ST. PETERSBURG — With the United States not being in the tournament; reigning champion Germany out after the group stage; host Russia, the lowest-ranked team left, beating Spain in penalties in the knockout round, and Lionel Messi's Argentina and Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal eliminated in the round of 16, this World Cup already has been one for the books.
Rowdies teammates Leo Fernandes, from Brazil, and Sebastian Guenzatti, Uruguay, have their home countries in the quarterfinal round, which begins today. Here's a look at the World Cup from their perspective:
Leo Fernandes, Brazil
The midfielder, 26, was born in Sao Paulo. Though Rowdies teammates gather to watch the World Cup after practice, Fernandes said he prefers watching Brazil games alone or with his family to block out negative energy and his teammates' jeers.
"I know Brazil is going to win the World Cup, and there are a lot of haters on our team. It's me and the other Brazilian [on our team] against the world. If you are the best you always have haters."
Even though his experience is not as energetic as the Brazilian game watches back home, with day long barbecues and flags hanging all around his house, Fernandes said the upsets have made the 2018 games the most exciting.
On a World Cup without a U.S. team: "I've grown up in the U.S. and this is the first time I'm watching the World Cup without them in it. But I think it can be a wakeup call for the future players. I think them not being in it is a big factor for the regular people watching the Cup cause they have nobody to cheer for."
"Whenever someone says something about Brazil, the go to is when they lost 7-1 to Germany in the last World Cup," Fernandes said. "But all we have to say is that we have five stars, five World Cups and no other team has that in the world."
On Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi's teams getting knocked out: "It just shows soccer is a team sport and you can't just have one person carry you to the finals or win the World Cup. You need a great team, usually the better team and more collective teams have gone through the knockout stages."
On the Croatian team he hopes Brazil will play in the final: "I don't know if they are an underdog or not, but I don't think they've ever made it to the finals, and they have no beef with Brazil, so it's alright."