Editor’s note: This is the Monday, Dec. 19, edition of the “Game Day with Kevin Modesti” newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.
Good morning. The best thing about a World Cup held in Qatar in November and December used to be that the next one, in North America, would be only 3½ years away, not the usual four. But the games themselves turned out to be the best thing, topped off by yesterday’s spectacular final won by Argentina over France.
It’s a big morning for local sports news too:
- The Chargers used a last-minute field goal to beat the Titans, and mayhem elsewhere put them in playoff position.
- As the Rams play at Green Bay tonight, coaches Sean McVay and Matt LaFleur have supported one another through a rough season.
- Justin Turner became the latest Dodgers fixture to leave, joining the Red Sox.
- LeBron James’ 33 points led the Lakers to a win over the Wizards, but they learned Anthony Davis could miss a month.
- And USC’s men’s basketball team got a big win, beating No. 19 Auburn.
Argentina’s win on penalty kicks, after the game ended 3-3 in 120 back-and-forth minutes, is being hailed widely as the best World Cup final ever. Not just the most entertaining, but historically significant too, for its statement about the statures of Argentina’s Lionel Messi (greatest ever?) and France’s Kylian Mbappé (heir apparent?).
“By the end of a match decided only after two hours by a penalty kick shoot-out, secured by a goalkeeper (Emiliano Martinez) who had spent nearly a decade on loan to teams in England’s lower divisions, the world had witnessed Messi and Argentina and arguably the best World Cup in history crowned by the greatest final ever played,” writes Scott Reid, who covers international sports for the Southern California News Group papers.
“When the planet has finally caught its breath, after we’ve turned to each other and asked, ‘Did we really see that?’, after we’ve been assured that indeed we had, we can fully appreciate the masterpiece created on Qatar’s barren canvas by Messi and Mbappé, two would-be kings, lifting their nations, and their game to a place only a few even dare to dream of.”
Because there’s no ignoring the controversy attending this World Cup since Qatar’s 2010 selection as host, Reid noted that Argentina and Messi weren’t the only winners.
“The brilliance of Messi and Mbappé, the emergence of young stars like England midfielder Jude Bellingham, the level of excellence from the tournament’s opening whistle to the last penalty kick Sunday, gave FIFA and their Qatari hosts just what they wanted: a month-long, can’t take your eyes off it diversion from the corruption that led to Qatar’s selection, the thousands of workers who died building stadiums and other venues, and Qatar’s abysmal human rights record,” Scott writes.
I’d say another winner is anticipation for the 2026 World Cup, to be hosted jointly by the United States, Mexico and Canada.
SoFi Stadium in Inglewood has been chosen as one of 16 venues and is reported to be a contender to host the final, but announcements are yet to come on details like which games will be played where, exact dates in June and July, and the tournament format as the World Cup expands from 32 to 48 teams.
It will all be different from when the United States hosted the World Cup for the first time in 1994, Brazil defeating Italy at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena in the first final decided by penalty kicks.
The United States didn’t have a Division 1 pro soccer league then (Major League Soccer would begin play in 1996). Unlike the U.S. women’s national team, which had won the inaugural women’s World Cup in 1991, the U.S. men’s national team didn’t expect to qualify for every World Cup then. It hadn’t matured to the point where a round-of-16 finish like this year’s can be viewed as a disappointment.
This World Cup, in which we could watch every game on U.S. TV, represents a complete change from the first time I watched a World Cup final from Los Angeles. In 1994, my American Youth Soccer League coach offered to take any members of our team to watch a closed-circuit telecast of the final on a movie screen at the L.A. Sports Arena. Only a couple of us took him up on it and saw West Germany beat the Netherlands 2-1 in Munich.
Yesterday, there were World Cup final viewing parties at bars all over Southern California, some of which turned into championship parties for Argentina fans.
“It spurred a spontaneous light-blue-and-white flash mob that pulsated merrily outside of the Gaucho Grill in Downey, where hundreds of fans came together to watch the World Cup final, the line to get into the restaurant blocks long at 6: 20 a.m., some 40 minutes before kickoff in Qatar,” columnist Mirjam Swanson writes.
“Like the smaller but also enthusiastic crowd a few miles away at the Iguana’s Sports Bar in Pico Rivera, they’d been on a wild ride together after Argentina took a 2-0 first-half lead, lost it quickly in the second half, took it back in overtime only to lose it again in the 118th minute, on Kylian Mbappé’s third goal.
“Then, finally, agonizingly, La Albiceleste won in a penalty shootout, 4-2, to earn its first World Cup championship since 1986 – and Messi’s first in five tries.”
It was an extraordinary World Cup, the odd place and time of year perhaps contributing to a lot of storybook upsets, but the stars ultimately aligning in a final between the sports’s biggest stars and two of its biggest teams.
Now it’s time to look forward to 2026.
- Rams visit the Packers in Baker Mayfield’s second game and first start as L.A. quarterback (5: 15 p.m., Ch. 7, ESPN). Analysis and prediction.
- Lakers and Suns meet in Phoenix, both teams going for a third win in a row (6 p.m., SPSN).
- U.S. and Canada face off in women’s hockey at Crypto.com Arena (7 p.m., NHLN). Preview.
Do you have a World Cup-watching experience to share? You can share by email (KModesti@scng.com) or on Twitter (@KevinModesti).
“Dodgers are going to look/feel a lot different next season. It’s a lot of change for a 111-win team.” – Beat writer Bill Plunkett (@BillPlunkettOCR) after Justin Turner followed fellow every-day players Trea Turner and Cody Bellinger out of town.
That’s a kick: The Chargers’ Cameron Dicker celebrates with fans at SoFi Stadium after his field goal with four seconds left beat the Titans 17-14 yesterday. Photo is by Will Lester of the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and SCNG.
Thanks for reading the newsletter. Send suggestions, comments and questions by email at KModesti@scng.com and via Twitter @KevinModesti.
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