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Soccer stardom shifts as a generation of players nears retirement


Messi kisses the World Cup trophy, savoring his victory. Aside from winning the championship, he individually won the Golden Ball award, which is given to the best player of the tournament. Photo by CNN

 

While the average American family may prefer to indulge in watching football, baseball or basketball, the FIFA World Cup remains one of the world’s most widely watched sporting events, boasting millions of viewers from an estimated 34 countries. Sophomore Juli Santander is among them, and more specifically among the fans of the famed Lionel Messi, who is nearing the end of his international soccer career.


“I’ve always known of Messi, [of course], and then I love Neymar too . . . I’ve just grown up with [these players],” Santander said.


Many of the players she grew up watching will not be able to play in the next World Cup in 2026, as they are in their late thirties, including Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luka Modric.


“It’s going to be different next World Cup,” Santander said. “I know it’s going to be very different, but it’s going to be exciting to see other people take a shot at being good.”


Younger players do not go entirely unnoticed. They practice endlessly in order to display their skill and secure fans of all ages and nationalities.


“I can definitely see a ton of talent in certain people in teams that we’re going to have to watch out for,” Santander said. “I think it’s going to be very entertaining because they’re extremely fast. They’re really good at working the ball. It’s going to be cool to see what’s going to happen.”


Santander believes that Kylian Mbappe, a 23-year-old who competes for France, demonstrates great talent. Though his stats and titles do not compare with those of Messi’s, he displays potential and has gained the attention of soccer fans across the globe.


However, whether one favors rising stars like Mbappe, or beloved legends like Messi, the game remains the same as does the passion of its international community of fans. The tension of penalty shoot-outs, the joy of screaming “goal” and the value of watching alongside friends and family continue to be just as special as before.


“It’s so funny,” Santander said. “It brings out the worst in me and the best in me sometimes . . . watching it with my family, especially when [our team] scores something, is the most amazing feeling ever.”


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