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Best of Times: Group Stage at the World Cup

June 14th, 2018 · No Comments · Football, Russia 2018, soccer, Spain, World Cup

This is as good as it gets, in world sports.

More diverse than an Olympics. Far wider global interest than in cricket or rugby or basketball.

The first two rounds of the Fifa World Cup soccer group stage.

Eleven consecutive days, this time around, at the 2018 Russia World Cup, of 32 teams still with a chance to advance to the knockout round.

Yes, even Saudi Arabia, which was routed 5-0 by the hosts in the opening match of the competition tonight. (The score is not quite fair; most of the Saudi players were fasting, on the final day of Ramadan, and as has happened before when the Saudis play during the fast, they faded in the final 20 minutes. But, no, they did not show much in the first 70 minutes, either.)

So. No one can be mathematically eliminated until after the second batch of games have been played. On the 11th day of the tournament. Everyone can still dream, till then.

Meantime, we get to watch a broad selection of the world’s teams, from Japan to Mexico, from Argentina to Iran and Spain, and it is quite fun. To me, the greatest stretch of time on the sports calendar.

Someone must have done a study of this, how many work days are lost during the early stages of the tournament. Lots of people calling in “sick”? Or distracted by Uruguay-Egypt (et al) to the point that they are at work … but not really contributing much.

The opening match kicked off at 6 p.m. in Moscow, 5 p.m. in most of Europe, 11 a.m. in New York, 8 a.m. in Los Angeles, 8:30 p.m. in New Delhi and 11 p.m. in Beijing.

What is fascinating about the World Cup is that interest is high even in the several large countries whose teams are not in the tournament, and that includes the four most populous nations in the world: China, India, the United States and Indonesia.

Three of those four countries are pretty much acculturated to watching someone else’s teams play. China has made one World Cup appearance, India and Indonesia have zero appearances between them, and the U.S. has been a reliable competitor only since 1990.

Nonetheless, people in bamboo huts and yurts and igloos probably are finding the nearest broadcast of the games, and will change their schedules to be able to watch.

Three games tomorrow! Egypt versus Uruguay, Morocco versus Iran and Portugal versus Spain.

And you know you are dying to see Mohamed Salah and the Egyptians, and Luis Suarez and eternal overachievers Uruguay’ and the Moroccan foreign legion and dour Iran and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal and tiki-taka Spain. I am. I figure on six hours of soccer today, if my World Cup providers come through.

Let the games begin! Or resume! This extravaganza comes around only once every four years!



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