World Cup 2018
BLEACHER TALK - Rico S. Navarro (The Freeman) - June 17, 2018 - 12:00am

Brace yourselves folks! It’s time for the FIFA World Cup 2018. It happens every four years and is the biggest sporting event outside of the Olympics; some dare say that it outdoes the Olympics in terms of TV audience/viewership. Yes, football is the numero uno sport in the world. It’s so big that the FIBA, basketball’s world body, decided to move their FIBA World Cup to 2019 and every four years from then on. Basketball’s World Cup used to be held on the same year as that of football but couldn’t match up with football’s overwhelming popularity, audience, TV viewership, revenues and sponsors. Remember Gilas Pilipinas playing in the FIBA World Cup in Spain in 2014? Football’s World Cup was also held in the same year and if it were a boxing match, won by KO. Curiously, the qualifying phase for basketball’s world cup has been changed to follow a FIFA style qualifier system that adopts a home-and-away format and is spread over a period of around two years before the actual World Cup.

In the Philippines where basketball is the top sport, football has gained ground, thanks to the over-all growth of the sport: performance of the Azkals, the Philippines Football League (which I pray won’t fold) and the influx of the Fil-foreigners who have helped level up our play. While we may be light years away form qualifying for the World Cup, we’re certainly following the event closely. Just one look at social media and you can’t help but notice that World Cup fever has hit us. Football fans are highlighting their favorite teams, following their favorite players and preparing to watch nothing but football from opening day last Thursday all the way to the finals on July 15.

For the benefit of the ordinary fan, the FIFA World Cup brings the world’s top 32 teams to Russia to determine a world champion. The teams are grouped into eight groups of four teams each with games played in twelve venues in eleven cities of Russia: Moscow, Kaliningrad, St. Petersburg, Nihzhny Novgorod, Kazan, Saransk, Samara, Volgograd, Rostov-on and Sochi. Each group plays a single-round robin format classification phase, with each team playing each other once. The top two teams of each group at the end of group games qualify or the knock-out phase in a step-ladder do-or-die scenario: round of 16, followed by the quarterfinals, semifinals and the finals or championship match. The 32 teams come from the different continental football associations around the world: CAF (Africa), CONCACAF (North & Central America and the Carribean), CONMEBOL (South America), UEFA (Europe) and our very own AFC or Asian Football Confederation. The sport’s top professional players who ply their trade in the top leagues of the world are playing for their respective countries. Mention the name, they’re playing: Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar, De Bruyne, Kane, Suarez, Lewandowski and so many more.

Favorites to win the World Cup are defending champion Germany, Brazil, Spain and Argentina. If the world rankings are true to form and the groupings are on track, we can see a potential quarterfinal match-up between Portugal and France in the upper part of the knock-out bracket and a Spain-Argentina match in the lower part also in the quarterfinals. The semifinals could see Portugal or France facing Brazil in the upper half, while Germany could face Spain or Argentina in the lower half. Darkhorses who could spoil the script are Belgium and Uruguay in the upper half and Colombia in the lower half of the knock-out brackets. Note that we make this forecast assuming that the favorites top their groups according to their seeding. But as we’ve seen in previous World Cups, funny things do happen; lingin ang bola. The dream final could be Brazil vs. Germany, or Brazil vs. Spain. Wow!

In a survey that the Cebu Football Association conducted, Germany was the top choice to win the World Cup with 23% of the votes, followed by Argentina (17%), Brazil (14%), Spain (13%) and France (11%). CFA President Ricky Dakay thinks Germany and Portugal may win the World Cup. Azkals team manager Dan Palami is for France; Tournament Director Glenn Quisido (Brazil and Germany). Brave fans like Raffy Musni thinks Japan has a chance to win it all. Atty. Ted Piasidad is solid with England despite all odds going against them. Cebu’s coaches bets? Bingbing Colina (Germany); Elying Toledo (Argentina); Francis Ramirez (Germany or Belgium). SHS-Ateneo’s pioneer sportsman Fr. Julian Hernando S.J., will obviously cheer for his Spain. Fr. Lan Guiao, SDB of Don Bosco is for Brazil. Pope Francis will be cheering for Argentina, but he’ll also be praying for all. Our media sports editors Manny Villaruel and Mike Limpag are for Brazil. Cebu’s football sportswriters/media is for Brazil and Spain.

Meanwhile, football fans will be following their favorite teams on TV even if this means having to stay up late in the evening and into dawn. Some games kick off at either 6 and 8 p.m. but most are at either 11 p.m. or 2 a.m. ABS-CBN’s S+A and their cable channel Liga will be airing games live on TV daily. Others will troop to the local bars that will show the games on their in-house TVs. It’s more fun watching a game on TV with football fanatics, some of whom you meet for the first time, right Mike Limpag? The Cebu City government put up a wide screen to show the games live at the Cebu City Sports Center starting Friday and to run until the final match. Tourism in Russia will give the nation’s economy a huge boost in revenues: hotels, restaurants, public transportation and merchandise. It seems like the world comes to a halt just for football.

Truly a World Cup. Enjoy the ride and chant/sing along…..Ole, ole, ole, ole……ole, ole.

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