10 Things I’ve Learned in the First Two Weeks of the World Cup

The World Cup started two weeks ago today, and during this last fortnight, while my son has played over 50 hours of Fortnite, I’ve watched over 50 hours of soccer.

That’s a lot of kicks, grabs, headers, tackles, saves, goals, flops, and thunder claps.

I’m learning a lot about the game (and myself) as I immerse myself into it, so without further ado, here are ten things I didn’t know two weeks ago that I know now.

1 – I’ve learned who my soccer-loving friends are.

Since I announced that I was doing this project two weeks ago I’ve heard from a lot of friends who said they were jealous of me or excited that I was trying to embrace their favorite sport. Shawn, Joaquin, Jason, Alejandro, Kyle, and a few of others think I am living the dream right now.

That being said…

2 – I’ve learned that a lot of people I know don’t love soccer

For every one person who has expressed genuine interest in my World Cup Immersion, I’ve had at least nine tell me that I’m insane for taking on such a torturous assignment. The words they use…so hurtful. What did soccer ever do to you?

A sampling of actual things people have said to me…

“It’s just so boring. No one scores and everyone flops.”

“Hey, let’s run around for 90 minutes trying not to mess up our hair.”

“I can watch it for about 10 minutes and then I want to gouge my eyes out.”

“Even the word ‘soccer’ is boring if you think about it.”

“I’d rather watch an entire baseball game, and I hate baseball.”

Feel the love, everyone! It’s soccer fever, catch it!

3 – I’ve learned what a ‘brace’ is.

Everyone knows a “hat trick” is three goals in a game, but who knew that a “brace” meant two? Not this guy.

Other terms I’ve learned? “The spot” is where you take a penalty kick from. “Simulation” is another word for a flop. “Getting booked” means getting a yellow or red card. I hope you’re writing all these down, there will be a test.

4 – I’ve learned that sometimes soccer actually IS boring.

The France vs. Denmark game on Tuesday was an absolute dud, and not just because it ended in a 0-0 draw (the first of the tournament). The game meant nothing as both teams were already into the Knockout Stage, so there were zero stakes to go along with zero goals.

This kind of thing rarely happens in other sports. Even a meaningless Week 17 NFL game features exciting touchdowns and game-changing plays. And, of course, there will always be a winner, even if there’s nothing more than the “W” at stake. As excited as I am to watch the Knockout Stage of this tournament, I never want to have to watch a meaningless World Cup game again for the rest of my life.

5 – I’ve learned that patience is just as important in soccer as it is in life.

In the last 40+ minutes of the Argentina vs. Nigeria match on Tuesday, Argentina needed to break the 1-1 tie with a goal or their tournament was over. With each minute that passed, the stakes heightened, but they didn’t seem to panic or get reckless with their play.

I wanted them to score and advance to the next stage, and with every backward pass and I was getting more and more anxious. TAKE SOME SHOTS ALREADY! But they were being patient, knowing that one quality chance is worth more than a bunch of bad shots on goal. Sure enough, they scored and are moving on, and they have patience and Marcus Rojo’s right foot to thank for it.

6 – I’ve learned that eating an entire bag of Sour Patch Kids while you watch soccer will damage your tongue.

I mean, technically I’ve learned this lesson a hundred times, but some lessons you need to learn the hard way over and over again.

7 – I’ve learned that soccer fans are really the best live sporting event fans.

Soccer fans are the best. The songs, the chants, the flags, the face paint, the masks…they have it all. They are engaged the whole game whether the action seems intense or slow, and when someone scores they lose their minds like no other fans on the planet.

In fact, one of the enduring images I’ll have from this World Cup is the way Panama fans reacted when their team scored in the 78th minute of their England match. England was up 6-0. Their World Cup obituary had been written. They weren’t moving on and they were getting pummeled by six goals, and yet when they scored, their fans celebrated as if they had just moved on to the next stage. How can you not love that?

8 – I’ve learned that precise time-keeping is overrated

There’s just something crazy about the way a soccer game ends, isn’t there? Everyone knows that the referee is about to blow his whistle based on the estimated amount of stoppage time, but you don’t REALLY know until it happens. All you know is that if one team is on the attack and has a legitimate chance to score, the referee will let it play out. Meanwhile the fans of the team with the lead wait with anticipation to burst out like soda from a shaken can. It’s pretty great.

9 – I’ve learned that unlike most sports, I prefer the stars to the underdogs

In almost every American team sport, if my favorite team isn’t playing I’m rooting for the underdog. I’m not alone in this; we are a country that loves upsets. It might be different in individual sports, where we love to see Serena Williams, Michael Phelps, and Jordan Spieth rack up wins, but that’s about the only exception.

In this World Cup, all I want is marquee matchups. There’s just something electric that happens when the ball is on Messi’s foot. Or Neymar’s foot, or Ronaldo’s foot, or Lukaku’s foot, or [insert star player here]. There are some amazing matchups already lining up in the Knockout Stage, and I couldn’t be more excited about them. Forget the underdogs, I want to see the stars.

(NOTE: As I was writing this Germany lost to South Korea which eliminated the Germans from the tournament and also pushed Mexico through. All of this made me very happy because Germany is Germany and they don’t really have any flashy stars that are fun to watch. I’m also all aboard the Mexican bandwagon because the team is a joy to watch, and I can’t wait to see their fans spontaneously combust into balls of light if they actually get through the Round of 16.)

Speaking of stars, moving on…

10 – I’ve learned that I can get very excited about soccer

When Argentina scored in the 86th minute of their match against Nigeria to all but ensure they were moving on, I had a moment. I jumped off my couch, gave a Tiger Woods fist pump, and let out a holler that sent my son careening upstairs from the basement to find out what happened. (He was in between Fortnite games, I guess.)

I’m stoked that so many of the favorites (outside of Germany) are moving on.

I love that we’ve got a ton of star power already in the Knockout Stage with more to come.

And I know for a fact that the deeper we get into this tournament, the more invested (and soccer-smart) I’m becoming.

“Korea, our brother, you’re a Mexican now!”

Mexican fans outside the South Korean embassy in Mexico City following Korea's 2-0 victory that eliminated Germany on Wednesday

Bryan Allain has spent 41 years of his life ignoring soccer in favor of the Red Sox and golf, the REAL beautiful game. (His words not ours). This is the account of his 30-day, all in, deep dive on the premier showcase of the most popular sport on earth, the 2018 World Cup.