In this article, we focus on the 2018 FIFA World Cup through an online survey conducted on the questia.ro platform. The research study was active between June 26th and July 2nd 2018 and covered 500 respondents, with a +/- 4% margin of error when reported to the Romanian online population.

Overview

The world’s most popular sport, soccer, is undoubtedly a global and cultural phenomenon. The television audience for the 2010 World Cup included nearly half of the world’s population, with viewers from nearly every country. Football seems to impact numerous aspects of the world’s culture, from politics and religion to business and the arts. “There are very few sporting or cultural entities that cross international boundaries, cross all cultures and have a direct impact on the way societies interpret themselves, and each other. Football does. And the World Cup is the most vivid focus of when that happens”, says Craig Pennington.

The world is buzzing right now with football-related content, as the World Cup is ongoing. The 2018 FIFA World Cup is the 21st international football tournament contested by the men's national teams of the member associations of FIFA. The championship started on 14 June and will have the final match on 15 July 2018 and is being played in Russia.

There were a quite a few unexpected outcomes in this tournament as the four-time champions, Germany, were knocked out in the group stage following defeat by South Korea. This is the first time in 80 years that a German team did not advance beyond the first stage of a World Cup tournament, which seems even more distant when considering that Hitler was the country’s leader back then and only 15 teams participated in the tournament. With players like Toni Kroos, Mesut Özil and Mats Hummels, Germany won every match in qualifying for this World Cup and was ranked first in FIFA rankings but it could not even make it out of the group phase in Russia.

Another shocking thing about Germany’s game is that it is also the fourth time in the last five World Cups that the defending champions had been eliminated in the opening stage of the tournament after France in 2002 (after winning the 1998 trophy), Italy in 2010 (winner in 2006), and Spain in 2014 (winner in 2010). This is also known as “the curse of the champions” and is listed by Forbes as one of the reasons Germany was eliminated among with overconfidence, the vulnerable defense and the political scandal involving Mesut Özil and Ilkay Gündogan meeting with Turkey president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Another surprise was Argentina’s loss to Croatia. The loss is hard to accept by Argentinians as they expect Messi to be a replacement for Maradona, as Jorge Valdano wrote in The Guardian: “They believe that if Messi does not win a World Cup he will never be Maradona […] Messi has taken that message to heart and when the World Cup starts he becomes a tortured soul who carries the fierce demands of 45 million people on his shoulders”. Valdano also explains why football is so important for Argentinians and why the loss is so painful: “Football matters to us; it allows us to feel like we are among the best in the world at something with huge popular significance. Its relevance is such that, to give but one example, through football we thought we had recovered the Malvinas in 1986 thanks to Diego Maradona, a national hero ever since. So the disaster of the national team leaves us with a feeling of neglect and emptiness that is hard to explain. How are we supposed to know what to do with football if we don’t even know what to do with Lionel Messi?”.

Spain was also defeated by Russia in what was thought to be a match between two dominant political ideologies: fascism versus communism, as the game was compared to the confrontation between Spain’s General Franco and USSR’s Former Premier Nikita Khruschev. Moreover, the championship itself is considered “the most politicized international tournament of all times”, as is mentioned in the Independent.

Cristiano Ronaldo also left home along with his team as Portugal was defeated by Uruguay’s team, mainly Cavani’s two goals. CNN reported that “The two greatest players of this generation have been sent packing from Russia in the same day”, referring to Messi and Ronaldo.

Now that Argentina, Portugal, Spain and Germany are out of the tournament, everyone wonders who will be the champion out of the teams that are still enough motivated to play better than the adversaries left in the competition. Mirror says that Brazil is most likely to win the World Cup. UBS’s 10.000 simulations predicted that Germany will win The World Cup, Brazil 2nd and Spain 3rd. Now that Germany and Spain are out of the Championship, we should also consider the teams that were previously ranked after them, England on 4th and France on 5th.

Let’s now move on to find out the opinion of our respondents on this subject.

Results

We asked our respondents if they watched the 2018 World Cup games so far. All our responders are interested in the 2018 World Cup by either watching the games or by checking the scores. Over three-quarters of respondents have watched at least a few matches, while almost one quarter only checked the game results as they didn’t have the time to watch the games but still wanted to be informed about the outcome.

Our users favored Germany, followed by Brazil, Spain, Portugal and Argentina, the ranking being quite similar to the FIFA ranking, the only difference being that Belgium is placed on the 3rd place in the FIFA ranking, instead of Spain who takes the 10th place.

Our users expected to see Germany, Brazil, Spain and Portugal play in the semifinals of the World Cup.

Out of the teams playing in the semifinals mentioned above, Spain and Portugal were thought to be eliminated from the tournament (which turned out to be true) and the final match was expected to be Germany against Brazil. This turned out to be false expectations, as Germany left the competition.

Interestingly, when we asked them to say who they think will win the World Cup, 20.4% of responders answered Brazil while 20.2% said Germany. The difference is quite small and not statistically relevant.

Almost half of the responders (46%) believed Cristiano Ronaldo to be the top scorer of this competition. Harry Kane, who is currently the best scorer of the World Cup, was the second most voted player but the difference between him and Ronaldo is quite high.

We also wanted to find out what our respondents thought about the performance of the Romanian team if it succeeded to qualify for this competition, because football, as a cultural phenomenon, has embraced us as well. Most answers were pessimistic with almost three-quarters of the users expecting we were eliminated either from the group stage (50.6%) or from the round of the last 16 (20%). Almost 25% of them thought we had a few chances to win either by qualifying in the quarter-finals or by reaching the semifinals or even winning the cup (funny, right?).

I would like to end this article with a quote that Eduardo Galeano wrote after Brazil beat Italy on penalties to win the 1994 World Cup final:

”There is absolutely no question that the world turns around a spinning ball."

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