With the group stage done and dusted in the FIFA World Cup 2018, we are into the next half of the mega event. Out of the 32 teams, that appeared in the opening ceremony on June 14 before they fought hard in their respective groups, only 16 have marched into the next round.
The first 15 days of the tournament surfaced or unfolded some incredible stories in the beautiful game of football. There were so many people, regardless of being a coach, a player or an entire team, who showed that hard work does take you places.
These players may not have progressed in the World Cup but their stories will be cherished for a very long time and youngsters can certainly draw inspiration from them - 'keep trying and never stop dreaming.'Here are four people and a team who have showed that hard work does payoff at some point:
1) Aliou Cissé:
While he was not the youngest overall in World Cup history, Senegal's Aliou sure was the youngest and the only black coach in the 2018 edition of the World Cup. He took over the senior team's charge three years ago but his association with the Senegal side went back to 2012 when he was made the assistant coach of the Under-23 boys.
Aliou, who might be the lowest paid coach in the 2018 edition, has a strong history with the national football team. Senegal made their only second World Cup appearance in 2018 and their maiden one came in 2002 when Aliou was the national captain.
The team had a spectacular World Cup debut, where they won over defending champions France in the opening game before they had advanced to the last-8. The same year, Aliou-led Senegal lost the Afcon final to Cameroon and so their heartbreaks continued.
"This [Afcon] trophy was in my hands. I was holding it with one hand and Cameroon stole it from me. If I don't win it as a player, I will win it one day as a coach." His career, as a player or coach, has been defined by features like determination and willpower.
The Lions of Teranga opened their 2018 World Cup campaign against Poland, a game where Aliou not only led Senegal to a victory but also became a meme. The memorable moment came when their forward M'Baye Niang netted their second goal in the 60th minute and Senegalese Coach, Aliou's fist pump celebration went viral on the social media.2) 'Never Forget' Hannes Halldorsson:
To bring in perspective, Iceland's population is not even close to Mumbai's. The game of football made a special place for this tiny Nordic island country in 2016 Euro when they registered a major upset by eliminating England and qualifying for the quarter-finals.
Two years later, they went on to prove that it was not an one-off performance in the European tournament by holding the 2014 World Cup finalists, Argentina, at a 1-1 draw in the opening match of this World Cup edition. Iceland's goalkeeper, Hannes, once again was the hot topic in a country of 345,000 people, after he denied Lionel Messi, one of the greatest footballers, a penalty.
There was no coincidence there. Hannes apparently had done his homework before he found himself in a penalty situation against Messi.
"I did some homework because I knew this was a situation that could come up. It was a long shot but it happened. I looked at a lot of penalties from Messi and I also looked at how I've been behaving during the last couple of penalties. I tried to get in their minds, so they'd be thinking about me. I had a good feeling he'd go this way today," Hannes said after Iceland's match against Argentina on June 16.
Interestingly, football was not Hannes' first profession. He was a film director before he turned into a professional footballer. He directed the video for Iceland's entry to the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest. The likes of Greta Salome & Jonsi performed the song, Never Forget in Baku, Azerbaijan in May 2012, but the song came only 20th in the final.3) Alireza Beiranvand:
In football, for the majority if times, only the goal scorers are discussed. Even when they miss a shot or penalty, they are criticised and the effort of the goalkeeper is conveniently ignored.
When Messi missed the penalty against Iceland, he became the centre of massive criticism and the same happened when Cristiano Ronaldo missed his penalty against Iran in Portugal's Group B game.
Ronaldo's penalty was blocked by a 25-year-old Iranian, who went through major hardships before he became a professional footballer. His journey from being homeless to representing Iran in the 2018 World Cup has inspired football fans across the globe immensely.
Alireza hails from Kurdish Lak from the Lorestan Province of Iran. He was born in Sarabias to a nomadic family. Before he fled from his house, he was a shepherd in the Zagros Mountains. Without money, the 12-year-old boy was forced to sleep on the streets of the Iranian capital and outside the football club where he trained.
To make ends meet, he worked a number of jobs over the years, including as a car washer, a street cleaner, and a pizza boy, but his football training continued and it was 2015 when his talent actually got discovered.
From a childhood full of hardships to denying one of the best footballers a penalty in the World Cup, Alireza has come a long, long way!4) Franco Armani:
The 31-year-old goalkeeper will always be remembered as the Argentine glove-man, who made his national debut in a match, if not won, would have seen his country get eliminated from the World Cup.
The Argentine coach had hinted on a team change ahead of their Nigeria clash after their regular keeper Willy Caballero's huge error gifted Croatia their opening goal in the Group D match. Argentina, eventually were thrashed 3-0, a result that pushed them on a brink of a group stage exit from World Cup 2018.
Even though Argentina entered their Group D match against Nigeria with a mountain of pressure hovering over them, Franco had a near stress-free evening where he was hardly tested. Messi and Marcos Rojo's goals ensured Argentina qualified for the Round of 16.
While there can be no comparison between Messi and Franco as players because one is a forward and the latter a goalkeeper, the two stand at par if you talk about their loyalty to their nation.
It is a well known fact that Spain had offered Messi to represent them in international football because of his dual citizenship. In a similar case, Franco, who married a Colombian and applied for citizenship, was offered a proposal by Colombia national football team to play for them. But Franco, like Messi, chose not to leave Argentina.5) South Korean team:
Even before their World Cup campaign kicked-off, Ki Sung-yueng and Co would have had one thought haunting them - if they don't make it to the semi-finals at least, a harsh punishment would be awaiting them back at home.
The South Korean laws state that men aged between 18 and 35 must serve two years of national service. The 2002 World Cup team, which reached the semi-finals, was given a pass on service. So have other sporting talents from the Olympics and baseball.
When the Korean side ended up losing their first two games in group stage, which saw their elimination, they would have panicked. Their next game was against defending champions Germany. There were high chances that South Korea would fly back home without a win in Russia.
Against all odds, the Korean side out-sprinted and outran a side that sat 56 places above them in the world rankings. They humiliated Germany 2-0 and that one game showed glimpses of immense talent in the side.
With the Asian Games not even two months away, the Korean football team and fans fear that players won't be spared from the military service. The fans have launched a petition calling for the players to be exempt from military duty.