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:
Midfielder Leo Fernandes joined the Rowdies in January 2017 and has started in 21 of the 26 games he has played. [Photo provided by the Tampa Bay Rowdies]
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."
Forward Sebastian Guenzatti played for the New York Cosmos before signing with the Tampa Bay Rowdies in July 2017. [Photo provided by the Tampa Bay Rowdies]
Sebastian Guenzatti, Uruguay
Listening to the 1998 games in France on the radio while playing soccer at recess, or watching Uruguay’s games in classrooms instead of having class while younger, Guenzatti said his nation treats soccer more as a religion than a sport. With smaller teams advancing past the usual powerhouses in 2018, he is the hopeful his home team can grab their third World Cup win. Born in Montevideo, Uruguay, Guenzatti has played with right back Guillermo Varela in his youth and grew up watching Uruguayan games with his family and extended family. Watching the 2018 tournament, he will watch specific games with his teammates, such as the Belgium vs. Japan game with Akria Fitzgerald from Chiba, Japan, or run home to catch a game with his wife. On the win over Portugal and Ronaldo: “I don’t care that Ronaldo got out of the World Cup. He is an amazing player but that’s soccer. It’s a team effort, not an individual player’s sport and I think it showed. Uruguay could win more than one player.” “We play France next so it is going to be a tough opponent, but I think any team can win it now. We saw Japan against Belgium, Croatia also struggled. From now, it is going to be games like that only, all the top teams have to step it up.” On his tradition of putting up his Uruguayan flag, wearing a jersey and holding a smaller jersey in his hand during Uruguay games: “I don’t like going to a bar or anything. I scream too much and they would think I am crazy, so I stay at home.”On a potential Uruguay-Brazil matchup and Fernandes: “There will be tension. Even though we are best friends, just not that day. We’ve known each other since we have been teenagers, but it might get a little out of hand.” On hearing his home country’s anthem being played in a World Cup stadium: “They have won two, in 1930 and 1950, and we’ve been there in the last few world cups, but we fell short. Hopefully this one is ours, at this point I’m not even thinking about any other team besides Uruguay.”