Editor’s note: Sporting Kansas City midfielder Roger Espinoza has played in two World Cups with the Honduras men’s national team. He offers his thoughts on this year’s tournament. This content has been edited and condensed for clarity by The Star.
This World Cup hasn’t disappointed. It’s been interesting from the perspective that the separation between national teams has tightened. That’s great to see. It shows that in the knockout stage, which begins Saturday, anybody can get through and make a run.
I’ve definitely enjoyed this tournament more than any other tournament in the past for that reason. Everyone is competing at a very high level, and it’s making it difficult for the best teams. You see teams like Germany, Argentina and France struggling. People talk about which teams are the biggest disappointment, but I don’t think you can look at it like that. I think the equality between the teams has just gotten closer and closer with each World Cup. In years to come, the World Cup is going to produce different winners than it ever has in its history.
At first, I had Spain and Germany as the favorites. But now that Germany is out, I like Brazil and Argentina. I know Argentina struggled at the beginning, but that was a wake-up call, and I think they’re going to come out strong in the knockout stage. On that side of the bracket, which is the strongest, I think that winner is probably going to take the World Cup.
As a player in CONCACAF, you root for the CONCACAF teams a lot — Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama. Mexico surprised us at the beginning against Germany. Obviously they didn’t do well against Sweden. I think they just relaxed a little bit because they looked like they were already in the knockout stage. It was a close call for them. But I think Mexico always rises to the occasion against great teams, and Brazil is one of those teams. It’s going to be a very difficult match in the Round of 16 on Monday.
There have been a lot of players I’ve enjoyed watching. I like to see the Belgium guys. The last time they were in the World Cup, they were all very young guys. Now, you see Romelu Lukaku rising up. I think people always want to see new forwards. Lukaku has been coming through. You see guys from Croatia playing really well. Xherdan Shaqiri has been rising up for Switzerland. He did the same in the last World Cup. Brazil has a lot of young guys that are doing really well.
It’s been different watching the World Cup rather than playing in it. You get the enjoy the games more this time. When you’re at the World Cup, you’re traveling or practicing or you’re on a bus or a plane, and you’ve missed three or four matches. You don’t get to see much. I get to see all the games now. But there’s nothing like playing in the World Cup. It’s a dream come true.
Now, I'm just enjoying it here with my teammates and arguing with the guys about who's going to win.