EVERY four years, the fan base of soccer suddenly swells as patriotism and ancestral pride compels cheering and flag-waving for the World Cup. This summer’s edition of the most widely viewed sporting event on the planet has its share of intrigue.

For local fans, the absence of Italy is a big disappointment for the region’s large Italian community. On the other hand, Swedes and Croatians in the area have enjoyed their teams’ runs. Host team Russia was defeated by Croatia on Saturday and will face England in the semifinal. Sweden’s team had overachieved to reach the quarter-finals until finally being ousted on Saturday by England, who hope to advance past Croatia on Wednesday and reach the final for the first time since they won in 1966.

France has a semifinal match against Belgium on Tuesday, after the Belgians took out the powerhouse team from Brazil on Friday.

Closer to home, another soccer powerhouse saw its aspirations for the season squelched when the Thunder Bay Chill lost 2-1 at home to the St. Louis Lions to officially put the playoffs out of reach. It was a disappointment for a team that just last year reached the Premier Development League final.

Chill head coach Giovanni Petraglia was understandably disappointed with the result but showed why he’s a leader by shouldering the blame. “It’s my responsibility as a coach when the team doesn’t perform,” he said after the game.

It was a daunting challenge for the coach and the team. The nature of any development league can make success difficult to maintain. There were some new players and injuries also affected the team. Petraglia didn’t use those excuses to let himself off the hook, but he also didn’t dwell on the disappointment. Work on next season started Saturday night as up-and-comers were given more opportunity to show what they can bring to the team in 2019.

The showcase of young talent continues on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. when the Chill play their final game of the season at Fort William Stadium against visiting Kaw Valley FC. Fans of the beautiful game should come out to enjoy an entertaining sport and get a peek into the Chill’s future.

Soccer has grown as a sport in Thunder Bay and across Canada. The enthusiasm is likely to continue with great programs in place and North America set to host the 2026 World Cup. (We’ll leave discussions on the next step for Thunder Bay soccer facilities for another day.) In the meantime, enjoy the rest of the World Cup and the Chill’s last game on Wednesday.

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