If you let the World Cup into your heart, it will show you highs and lows you never thought possible. For four weeks every four years, shots off the post clang a little louder, last-second screamers are prone to incite pandemonium, and every cross into the box carries enormous weight. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more pressure-packed event—it is equal parts exhilarating and agonizing.
And that’s just for us at home. Now put yourself in the position of an athlete, coach, or fan in Russia, watching nearly half a decade’s worth of anticipation play out before you with the hopes and dreams of your mother nation hanging thick in the air. It’s a lot to emotionally invest in. That’s why the final whistle of every match—win, lose, or draw—will often cue players, fans, and coaches to crumple to the ground, heads in their hands, tears streaming down their faces. The 2018 World Cup has thrown a couple curveballs our way, but one tradition never changes: On the greatest stage in football, people be cryin’.
Unfortunately, shows of emotional vulnerability are often spun as performative and controversial rather than poignant indicators of the larger significance of sport. So, let’s take a second to appreciate some of the most glorious and gut-wrenching moments from the first two weeks of World Cup action, and the tears that came with them.
Javier Hernández, Mexico
Javier “Chicharito” Hernández has been one of the most prominent leaders of a vibrant Mexico side for years now. On the pitch, he is consistently at the center of every El Tri attack—Chicharito is one goal away from seizing the Mexico World Cup record. Off of it, he sets a measured, confident, and heartfelt tone.
“After the final whistle I celebrated it the way that I am, like someone emotional,” Hernández said after staving off the defending champions, Germany, 1-0 in their opening match. “I was the one who cried the most.” Mexico, which have not advanced past the round of 16 at the World Cup since 1990, play Brazil on July 2. El Tri supporters will be rooting for more joyous tears from their fearless forward on that day.
The Son of Marcus Berg, Sweden
If I was rating these moments by “most likely to have you fumbling for the nearest box of tissues,” then this from Marcus Berg’s 4-year-old son, Leonel, would get 10 out of 10 Kleenexes. It’s a remarkable show of maturity at such a young age to fully grasp the gravity of his father’s World Cup debut. What’s more, Berg and Sweden are far from finished. Ibra could never.
There is no doubt that Neymar spent an inordinate amount of Brazil’s matchup with Costa Rica flopping around the pitch like a just-caught fish on the deck of a boat (this penalty shout was especially egregious). And there is no doubt that Costa Rica is an inferior opponent that Brazil should handle with relative ease. But yanking what could have been a destiny-altering result from the jaws of draw-feat is a big deal for a player so hyper-scrutinized. And that’s without mentioning the added emotional significance this World Cup has after he was forced out by injury before the semifinal of the 2014 tournament in his home country. He’s only 26, but you only get so many chances to do this thing. Furthermore, the World Cup is more fun when Brazil is awesome, and they haven’t disappointed thus far in 2018. My take: whatever. Do what you gotta do, Neymar.
Wow. Panama commentators reaction off air while they listen for the first time the Panama anthem at the World Cup.— Tancredi Palmeri (@tancredipalmeri) June 24, 2018
I totally, totally understand them pic.twitter.com/dusriPyXkB
Panama’s first-ever World Cup experience hasn’t gone well … per se. Belgium and England were quick to dash any Cinderella-type fantasies by outscoring the Canaleros by a combined 9-1. But on the strength of this moment alone—a tearful embrace between two Panamanian broadcasters upon hearing their national anthem at the World Cup for the first time—Panama will exit Russia a worthy participant.
And this crowd reaction following Panama’s only goal of the tournament (despite trailing 6-0 to England at the time) reflected a deserving fan base taking nothing for granted in their first-ever World Cup trip. Goosebumps.
Son Heung-min, South Korea
South Korea is out at the group stage for the second consecutive World Cup, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to failure as a team. (Bye-bye, Germans!) This moment, between a bleary-eyed Son Heung-min and Korean president Moon Jae-in after Korea’s 2-1 loss to Mexico last Saturday, is a refreshing reminder that the weight of a nation’s hopes doesn’t have to be a burden.
How can you not cry at this man..— 기연이에용~!! (@ZionPark_) June 24, 2018
Heung Min Son and President Moon Jae In in the changing rooms.
Moon Jae In :
“Everyone in Korea will feel down, however, you fought until the end and we are very thankful for that.
We play the champions next, please fight hard again”#손흥민 #KOR pic.twitter.com/b0GuEETU47
Even in defeat, the same energy that brings immense pressure every second of the World Cup can be channeled into love and support, and Son earned as much by beating Memo Ochoa from this distance. President Moon, can he get a military exemption already?
Diego Maradona and Ángel Di María, Argentina
By the skin of Marcos Rojo’s teeth, Argentina snuck through the group stage with a 2-1 victory against Nigeria on Tuesday. But that result was far from preordained. Through two games in St. Petersburg, the Argentine side looked lackluster and doomed to flame out just four years after finishing one extra-time goal short of a shootout for the World Cup trophy in Brazil. No person greater embodied their early-tournament struggles in 2018 than the incomparable Diego Maradona.
But Rojo’s 86th-minute volley that propelled Argentina past Nigeria washed all that frustration away. Ángel Di María and Co. took the opportunity to let out a sigh (and a teardrop or two) of relief before bracing for their round of 16 matchup against France this Saturday.
And Maradona, of course, got his redemption:
Prepare for stakes to escalate as the calendar flips to July, and with it, how emotions are exhibited (at every level of participation). The last tears of the 2018 World Cup almost certainly haven’t been shed; if we’re lucky, there are more birds still to be flipped, as well. So is the capricious nature of fate and fandom. There is no greater delight on this earth.
An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the trophy given to the World Cup’s winning team. The Jules Rimet trophy is no longer awarded.