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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.

 

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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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