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Unseen side of FIFA 2018: Why football is more than a sport

FIFA 2018 is over. France has won the world cup title. Ever the most entertaining sport, the game gave us all the excitement, and a bit of controversy deemed worthy of a world cup final. But this isn’t about the jam-packed action we all saw out there in the field. This is rather, about the things that have been happening outside the football field. Things we need to talk about because football has a lot to offer to the world, much more than just the sport itself.

The president who won all our hearts

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović. By now, you would have seen posts all over social media praising the Croatian president on how she conducted herself during the tournament. The female president traveled to Russia at her own expense, economy class. She was constantly seen in her country’s colors, cheering among the non-VIP stands. The president hasn’t missed a single match Croatia played in, except for the semi-finals, as it clashed with the Nato summit.

FIFA 2018 | Football finals | Croatia

A heartfelt moment between Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović and Luka (Image Credits: Reuters)

Even as Croatia lost to France, she was seen greeting and congratulating players from both teams, amidst the pouring rain and no umbrella. If anything, her down-to-earth attitude is something every political leader can learn from. Frankly, it’s refreshing to see stories of this nature, as compared to the usual Trump induced nonsense on our newsfeeds.

Of course, it wasn’t just the Croatian president. Emmanuel Macron was also seen extending a similar gesture towards the Croatian team.

France vs Croatia | football world cup finals

An ecstatic French president at the FIFA 2018 finals (Image Credits: ALEXEI NIKOLSKY\TASS)


Kylian Mbappé is donating his world cup earnings

This young striker is only 19 years old and he has already won the global stage. Kylian Mbappé even won the FIFA Young Player award, following his performance at the world cup. But perhaps what makes the young footballer even more special is how the player chose to celebrate his victory.

France vs Croatia football world cup finals

(Image Credits: Lars Baron – FIFA)

According to USA Today, Mbappé will be donating all of his earnings from the tournament to a non-profit organization. Premiers de Cordee, the organization provides free sports instructions to hospitalized and disabled children in sports.

But how much is he giving away? The Sports Illustrated reports that Mbappé earns about  £17,000 (~$22,537) per game. Additionally, the win over Croatia would mean that he earns a bonus  £265,000 (~$351,316). That’s a lot of money.

Luka Modric: From refugee to captaining Croatia

Here’s another story from Croatia. Luka Modric, captain of the Croatian team and this year’s Golden Ball winner, comes from a rough past. At 6 years old, he lost his grandfather in the hands of the Serbian militia and was forced to live as a refugee.

Before the tragedy, Luka was raised by his grandfather while his parents worked long hours in a knitwear factory to support the family. The incident forced them to leave then home, Modrici to a town called Zadar. No electricity. No running water. To say that things were hard is an understatement.

At 10 years old, coaches had already dismissed his future in the sport, claiming he was too frail and shy to make it. But Luka, even at a young age, was ambitious in football. He eventually got his start in football education at Dinamo Zagreb. From there on, things only got better for his football career over the years.Luka Modric, one of the best midfielders in football

Fast forward to 2018, Luka Modric captains the National team and has led them to a world cup finals. In the game, Luka is dubbed as one of the best midfielders present day football has to offer.

Enduring stomach bugs, and even death threats

France midfielder N’Golo Kante had to endure a stomach bug during Sunday’s play. Following the victory over Croatia, celebrations were in full swing at the French camp. But Kante appeared to be noticeably shy to celebrate with the World Cup. But Steven N’Zonzi and his teammates insisted that he be part of the celebration. Who knew, a player of Kante’s caliber on the field would be such a reserved character off the field.

Meanwhile, on the Nigerian camp, their captain Mikel John Obi had to face death threats. Just hours before leading his team to the group stage match with Argentina, Mikel was told that his father had been kidnapped and that he would be killed if anything was reported. According to The Guardian, “he could not confide in anyone at the Nigerian Football Federation – partly because he did not want to be a distraction before the game – and how he asked himself whether he had the strength to play“.

Thankfully, Mikel’s father is safe and sound now. But just goes to show what the Nigerian captain had to go through even as he led his team at the world’s biggest football tournament. 

Lessons from the Japanese

Japan might have lost to Belgium at the Round of 16. But they’ve certainly won everybody’s hearts. All through the tournament, Japanese fans stayed up late after each match, to clean up the premises. For one thing, it’s a way of honoring their hosts. For another, it comes as part of the Japanese culture and their upbringing.

Japanese fans at the 2018 football world cup

Japan fans cleaning up the stands after the match (Image Credits:

Whether it was their victory against Columbia or their heartbreaking defeat to Belgium, the fans never forgot to stay back and clean up the premises before departing. What’s more, even Senegal fans followed suit following the Senegal – Poland match. Although it’s unclear if they were inspired by Japan’s actions. Either way, the two countries have certainly left behind a valuable lesson for the world.

It just goes to show you that at the end of the day, football is more than just a sport. Yes, we Sri Lankans love our cricket. But one thing that’s undeniable is that FIFA 2018 has left behind a lot of inspiration to take from. 

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