If you’ve ever seen the football comedy series Ted Lasso, you’re likely to remember striker Dani Rojas’ energetic catchphrase: “Football is life!”

Football really is life for billions of people on the planet. It’s why players give their lives to get to the greatest stages, it’s why we stick with our teams through the sun or rain — for life.

When the stakes are that high however, football can really bring out the best and worst in us.

Now that we’re in quarter-finals territory, we thought we’d round up some of the highs and lows of the World Cup so far.

We’re looking for the fruits of the Spirit here, and how we might live those out in victory or defeat.

Belgium: Red Devils see red among each other

In the last decade, much has been expected of Belgium’s golden generation. They’ve massively underdelivered this tournament, bowing out after a string of leggy and incoherent performances in the group stages.

Following their loss to Morocco, the team totally unravelled with striker Romelu Lukaku even having to separate Kevin De Bruyne, Jan Vertonghen and Eden Hazard after the trio had a “heated altercation”.

Since then, they’ve been throwing verbal blows in the media against one another. On pitch, it’s not been pretty to watch at all. Off pitch, it’s been even uglier.

Reflection: Football is a team sport and when you don’t have peace and joy in the locker room, it gets exponentially more difficult to win. Belgium’s squad, though often stacked with talent in every position, has to learn that unity comes first.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and that’s something we could remember as we live and serve among fellow brothers and sisters in our churches and spiritual communities.

Republic of Korea: Ain’t no Son shining, then how?

With their 4-1 loss to Brazil, South Korea were knocked out of the World Cup. Even getting to that position is a remarkable achievement though, and something that should be celebrated.

But this fairy-tale trip to the Round of 16 was somewhat marred by some of the hate comments that flooded star player Son Heung-min’s Instagram page. 

No point reproducing what was said, but suffice to say it wasn’t kind. Slating your own guys like that is not what it means to faithfully support a team.  

Reflection: It’s easy to back someone when they’re doing well or when things are going right.

But when things aren’t working and it feels like we’re stuck in mud, will we still honour one another? Will we choose to be generous and faithful, or will we turn on each other? 

Uruguay: Top team throws tantrums

After losing against Ghana, Uruguay’s stars doubled down on their poor performance by throwing tantrums as they left the game.

At full-time, Uruguay’s players crowded around the referee to let him know what they thought of his refereeing performance all game rather unkindly.

While defenders Jose Maria Gimenez, Diego Godin and goalkeeper Fernando Muslera were the worst offenders there, it was Edinson Cavani’s actions I was most disappointed with.

Image source: FIFA

Walking towards the locker room, he pushed the VAR monitor over in anger, prompting Arsenal legend Ian Wright to call him “a horrible guy”. I had just written about you too. Come on, Cavani…

Reflection: Anger is normal and not a sin. It’s what we do when we are angry that determines if we have sinned or not. We need self-control to keep ourselves from doing things we will regret later on, and to.

Japan: Samurai Blue a breath of fresh air

I was on Reddit and came across a picture of Japanese manager Hajime Moriyasu bowing before the fans to thank them for their support after Japan’s defeat to Croatia on penalties.

That was a classy picture, but as is often the case with Reddit the real treasure was in the comments. 

“Love the mentality, never complaining, never arguing with the ref, never wasting time, never faking injuries, disciplined. I loved watching this team,” wrote one user.

Until that comment, I hadn’t realised just how pleasant the Japanese team had been to watch in the World Cup. No shenanigans, just classy football.

Japanese fans were seen cleaning up trash from the stadium after the game ended. Image source: FIFA.

Off pitch, they’ve been just as kind.

Japanese fans have continued doing what is considered second nature to them, by cleaning up the stadiums after their team’s games. It’s a civic-minded practice that has even spread to other teams like Morocco and France.  

Reflection: Kindness and gentleness are wonderful traits. Whether we’re watched by millions or under no human eyes at all, will people see these qualities in our words and deeds? 

England: Three Lions, one kind deed 

After Jack Grealish scored in the World Cup group game between England and Iran, he made good on his promise to 11-year-old Finlay by celebrating the goal on pitch with a special celebration called the “waggle dance”.

The England midfielder then called Finlay for a little chat after the game, which made for a really heart-warming watch. 

It’s always nice to see when a footballer hasn’t let riches get to his head and is able to be generous with his time and kind to a young fan.  

It was a few minutes for Grealish, but it meant a lifetime’s memories for young Finlay. 

Reflection: We are all brothers and sisters in Christ at the end of the day, no matter our fortunes in this world. Do we view ourselves rightly and not as all-important? Are we generous with our time and kind with our deeds?

I liked one comment I read on the video of Grealish’s phone call with Finlay.

It read: “Jack, you’re absolutely priceless mate. You could score the winning goal in the final of the competition and it would be the second best thing you would do in this tournament.”

As we approach the finals, it’s a great time to remember that true victory often doesn’t look like what we expect it to. 

I think true victory is found in fruitfulness; wherever we see the fruits of the Spirit made manifest. 

So whoever you’re rooting for this World Cup, let’s aim to shine our Lord’s light, more and more.

Let’s celebrate acts of love and kindness where we see it, and let’s be fruitful in increasing measure!

To read our other World Cup stories:

  1. What was the best and worst thing you’ve seen in the World Cup thus far?
  2. What are you like when you win at something?
  3. What are you like when you lose?
  4. Do these reactions reflect Christ well?
  5. What do you have to change about your approach to victory and defeat to be a better ambassador of Christ?