, goes a long-running joke, is the king of the country. Riven by tensions between its French-speaking Walloons and Dutch-speaking Flemish, and with the identity of Brussels largely defined by it’s being the capital of Europe, rather than Belgium, the country’s existence as a unified nation often seems tenuous at best. But in the last decade, another national institution has come to symbolize what it means—or, at least, might mean—to be Belgian: the national soccer team, known as the Red Devils. Packed with star players well-known from their professional careers in the English Premier League (considered the world’s best), the national squad is also notably for its diversity, with many players from immigrant backgrounds.…  Seguir leyendo »

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JUNE 19, 2018: Senegalese football fans with painted faces before a First Stage Group H football match between Poland and Senegal at FIFA World Cup Russia 2018. Alexander Ryumin/TASS (Photo by Alexander RyuminTASS via Getty Images)

If Africa were a single country, its history and founding myths could be narrated around thrilling episodes of “the beautiful game” on the world stage. Ask any not-so-young African what their best memories of the World Cup are, and you may hear about that day in 1982 when Algeria beat the mighty West Germany—at the pre-game press conference, a German player had quipped, “We will dedicate our seventh goal to our wives, and the eighth to our dogs.” No one had told him, one suspects, about the Algerian team’s proud past, during the country’s anti-colonial struggle in 1958, as flag-bearers for a nation fighting for freedom.…  Seguir leyendo »

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JUNE 16: Lionel Messi of Argentina sets the ball to kick a penalty shot during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group D match between Argentina and Iceland at Spartak Stadium on June 16, 2018 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Carlos Cuin/Jam Media/Getty Images)

They say that the best business is to buy an Argentine for what he is worth, and then sell him for what he thinks he’s worth. Those who glean that joke’s meaning may have been shocked to hear Lionel Messi, Argentina’s captain and arguably the best player in the world, if not in history, declare that “we are not candidates” to win the FIFA World Cup just a couple of weeks before its opening. Such modesty would have been branded as defeatism in many a country represented in Russia. However, in Argentina—a soccer superpower ranked among the world’s top four teams, a finalist in the last World Cup (which it lost to Germany by a scarce 0-1 in extra time), and a place and culture foreign to self-effacement—defeatism might well be the most sensible choice.…  Seguir leyendo »

TOPSHOT - Peru's forward Paolo Guerrero (R) walks with his shirt over his face as Denmark's forward Yussuf Poulsen (2L) and Denmark's forward Nicolai Jorgensen (L) react after the final whistle during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group C football match between Peru and Denmark at the Mordovia Arena in Saransk on June 16, 2018. (Photo by JUAN BARRETO / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS (Photo credit should read JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images)

On May 30, 2018, the Peruvian soccer squad boarded a plane to Zurich. The chartered flight was loaded with twenty-three players, their technical team, and—we heard over and over—the dreams of a nation. It was the first stop en route to the World Cup in Russia. “Peru is ready to face any team in the world,” said Ricardo Gareca, the Argentinian coach credited with getting Peru this far. But Paolo Guerrero—El Capitán, Peru’s all-time leading goalscorer—did not fly with them. His absence made headlines: Peru was going to play a World Cup for the first time in thirty-six years, with the national star banned from the field.…  Seguir leyendo »

MARSEILLE, FRANCE - JUNE 11: Fans clash after the UEFA EURO 2016 Group B match between England and Russia at Stade Velodrome on June 11, 2016 in Marseille, France. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

At the time of writing, I am not particularly exercised about England’s chances. Don’t worry, it will happen. I’ll get caught up in it, will once again face the possibility of having to relish my least favorite taste: the taste of England, the taste of ashes in the mouth.

I am always shocked by the way it takes hold, this faith in England, the desire for England to go all the way, as they say, in spite of the long record of thwarted hopes, hopes that are so necessary a prelude to the lingering after-taste—the permanent after-taste, if such a thing is possible—of ashes in the mouth that, as when savoring a complex wine, the fire of hope itself already burns with more than a hint of the ashes to come.…  Seguir leyendo »

Belgian goalkeeper Filip De Wilde failed to stop a goal by Mexico's Cuauhtémoc Blanco during the 1998 Soccer World Cup. (Photo by Dimitri Iundt/TempSport/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

I was supposed to have gone to Gonzalo and Pia’s house, in Chimalistac, a southern neighborhood of Mexico City, to watch the Mexico-Belgium 1998 World Cup match. I must have gotten got caught up in something else; I didn’t care much about “soccer.” In high school, in Massachusetts, I’d played football, and was a Red Sox fan. When I left my apartment in the Condesa at the start of the second half, Mexico, El Tri—as the national team is called, for the tricolor flag—was losing, 2-0. It was a sunny Sunday, the sidewalks and streets empty because everybody was inside watching the match.…  Seguir leyendo »

A boy from Santa Marta favela with his Panini World Cup sticker book, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2014. Mario Tama/Getty Images.

Every four years, Brazil is transformed by a sportive Midas touch that turns everything into apolitical emptiness. It sweeps our country with a force almost too strong to resist.

We puff up our chests and recall that we are the only country that has attended every single FIFA World Cup since its beginning in 1930 (a distinction we have held alone since 1950, when Romania did not enter the competition and France withdrew). We have also won the championship five times. And although Brazil has never gotten a Nobel prize—just three Ig Nobels and too many Darwin Awards—at least on the soccer field we can proudly face first-world countries such as England, France, Italy, Germany, and Spain.…  Seguir leyendo »

Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images The 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying match between the United States and Cost Rica, Red Bull Arena, Harrison, New Jersey, September 2017

It was after the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam that Jules Rimet decided enough was enough. The French president of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) had watched the sport he oversaw attract more spectators at those Games than any other event—despite, to his long-running frustration, the banning from participation of professional players. Rimet moved decisively to create a new international soccer competition, run by FIFA and called the World Cup, in which each nation taking part would field a team comprised of its foremost footballers, bar none.

A date was set, and Uruguay—a country then flush with Jazz Age wealth from grain and leather—was chosen to act as host because its government offered to pay travel costs for all involved.…  Seguir leyendo »