22 things the World Cup taught us

At Brainsights, we’re sad to see the World Cup end. It was a month of virtually non-stop soccer in the office: TSN blasting matches, highlights and analysis, bunting strung from the ceilings, and hosting our diverse Toronto community in to celebrate and get brain scanned as they viewed the big matches (more on that in a separate series soon).

But beyond the game action, the World Cup provides a unique view into global culture, politics, economics and life. So, as we look forward to the next World Cup in 2022, here are 22 moments around the beautiful game that caught our attention and taught us a bit more about the world:

1. June 17th - Mexico City registered seismic activity following their team’s goal against Germany. They believe it was due to the city of 20M+ inhabitants jumping up and down together hysterically.

2. June 27th - Mexican fans stormed the South Korean embassy in Mexico City to celebrate the victory of Korea over Germany that ensured Mexico would progress from the group stages. They hoisted the South Korean ambassador on their shoulders, sang songs, and celebrated by toasting tequila!

3. June 27th - Following this famous South Korean victory, Aeromexico offered discounts of 20% on flights from Mexico to Korea.

3.jpg

4. Aeromexico wasn’t the only airline getting in on this famous upset. Ryanair also earned social media praise for its cheeky tweet offering ‘Loew’ fares.

4.jpg

5. July 2nd – Heartbroken from their last minute loss to Belgium in the Round of 16, where Nacer Chadli scored the game-winning goal with the last kick of the game, Japan left their dressing room spotless clean. More than that, they left a thank you, in Russian, to their gracious hosts.

6. July 2nd – The Japanese football team were also grateful to the legion of fans that supported the team’s spirited run. We’ve seen many teams clap and wave to their travelling fans in gratitude, but here, the Japanese team brought their beautiful custom of bowing to the world stage.

Image Source: Getty Images

Image Source: Getty Images

7. July 2nd – Japan made history by being the first team to progress to the knockout rounds via the fair play rule. But their fans also demonstrated incredible sportsmanship and respect, earning global praise for cleaning up the stadium after their team’s final match against Belgium.

8. On the topic of sportsmanship, Cristiano Ronaldo helping Edison Cavani off the pitch after he’d sustained a calf injury in their round of 16 match, was an iconic moment of one superstar helping another…

8.jpg

9. And teenage phenom - and young player of the tournament - Kylian Mbappé donated his World Cup bonus to a charity that provides sporting opportunity to disadvantaged youth.

9.jpg

10. Mbappé had a tournament for the ages, becoming the only teenager other than Pelé to score both a brace in a World Cup match (against Argentina), and a goal in a World Cup final. But the final was surely made doubly memorable when a pitch invader ran up and high fived the French forward. The Russian feminist punk band, Pussy Riot, claimed responsibility for this match disruption. Disguising themselves in old Russian police uniforms, they said they were protesting the lack of political competition as well as police impunity in Russia.

11. Large sporting events are often the setting for protests, and few rival the size of the World Cup as a platform. Another protest that caught our attention involved Iranians calling for an end to a ban on women attending sports matches in Iran.

12. It wouldn’t be a proper World Cup without the English media building up expectations of the national team. England provided ample fuel and hope to the media and general public alike with a run to the semi-final. This sentiment was captured by a meme, “It’s coming home” playing on the Lightning Seeds’ Three Lions song that rallied the nation.

13. The success of the England football team and its stylish manager, Gareth Southgate, spawned not only a lookalike in the stands of England’s matches, but a surge in sales of waistcoats, the manager’s signature dapper garb.

14. Southgate was so popular, in fact, that London renamed a Tube stop after him.

14.jpg

15. Much to relief of visitors and travelling football fans, Russia surprised and delighted as gracious and warm hosts. Build up in some parts of the media warned that this World Cup might involve violence of the like seen between British and Russian supporters in Marseille during the 2016 Euro Cup. That violence never came to pass, and any concerns of heavy-handed policing were ultimately misplaced as officers were found to take a relaxed approach to street drinking and fan celebrations.

16. This buoyant mood seemed to have bled onto the pitch, with Russia’s run to the quarterfinals – knocking off 2010 champions Spain in the process – one of the stories of the tournament. There seems to be something to home-field advantage – Russia (70) was the lowest FIFA-ranked team at the finals, but still bettered the result of football titans Germany (1), Portugal (4), Argentina (5) and Spain (10).

17. But while the experience of visitors to Russia – and the subsequent reporting on the hosts – looks to have helped to change the perception of Russia, one image stands out as iconic of their leader. When rain set in following the final, Putin was the only person to be spared during the closing ceremonies. Only after Emmanuel Macron, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and Gianni Infantino were soaked did they receive the same treatment.

18.jpg

18. Rain didn’t dampen the mood of the Croatian president, who hugged every player of both teams, and won the hearts of football fans worldwide. The first female president of Croatia attended all of her country’s matches (apart from when she needed to attend a NATO meeting), riding economy to and from matches and sitting in the stands – instead of a private box - to cheer on her countrymen.

19. With the exception of Uruguay, Croatia is the smallest nation ever to reach a World Cup final. And while they eventually fell short against France in the final, their spirit, intelligence and scrappiness in getting there is an inspiration to underdogs everywhere.

20. Of course, size isn’t everything in football, and that’s part of what makes the World Cup so exciting – it’s a competitive tournament not dominated by the world’s biggest nations (unlike, say, the Summer Olympics). The absence of the four most populous countries in the world – China, India, US and Indonesia – may make this less ‘World-ly’ than the Olympics in terms of global people participation. But it also ensures that smaller countries like Panama, Senegal and South Korea can claim the global spotlight, if even for a few moments.

20.jpg

21. Sometimes it’s tough not to project onto the World Cup matchups geopolitical and social significance, such is the interwoven nature of global sport with trade, politics and identity. At one stage, there was a very real possibility that the messy topic of Brexit would play out on the greatest sporting stage in the world – the World Cup final – as England and Belgium would square off. But such as it was, this match up was relegated to a battle for third place, which is probably a more befitting analogy to its place on the world stage.

22. One of the biggest stars of the World Cup was actually technology, with video assisted referee making its full debut on the global stage. And of course, like any technology these days, there’s a debate over how much it hinders versus improves life – in this instance, life on the football pitch. But, too, like much technology, VAR is here to stay. We’ll continue to debate its usefulness, adapt to ensure it’s used in the most constructive way possible, and limit its negative impact on life. A lesson I think we can all appreciate.

22.jpg