Kicking off the year: The World Cup experience

Vivien Sweet and Henry Owens

Malka Krijestorac (12), who is of Croatian descent, watched the World Cup at a local cafe near her parents’ house in Croatia and in some other cities in Europe, she said.

“I liked watching the games at the cafe because it was filled with locals who were rooting for Croatia. However, when I watched games in Amsterdam and Berlin, not everyone was rooting for the same team,” she said.

The excitement in the air in Croatia was palpable, Krijestorac said. Fans would wear the jerseys of their favorite players, face paint, and fake tattoos of the Croatian flag, she said.

“After the wins, my family and I would always just walk around the street and see people jumping on top of cars and we would cheer with everyone else,” she said.

Personally, Krijestorac was surprised that Croatia made it to the finals. “No one ever thought we would beat England in the semi-finals and I came to the game kind of upset because I didn’t think we had a chance, but I think England underestimated [Croatia] as a team,” she said.

Sean Koons (12), a member of Boys Varsity Soccer, thinks that what made the 2018 World Cup special was “being able to watch games with friends on the weekends and weekdays this summer,” he said.

“Being 17 and watching [the World Cup] compared to being 13 and watching is different,” he said.

Fellow teammate and another World Cup fan Melchior Lee (12) grew up playing soccer and watched his first World Cup in 2010.

Lee’s parents went to the 2002 World Cup which was co-hosted by South Korea and Japan and later told him all about their experience, he said.

That was the year South Korea made it all the way to the semi-finals, ”which was how he started to get into the World Cup,” he said.

“That World Cup was just so exciting and I pretty much just fell in love with the sport,” Lee said.

Lee was rooting for Korea primarily because of his Korean heritage, and he was surprised at how well they performed, he said.

“Almost everyone expected South Korea to finish last in their division and lose to Germany, who was the number one ranked team in the world, so the South Korea versus Germany game was arguably the biggest upset of the tournament,” Lee said.

Chris Ha (11), who is also on Boys Varsity Soccer, was rooting for Spain because he watched the tournament there although he rooted for South Korea as well because of his Korean heritage, he said.

“The best part of the World Cup was South Korea beating Germany because it was such a complete upset and surprise. I remember finding out about the win after an activity at camp, and I was cheering the Korean chant for hours,” Ha said.

Another member of Boys Varsity Soccer, Gavin Delanty (12), developed his passion for soccer from his brother, he said.

“In the beginning [of the tournament], I supported Argentina due to my love for Lionel Messi, and Iran due to my friend’s Iranian descent,” Delanty said.

Delanty felt a tangible change in energy in New York City during the World Cup, he said. “Soccer is gaining support in the United States, and that is definitely apparent in the city,” Delanty said.

Helena Yang (10) never played organized soccer, but still was a fan of the World Cup and grew up rooting for Germany. However, Yang ended up supporting Croatia in the finals, and was “pretty upset when Croatia lost,” Yang said.

Both Yang and Lee thought that Brazil, a star team in the tournament, did not play up to expectations.

“I think Brazil had a lapse of concentration and focus because on paper, they were the most talented team going into the tournament.” Lee said.

Lee felt that the Brazil versus Belgium quarterfinal game definitely could have been a final, considering the caliber of both teams, he said.

Kiara Royer (11), the co-Captain of Girls Varsity Soccer (GVS), watched the final at a soccer camp in Maine and was rooting for Croatia, she said. “It’s so much more fun to root for the underdogs, and everyone at the camp was really into the game” she said.

GVS consists predominantly of underclassmen, with only two upperclassmen this year, which puts the team at a disadvantage, Royer said.

However, this year’s World Cup gave GVS a good example of perseverance, she said. “Croatia made it all the way to the final as the underdogs, so with that mentality [GVS] can do a lot better than expected, even if we are very young,” she said.

In the end, France beat Croatia 4-2 to win the World Cup.

Koons was rooting for France and was happy when they won, he said.

“France was the best team in the tournament and they played so well together; their chemistry was unbeatable,” Yang said.

Despite Croatia’s loss, the 2018 World Cup was a very exciting tournament to watch, Krijestorac said.

“[The World Cup] is the world’s most watched event for a good reason, and it certainly becomes a lot more exciting when you have a team to back-up,” Lee said.