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The 2018 World Cup: A reminder of how we find beauty in heartbreak

Luca Modric's look (left) said it all, just like Kylian Mbappe's (right) as to who won the final. Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

As Kylian Mbappe scored the fourth goal of the game for France in the World Cup Final, it seemed like a done deal, France was going to win the 2018 World Cup. Croatia never stopped, and eventually got a second goal after a ridiculous mistake by Hugo Lloris. But it was not enough, Croatia would not be able to come back. As France lifted the trophy 31 other countries pursued, we were all reminded that this tournament is cruel, and it will break your heart at one point or another.

This is not to say France was not a worthy champion, they absolutely were. Their lethal counterattack proved to be fruitful throughout the course of the tournament. After everything Croatia had given us fans throughout the tournament, though, they were the darling. They were the underdog everyone loves to root for. They began the World Cup winning their group with three wins, nine points.

In the round of 16, they came back against Denmark, and won in penalties, 3-2. After 120 minutes in the Quarterfiinals, Croatia drew with the host nation, Russia, 2-2. Again, they started the game behind 1-0, and again an Ivan Rakitic penalty put them through to the next round. In the Semifinals against England, a Trippier Free Kick Goal saw them, once again, behind 1-0. This time, they did not need a penalty shoot out, as they would win in extra time. Croatia reached the final after having played extra time in literally every game of the knockout stage. They came into the game against France yesterday having played an extra game’s worth of minutes. That is why everyone was behind them, and that is why it hurt so much to see them lose.

In many cases, the 2018 World Cup told several heartbreaking stories. Watching Messi and Ronaldo fail to get out of the Round of 16 was gutting. Whether you spend your free time pointlessly debating who is the better player or not, it almost feels as if we were cheated out of seeing them achieve the greatest glory in the world of soccer. Come the 2022 World Cup, Ronaldo will be 37 and Messi will be 35. As they pass the prime years of their careers, not seeing them lift up a World Cup trophy was a hard pill to swallow. This, quite possibly, was their last chance to achieve that.

On a personal level, watching Mexico get bounced in the Round of 16, again, was brutal. They began the World Cup upsetting the reigning champions. They defeated South Korea, as Chicharito scored his 50th goal for Mexico. Then, they had an embarrassing performance against Sweden, and only qualified thanks to South Korea’s victory over Germany. A few days later, the dream died as they lost to Brazil, 2-0. Mexico only scored three goals all tournament, their worst performance since only scoring two in 1978. I will not remember this World Cup for that, though. I will remember the way Chucky Lozano cut inside and scored on Manuel Neuer.  I will remember how, even if it was only for a few days, I thought Mexico could really do something big in the World Cup.

Because of that, I am reminded of why we love this tournament so much. Why we invest so much money on jerseys, on trips to the local sports bar, or on the under in that one quarterfinal game you spent hours studying. At the end of the monthlong tournament, unless you’re lucky enough to see your country win, we all end up with the same broken heart. Hell, the odds are against us before the tournament even starts as only eight countries ever have won the World Cup. Despite that, for a month, you put aside your logic and think with your heart. Just like I believed Mexico was going to upset Brazil, then Belgium, to make the semifinals, I’m sure fans around the world were convinced their countries would do the same.

There is not much as devastating as seeing your country get eliminated, but until it actually happens, you are on top of the world. Your expectations are high. You find beauty and pride in the simplest of things your country does.

I had a conversation with one of my closest friends after his country, Colombia, was eliminated. Mexico had been eliminated the day before, so I still felt a similar pain to the one he was feeling. By the end of the conversation, we both talked about our expectations of our countries  in 2022. We already began mentally preparing ourselves for the pain that will come from that tournament before this one had even ended.

Luka Modric holding his Golden Ball trophy, the award given to the best player of the tournament, was the ultimate representation to how heartbreaking the World Cup can be. After getting bounced in the group stages of 2014, he led this Croatian team to a Final. The team gave it their all, but the golden generation of France ended the Cinderella story. Winning the Golden Ball is a great honor, but the melancholy look on Modric’s face said it all.

The World Cup is the most beautiful tournament in sports. You can say it is because you get to watch the best players in the world compete at their highest levels with their countries. You can say because countries embed their cultures into that of a host nation’s. I will say because it takes us to our highest emotional points before breaking our hearts.

They say you will always find beauty in heartbreak; if the World Cup is not the exact representation of that, then I do not know what is.

 

Carlos Tevez has challenged his Boca Juniors teammates to keep their heads up after drawing 2-2 with rivals River Plate in the first leg of the Copa Libertadores Final. Nike, Inc.

Manchester City, FC Barcelona, Dortmund, Juventus and PSG maintain leads in their respective leagues while the MLS Cup Playoffs is down to four teams. All eyes, however, were on South America as one of the fiercest rivalries reached new heights with the Copa Libertadores title on the line.

English Premier League

Matchday 12 in the Premier League provided close encounters with five of the 10 matches resulting in draws and three other results decided by one goal. In fact, the biggest margin of victory this week was by two and it included the top two sides in the standings - Manchester City and Liverpool.

The five stalemates where Southampton-Watford (1-1), Leicester City-Burnley (0-0), Huddersfield-West Ham (1-1), Chelsea-Everton (0-0) and Arsenal-Wolves (1-1). The biggest setbacks where obviously for Chelsea, who stay in third but see the gap widen from the title race, and Arsenal, who dropped to fifth and now saw Tottenham pass them by three points. Bournemouth stay in sixth but took a hit with a 1-2 loss at Newcastle. Watford and Manchester United have equaled Bournemouth with 20 points and Everton is one point behind at 9th place.

Mohamed Salah was influential in Liverpool’s 2-0 win over Fulham but Manchester City maintained first place in the standings with a 3-1 win over rivals United in the Manchester Derby.

Big news came down this Wednesday as last place Fulham announced Claudio Ranieri as their new manager. The Italian tactician led Leicester City on that Cinderella Premier League title run that later saw him named the The Best FIFA Men's Coach in 2016.

Off the field, the Premier League announced a new CEO, and their first top female executive, in Animal Planet chief Susanna Dinnage. The new PL chief will take over in January and will be tasked with the continuing global growth of the Premier League.

Top six: 1. Manchester City (32), 2. Liverpool (30), 3. Chelsea (28), 4. Tottenham (27), 5. Arsenal (24), 6. Bournemouth (20)

Scoring leader: 8 - Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)

Assists leader: 6 - Ryan Fraser (Bournemouth)

Spain’s La Liga

Don’t pencil in FC Barcelona as the champions just yet. The defending champions suffered a dramatic 3-4 loss to the visiting Real Betis and have been kept within range in the Spanish title race. Sevilla, with a 2-1 win over Espanyol, and Atletico Madrid, with a late 3-2 win over Athletic Bilbao, each picked up three points to pull within one of 1st place.

Real Madrid picked up their 4th straight win with a 4-2 victory at Celta Vigo, a result that influenced two managerial announcement. Real Madrid Manager Santiago Solari saw his interim tag removed and has assured himself the position with a contract lasting until June 2021. Celta Vigo, meanwhile, parted ways with Antonio Mohamed and announced Miguel Cardoso as their new manager.

La Liga will resume after the international break with a match of title implications as third place Atletico Madrid hosts FC Barcelona in the Spanish capital.

Top six: 1. Barcelona (24), 2. Sevilla (23), 3. Atletico Madrid (23), 4. Alaves (23), 5. Espanyol (21), 6. Real Madrid (20)

Scoring leader: 9 - Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona) / Luis Suarez (FC Barcelona)

Assists leader: 5 - Jony Rodriguez (Alaves) / Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)

German Bundesliga

Borussia Dortmund are looking every bit the part of the champion after a 3-2 win over rivals Bayern Munich. The two were separated by four points and Bayern were looking to shorten that gap to one on their path to a 28th league title and their potential 7th consecutive title. Dortmund, the last champion before Bayern’s six-season stranglehold, now look like a potential threat to that dynasty.

Elsewhere in the Bundesliga, Luka Jović had a brace in Frankfurt’s 3-0 win over Schalke 04 to take the top spot in the golden boot race. Monchengladbach and Leipzig also picked up three points apiece to take advantage of Bayern’s loss and move up the standings.

Top six: 1. Dortmund (27), 2. Monchengladbach (23), 3. RB Leipzig (22), 4. Eintracht Frankfurt (20), 5. Bayern Munich (20), 6. Hoffenheim (19)

Scoring leader: 9 - Luka Jović (Eintracht Frankfurt)

Assists leader: 6 - Jadon Sancho (Dortmund)
 

Italian Serie A

Cristiano Ronaldo continues to perform for Juventus by scoring in the marquee match at A.C. Milan. The 2-0 result keeps Juve in a somewhat comfortable lead as CR7 is now second in both goals and assists. Napoli kept pace with the leaders with a 2-1 win at Genoa while Inter Milan fall back to third with an embarrassing 1-4 loss at Atalanta. Lazio could not bring away the full three points at Sassuolo while Roma makes its way up the table with a 4-1 win vs. Sampdoria.

Top six: 1. Juventus (34), 2. Napoli (28), 3. Inter Milan (25), 4. Lazio (22), 5. Milan (21), 6. Roma (19)

Scoring leader: 9 - Krzysztof Piątek (Genoa)

Assists leader: 8 - Suso (A.C. Milan)

French Ligue 1

Another day, another win for Paris Saint-Germain. The defending champions are now on a thirteen match winning streak with a 4-0 win at Monaco. Lille drew 0-0 with Strasbourg and Montpelier lost 1-0 at Angers, stretching PSG’s lead even further. Lyon remains in the top four with a 4-2 win at Guingamp with St-Etienne and  Marseille picking up wins of their own to keep them in the picture for European competition next season.

Top six: 1. PSG (39), 2. Lille (26), 3. Montpellier (25), 4. Lyon (24), 5. St-Etienne (23), 6. Marseille (22)

Scoring leader: 11 - Emiliano Sala (Nantes) / Kylian Mbappé (PSG)

Assists leader: 6 - Angel Di Maria (PSG)

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Major League Soccer

We’re down to the last four in the MLS Cup Playoffs: New York Red Bulls and Atlanta United in the East, Sporting Kansas City and Portland Timbers in the West.

New York City FC could not extend their season after defeating Philadelphia Union in the knockout round and lost their series against Atlanta by 4-1 on aggregate. The main question with NYCFC is what will be their direction after failing to win any hardware with 2010 FIFA World Cup winner David Villa, who will reportedly part ways from the club this offseason. Columbus Crew are left with a similar question as they too are eliminated. The Crew took care of red hot D.C. United in the knockout stage but could not get past the mighty Red Bulls in the conference semifinals. With Crew Head Coach Gregg Berhalter reportedly the leading candidate to take over the U.S. national team, many wonder who will lead Columbus next year.

In the West, Los Angeles FC and FC Dallas could not translate successful seasons into lengthy playoff runs. Both teams were one-and-done against lower seeds Real Salt Lake and Portland Timbers, respectively. RSL gave West No. 1 seed Sporting KC a scare but ultimately could not get past a more complete team. The Timbers, on the other end, took Seattle Sounders FC to extra time in the second leg of the Western conference finals, eliminating their bitter rivals on penalties.

The playoffs now take a hiatus due to the international break and return on Nov. 25 with the start of the Conference finals. The two conference champions will meet in the MLS Cup Final, hosted at the higher seed, on Dec. 8.

Playoff Results:

Knockout Round 

(E3) New York City 3-1 (E6) Philadelphia Union

(E4) D.C. United 2-2 (2-3 pens) (E5) Columbus Crew

(W3) LAFC 2-3 (W6) Real Salt Lake

(W4) FC Dallas 1-2 (W5) Portland Timbers

Conference semifinals 

(E1) New York Red Bulls 3-1 agg. (E5) Columbus Crew

(E2) Atlanta United 4-1 agg. (E3) New York City

(W1) Sporting KC 5-3 agg. (W6) Real Salt Lake

(W2) Seattle Sounders 4-4 agg. (2-4 pens) (W5) Portland Timbers

Liga MX

The playoff picture is almost complete in Mexico with one matchday left in the Apertura 2018 tournament. The eight are essentially the same we’ve seen for a few weeks, with a bit of shuffling around from one through eight. Cruz Azul is back on top with a 2-1 win over Lobos BUAP while Santos and America drew 1-1 this past weekend. Pumas took advantage of the latter by moving up to third in the standings with a 1-0 win over Toluca. Frenchman Andre-Pierre Gignac scored four in a 6-1 Tigres win against Puebla to propel his side up to sixth. In the final playoff spot, Monarcas may have all but booked their spot with a 3-2 win over Tijuana. Pachuca and Queretaro, at 9th and 10th with 23 points each, are the only teams on the bubble with possibilities to crash the party.

With Liga MX taking a rest due to the FIFA international break, many teams use the opportunity to stay in action by touring in the United States. Tigres UANL and Pumas UNAM, two contenders for this season’s title, will face off on Saturday (2:00 p.m. kickoff) in Downtown Houston. Plenty of tickets are still available at BBVACompassStadium.com

Top eight: 1. Cruz Azul (33), 2. Club America (30), 3. Pumas UNAM (29), 4. Santos Laguna (29), 5. Monterrey (27), 6. Tigres UANL (26), 7. Toluca (26), 8. Morelia (25)
 

Scoring leader(s): 14 - André-Pierre Gignac (Tigres UANL)

Assists leader: 8 - Dorlan Pabon (Monterrey)

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UEFA Champions League

There’s never any shortage of things to talk about when it comes to the Champions League. Cristiano Ronaldo made sure of that with a stunner of a goal against his former club Manchester United, and was then upstaged by the Red Devils as they took a 2-1 win in Turin, Italy. Red Star Belgrade defeated Liverpool in Sebia to throw a wrench in Group C, as if Napoli hadn’t done that already. In Group A, Atletico Madrid made up for their loss at Dortmund by winning their match against the German leaders, 2-0, in Madrid. Barcelona could not break down Inter Milan in Italy but retains the top spot after a 1-1 draw. Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Real Madrid all enjoyed comfortable wins and kept the top spots in their groups.

Group A: Dortmund (9), Atletico Madrid (9), Club Brugge (4), Monaco (1)

Group B: Barcelona (10), Inter Milan (7), Tottenham (4), PSV (1)

Group C: Napoli (6), Liverpool (6), PSG (5), Red Star Belgrade (4)

Group D: Porto (10), Schalke 04 (8), Galatasaray (4), Lokomotiv Moscow (0)

Group E: Bayern Munich (10), Ajax (8), Benfica (4), AEK Athens (0)

Group F: Manchester City (9), Lyon (6), Hoffenheim (3), Shakhtar Donetsk (2)

Group G: Real Madrid (9), Roma (9), CSKA Moscow (4), Plzeň (1)

Group H: Juventus (9), Manchester United (7), Valencia (5), Young Boys (1)

UEFA Europa League

Premier League clubs Arsenal and Chelsea continue to walk through the Europa League group stage, but other top clubs have found it difficult. A.C. Milan, for example, continues to be upstaged by Real Betis in Group F and Sevilla is finding it hard to take a stranglehold of Group J. Other hopefuls like Scottish clubs Celtic and Rangers remain in their respective group races but with little room for error.

Group A: Bayer Leverkusen (9), FC Zurich (9), Ludogorets (2), AEK Larnaca (2)

Group B: Red Bull Salzburg (12), RB Leipzig (6), Celtic (6), Rosenborg (0)

Group C: Zenit (8), Slavia Praha (7), Copenhagen (5), Bordeaux (1)

Group D: Dinamo Zagreb (12), Fenerbahce (7), Spartak Trnava (3), Anderlecht (1)

Group E: Arsenal (10), Sporting CP (7), Vorskla (3), Qarabag FK (3)

Group F: Real Betis (8), A.C. Milan (7), Olympiacos (7), Dudelange (0)

Group G: Villarreal (6), Spartak Moscow (5), Rangers (5), Rapid Wien (4)

Group H: Eintracht Frankfurt (12), Lazio (9), Marseille (1), Apollon Limassol (1)

Group I: Genk (7), Sarpsborg (5), Malmo (5), Besiktas (4)

Group J: FC Krasnodar (9), Sevilla (9), Standard Liege (6), Akhisar (0)

Group K: Astana (8), Dynamo Kiev (8), Rennes (3), Jablonec (2)

Group L: Chelsea (12), Videoton (6), PAOK (3), BATE (3)

Copa Libertadores

One of the most heated rivalries in all of soccer, with the South American championship on the line, kicked off this past weekend after weeks of anticipation. It took an extra day, as heavy rains and floods in the Buenos Aires region postponed the match from its original Saturday kickoff to Sunday afternoon. Once the first leg was underway, there was no denying the electricity as Boca Juniors took the lead with a 34th minute goal by their talisman in this edition of the Libertadores, Ramon Abila. The celebration was short lived by the home fans as River Plate’s Lucas Pratto tied the game on the ensuing kickoff. Boca were then forced to make an early change as Cristian Pavon had to leave the game due to injury. His replacement, Dario Benedetto, came off the bench and gave the home team the 2-1 lead just before halftime.

River Plate tied the match in the 61st minute thanks to a Carlos Izquierdoz own goal and the match would end in a 2-2 draw. Now, the animosity will grow back as the two teams prepare for the return leg across town on the 24th of this month. The winner will have everlasting bragging rights as this is not only the first time the historic rivals face off in a South American final but also the last in a home-and-home series - next season, the Libertadores switches to a neutral venue one match final.

Upcoming Matches (All Times CT):

Thursday, November 15

 

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Nations League] Belgium vs. Iceland (ESPNews)

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Nations League] Croatia vs. Spain (ESPN+)

1:45 p.m. - [International Friendly] Germany vs. Russia (ESPN+)

2 p.m. - [International Friendly] England vs. USA (ESPN2/UniMás)

Friday, November 16

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Nations League] Wales vs. Denmark (ESPNews)

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Nations League] Netherlands vs. France (ESPN+/UniMás)

2 p.m. - [International Friendly] Brazil vs. Uruguay (beIN Sports)

6 p.m. - [International Friendly] Argentina vs. Mexico (UniMás/Univision Deportes)

6:15 p.m. - [International Friendly] Chile vs. Costa Rica (beIN Sports)

Saturday, November 17

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Nations League] Italy vs. Portugal (ESPN+)

Sunday, November 18

8 a.m. - [UEFA Nations League] England vs. Croatia (ESPNews)

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Nations League] Switzerland vs. Belgium (ESPN+)

1:45 p.m. - [International Friendly] Spain vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina (ESPN+)

Monday, November 19

12:30 p.m. - [UEFA Nations League] Iceland vs. Qatar (ESPN+)

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Nations League] Czech Republic vs. Slovakia (ESPNews)

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Nations League] Germany vs. Netherlands (ESPN+)

Tuesday, November 20

1:30 p.m. - [International Friendly] Brazil vs. Cameroon (beIN Sports)

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Nations League] Sweden vs. Russia (ESPNews)

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Nations League] Portugal vs. Poland (ESPN+)

1:45 p.m. - [International Friendly] Italy vs. USA (FS1/UniMás)

2 p.m. - [International Friendly] France vs. Uruguay (ESPN+)

6 p.m. - [International Friendly] Argentina vs. Mexico (UniMás/Univision Deportes)

 

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