By Sylvana Budesheim // @WhiteZinWench
Okay, quick disclaimer: I don’t get to watch much of the World Cup. This is the first year I’ve had a job that runs through the summer. I fondly remember my first (and only) year teaching at an inner city high school and watching the 2014 tournament with a lot of Portuguese-American students. This year, I’ve had my phone streaming games at my cubicle, and have been able to watch at least one half of a given game on the TV at my job. (Don’t worry– the productivity hasn’t suffered.)
But I will tell you I watched last summer’s Confederations Cup. And I hope you don’t mind when I say… Russia was a total snoozefest. I was not really looking forward to seeing them in Group A. It was the ultimate, ‘you own the pool, so we’ll come to your party’ kind of moment. The world would smile and nod, let the team have their time in the group stage, and then we’d all watch the Germanys and the Portugals and the Argentinas take the real stage.
Well… it would seem the Russian FA said, “hold my vodka” and put together one heck of a product.
Opening Day: Russia 5, Saudi Arabia 0
Sure. This is cool. They trounced the 67th-ranked team (Russia is ranked 70th). But they did so with fourteen shots altogether, and half of them on target. And here’s the kicker (so to speak): Russia only had 38% possession. This is not a team that was desperate to keep the ball. They were content to capitalize on chances and did so convincingly. FIFA president Gianni Infantino looked on alongside Russian president Vladimir Putin and Saudi King Salman. Maybe… just maybe… Russia was going to give the world a show.
Group A Matchday 2: Russia 3, Egypt 1
Whoa. The Pharaohs. Mohammad Salah. Group A favorites (alongside Uruguay, obviously). Ranked 45th in the world by FIFA. Not so fast. Much more even in shots and possession, this was a real exercise for the host nation. Salah was neutralized in the attacking end of the field, held to a penalty kick (73′). And while the Own Goal spectre was the first scorer (and definitely on track to get the Golden Boot this year), Denis Cheryshev (59′) and Artem Dzyuba (62′) sewed up the game.
Group A Matchday 3: Uruguay 3, Russia 0
It wasn’t hard to imagine Uruguay (ranked 14th) topping the group. Despite three of their five group stage goals coming from this game alone, they dominated Group A overall. They didn’t drop a point. Add to that Russia being down a man for the majority of the game (Igor Smolnikov, straight red 36′), and the result is another day at the office. But it was enough for Russia to finish the group stage in second place. On to the Knockout Round.
Round of 16: Spain 1, Russia 1 (3-4 PK shootout)
As I used to say in high school: Ish about to get real here. Spain is ranked TENTH. They have won the freaking World Cup. They have some of the greatest players in the world today. Ain’t no shame in this game if Russia bows out now. This is the furthest they’ve ever gone*.
And of course Spain scores first. Well… kinda.
Like it or not, the ball was inside the net after a set piece. Russia was down, but not out. Then came the other error. The one that would ultimately shift the momentum of the game.
I don’t claim to know everything about soccer, but I do know this: put your daggone arms down. Dzyuba stepped up to the spot and converted the penalty kick to level the game.
We were then treated to the most boring second half of the tournament thus far. I guess both teams were content to wear each other out. But they could have tried to get something going in Added Extra Time. But no Golden Goal meant they could just keep trudging and send the game to the penalty shootout. That’s where anything could happen.
And so it is Russia who advances. They will face Croatia in the Quarterfinals. The Germanys, the Portugals, and the Argentinas will watch from home. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to keep enjoying this ride, however long it lasts.
* Russia advanced to the World Cup Quarterfinals in 1970, when they were the Soviet Union.
Featured image: mlsfemale
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