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Miami’s Shot at the World Cup

By Tim Riley
CORAL GABLES, Fla. – The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia started Thursday and runs until the final match on July 15. The tournament happens every four years and is the most widely viewed sporting event in the world.
During the 2017-18 school year, the University of Miami had student-athletes from 17 of the 32 countries in the field. In a series of interviews, several of those Hurricanes reflected on their past experiences, how their respective country celebrates and how they can connect the diversity of the World Cup to their time in Miami.
Dalanda Ouendeno, a rising senior defender on the soccer team, is from Paris. In France, everyone stops what they are doing for the World Cup; people watch at bars, pubs, or gather to watch on the big screen they put out by the Eiffel Tower.
“My favorite part about the World Cup is seeing everyone celebrate soccer, being happy, competing, discovering new players and all the surprises it brings,” Ouendeno said.  
Ouendeno’s teammate, Maisie Baker, a rising senior defender, is from Redditch, England. She says that this time of year in England, everything is centered around the World Cup. From the grocery stores, to shopping malls, to restaurants you will see some sort of mention of the tournament weeks prior to the start.
“My favorite player on England is probably Gary Cahill because we play the same position,” Baker said. “This team is very young and new and I’m excited to see how they mesh together this year.”
Kevin Arreaga, a rising sophomore thrower on the men’s track and field team, was born and raised in Madrid.  For important matches, fans fill Real Madrid’s stadium and the team broadcasts the game on the big screen.
Arreaga loves watching the matches with friends and family and has high hopes for his country’s team. The Spaniards won the World Cup in 2010 and he hopes they can do it again. Although Spain’s first match is Friday, he said “people start preparing for it on Monday.”
Macarena Augilera, a junior-to-be on the golf team, grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She really emphasized how watching the World Cup in Argentina is more of a family-oriented setting. Aguilera, whose favorite player is Lionel Messi and is quite confident her home nation will win the title this year, noted that people tend to stay away from bars or pubs and instead get together to watch on a big TV in someone’s home with plenty of food to go around.
“With everything going on, we kind of forget all the political and economic problems in the country and we all come together for one goal,” Augilera said, adding that she loves the positive impact the World Cup has on her country and described this time of year as a pause from the division on political issues Argentina faces.  
DJ Vasiljevic, a rising junior guard on the men’s basketball team, is from Melbourne, Australia and is of Serbian decent. Vasiljevic is a huge soccer fan; his mother used to play, and he too played growing up, so his passion for soccer has always been there. Vasiljevic, who is excited to watch both Serbia and Australia in the World Cup, said the now-retired Nemanja Vidic from the Serbian team is his favorite player.
“Being multicultural, I know soccer is big in Australia and Serbia,” Vasiljevic said. “Soccer is the biggest sport in both countries, so people live off the World Cup. Sometimes [it feels] dangerous to go outside because of how competitive and hostile it can really get.”
Daniella Roldan, a senior-to-be on the women’s tennis team from Bogota, Colombia, is very excited to cheer on her country in this year’s World Cup. Her favorite parts about the tournament are the chance to put on a Colombian jersey, the way it brings people together and how it helps her feel proud of her country, which is one of dozens represented at Miami.
“Being able to get to know people from all over the world and the different cultures they have is a unique experience,” Roldan said of going to such a diverse school. “You realize that all that you are used to and presume to be the ‘right thing’ turns out to be completely different everywhere. I still have several debates with my fellow teammates on what the ‘proper Spanish’ is.”
Elizaveta Lukianova, a rising redshirt sophomore outside hitter on the volleyball team is from Omsk, Russia. Lukianova is not the biggest fan of soccer, but she believes her country is well prepared to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
“I think that all the population of Russia is really excited and proud to carry this responsibility. Host cities are well prepared and ready to welcome national teams, I’ve visited a couple of cities, and I could say that the soccer infrastructure is great.”
Lukianova, who enjoys the unity the World Cup brings to the world and likes seeing all the countries compete on one stage, considers diversity to be the best thing about going to school at the University of Miami.
“To meet new people with different cultures, to discover something new for yourself from this international community and to be able to see that you are not the only international student, mentally that helps a lot,” Lukianova explained.
The World Cup is a chance to unite all nations, bring them together and get to know other countries cultures and specialties. The University of Miami prides itself on being one of the most diverse schools in the country and featuring student-athletes from over half the World Cup nations demonstrates that.  
The United States may not have qualified for this World Cup, but for the first time in 32 years, the men’s World Cup is coming back to North America in 2026. It was just announced that the U.S., Canada and Mexico won the hosting rights to the 2026 World Cup.
It will be not just an amazing opportunity to unify the world for a month in our own country, but also a chance to experience the most prominent event right here in Miami, with the city expected to host World Cup matches in 2026.