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Five Teachable Moments from the 2018 World Cup in Russia

How often have you heard of a frustrated player or team trashing a dressing room? Not the Japanese. In fact, they left their dressing room spotless. The World Cup 2018 in Russia delivered sporting theatrics of the highest order. But the players and coaches did not save the drama for mama: they displayed it — some of it unflattering and embarrassing — for the world to see.

Here are five teachable moments for parents to draw upon from the knockout stage of the World Cup:

1. Never give up

After a scoreless first half, Belgium surrendered two quick goals to Japan, including a perfectly-placed blast from Takashi Inui. But the favored Red Devils pressed on, and coach Roberto Martínez made two key substitutions, bringing on Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli.

But the momentum shifted when Jan Vertonghen attempted a header across the goal… only the looping ball drifted toward the goal and tucked into the far corner, just out of the Japanese goalkeeper’s arms. Japan 2, Belgium 1.

Moments later, Eden Hazard provided a brilliant cross that Fellaini smashed into the net to tie the game at 2 apiece. Then, literally on the game's final play, Belgium scored the winner and became the first team since Portugal in 1966 to overcome a 2-0 deficit and win in regulation.

“Today is not a day to speak about systems,” Martínez said, according to The Guardian. “…More than anything, you have to find the desire and togetherness as a group of players to perform. If you look at the stats, there are not many games when you can recover from 2-0 down in a World Cup. So I think this is down to the personality, the focus, the desire and the never-say-die attitude of this group of players.”

2. Trust your teammates

Romelu Lukaku, who missed the third and final game of the Group Stage, returned to the lineup against Japan. With four goals, one of the game’s top forwards was in contention to win the coveted Golden Boot award as the World Cup’s leading scorer.

Against Japan, though, Lukaku couldn’t capitalize on a few golden opportunities. Yet on the game’s final play, Lukaku showed off his incredible football IQ, not to mention his unselfishness.

That’s not possible, however, if goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois doesn’t recognize a brilliant counter-attacking chance for his team. He gathered the ball and quickly rolled it out to Kevin De Bruyne, one of the top midfielders in the world. De Bruyne realized that he had favorable numbers: four other teammates against only four Japanese defenders. As De Bruyne neared midfield, he had Thomas Meunier running hard to his right, so Lukaku shifted toward the middle of the field.

De Bruyne played the ball toward the 18-yard line, right in front of Meunier, who immediately sent the ball toward the middle of the field. As the ball approached Lukaku — one of the game’s best finishers — a Japanese defender behind him urgently closed in to try to prevent a shot.

But Lukaku stepped over the ball on purpose, allowing the uncovered Chadli to one-touch the ball into the net.

Could Lukaku have scored? Possibly. Do other great scorers — Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar, Sarah — pass up the shot? It’s hard to say for sure. But as the play unfolded, it’s clear that Chadli’s briefly uncontested look was a higher percentage shot than what Lukaku had, which reinforces how great — and unselfish — his decision was.

So while Lukaku didn’t get the goal or even an assist, those who know the sport understand how he keyed that decisive goal.

3. Age and rank are just numbers

Given the stakes, so much is made of experience and rankings. Yet it’s always telling who shines and who disappears at the World Cup. Two glaring examples demystify the emphasis on age and rank.

The first example occurred in a game between France and Argentina that featured seven goals. Yet on a field loaded with star power, one player clearly rose above all others: Kylian Mbappe. The 19-year-old Frenchman set up the game’s first goal, blowing past a handful of Argentine defenders before drawing a penalty kick that Antoine Griezmann converted.

Then, in a tense game, Mbappe converted the game-tying and game-winning goals for his side. Mbappe is the first teenager to score at least two goals in a World Cup … since Pele in 1958.

Heading into the World Cup, many coaches weighed important decisions on which older and younger players to place on their respective rosters. Many argued that defending World Cup champion Germany should have infused its roster with younger talent instead of relying on older players. But Didier Deschamps was obviously wise in not only playing Mbappe but showcasing him. And the youngster is reveling in the moment. "It's an opportunity to show what we can do,” Mbappe told reporters. “There's no bigger stage in football.”

Meanwhile, host Russia entered the World Cup as the lowest-ranked team (70th) in the field. But Russia opened the tournament with a dominant 5-0 victory over Saudi Arabia then convincingly defeated Egypt 3-1. The expectations of the team, though, dipped after a 3-0 loss to Uruguay.

Yet against heavily favored Spain, Russia stood its ground and kept the game close. Despite Spain completing an astounding 1,000 passes, Russia’s defense remained stout, and the host team managed a 1-1 draw and forced a penalty kick shootout, which it won 4-3.

4. Respectful in victory and defeat

Nations suffered some excruciating losses at this World Cup.

Japan’s defeat earned it a lot of sympathy from around the world. But that’s not the end of this endearing team and its players. They bowed to their fans afterward, then they proceeded back to their dressing room.

How often have you heard of a frustrated player or team trashing a dressing room? Not the Japanese. In fact, they left their dressing room spotless. Honestly, it’s probably cleaner than when they stepped into it. But on top of that, they left a “Thank You” note prominently on a shelf. Cleanliness is a trait that’s instilled in Japanese children early on. Watch this video to see an example.

5. Be compassionate

Sweden and Switzerland played a tight game on Monday of the tournament. Then, in the 66th minute, Sweden struck with a fortunate deflection.

Emil Forsberg drilled a shot and the ball was deflected by Swiss player Manuel Akanji in the opposite direction, throwing off the goalie. Remarkably, that goal was the difference.

Akanji was gutted afterward, and he bent over, his arms on his knees. But several Swedish players came over and consoled their opponent.

There appeared to be another example, though, on which many cast cynicism. Uruguay’s Edinson Cavani, who scored both of his team's goals, suffered a calf injury in the second half against Portugal. As he slowly limped off the field, Cristiano Ronaldo hustled over, put Cavani’s right arm around his shoulder and gently helped his injured opponent to the sideline.

Many perceived that as a great act of sportsmanship, while some cynics suggested Ronaldo did so to save time and get the dangerous Cavani off the field as quickly as possible.

What do you believe? We’ll go with sportsmanship!

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