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Don’t Count Me Out

The 2018 FIFA World Cup begins on 14 June

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To encourage us to consider that we always stand a chance of achieving (SEAL theme: Motivation).

Preparation and materials

  • You will need a leader and three readers.


Leader: The 2018 FIFA World Cup is upon us. It’s going to dominate the news for the next few weeks, so let’s give it some consideration. For example, who do you think will end up lifting the coveted FIFA World Cup Trophy?

Reader 1: It’s bound to be Germany. They’ve got the same successful manager they’ve had for a few years. There’s a solid core of experienced players, but some exciting newcomers, too. They’re always hard to beat.

Reader 2: No, I disagree. I think this is the year for a side with flair – like Spain. How can you ignore a nation whose key players are part of the successful Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester City squads? I want an entertaining winner like them.

Reader 3: Hold on: what about England? I know we always say this will be our year, and it never is. But with Harry Kane on such great goal-scoring form, I really do believe we’re going to come good.

Leader: Can I interrupt for a moment? No one’s mentioned Panama. Isn’t anyone going to plump for Panama as a possible winner? (Looks around the room, waiting for some support.)

I admit, if we look at the facts, that Panama is a bit of an outsider. This is the first time it has made it to the finals. It has just over four million inhabitants and most people know the country for one main reason: the Panama Canal, the marvel of engineering that links the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Panama’s football team has a FIFA world ranking of 53, yet it has reached the finals this year when other, more celebrated footballing countries have failed. Italy won’t be in Russia. Nor will the Netherlands, Chile, Cameroon, Ghana or the Ivory Coast. They all failed to qualify, whereas Panama succeeded. Panama’s two top goal-scorers have each scored nearly 50 goals and have over 100 caps. They may be insignificant to most football supporters, but who knows what might happen?

On 24 June, Panama play . . . England.

Pause to allow time for thought.

Most people expect England to win the match easily. After all, the gap in ability between the two teams appears to be enormous. However, most people have short memories. There’s another country that has reached the World Cup finals for the first time this year. Can anyone tell me which country it is?

Listen to a range of responses.

Yes, the name of that country is Iceland.

Pause to allow time for thought.

Have the bad memories begun to return for anyone?

For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, I’d like to take you back to the last international tournament that England played in, Euro 2016. On 27 June, England met Iceland in the last 16 of the tournament, the first of the knockout rounds. It all began so well, with England taking an early lead through a Wayne Rooney penalty. Then, Iceland struck. Their equalizer came barely two minutes after England’s goal, and their winning goal followed a little over ten minutes later. Iceland hung on under enormous pressure until the final whistle. England were out of the tournament and went home in disgrace. The manager, Roy Hodgson, was forced to resign. The underdog had won.

Time for reflection

Christians believe that Jesus loved the underdog. In fact, Jesus was criticized by the traditional religious authorities because he mixed with the wrong kind of people: the outcasts, the poor and the sick. He raised the profile of women and children in a society where both were often seen as less important. For the leaders of his Church, he chose ordinary working men, not the highly educated elite. He taught that, in the new society that God, his father, was going to establish, those who are last in the queue would be moved to the front and that to be a servant was the most important role of all. Jesus loved the underdog.

In school, in sports teams and even in our families, we all know people who always seem to come out on top. People who always seem to be successful and achieve their targets, people who are popular and confident. However, it’s not like that for most of us. Most of us are not first all the time, we get things wrong and we struggle in some areas. We make stupid mistakes and take wrong decisions. We sometimes feel like we are the underdogs. If we fail enough times, we can be tempted to believe we’ll never be a success. We need to fight against this, to realize that we all have amazing gifts and abilities, and to keep persevering.

Christians believe that God made every person to be different and special. They believe that God cares for everyone who finds themselves overlooked, discounted, undervalued or insignificant. God sees each person as someone with great potential. We won’t win all the time – nobody does. However, we can all have some achievements to be proud of, and we can bounce back from our defeats. We can live in hope.

So, who will you support on 24 June?!

Dear Lord,
Thank you for the support that Jesus offers the underdog.
Remind us of this when we are struggling or feel like we have failed.
Help us to have the confidence to believe that we can achieve.

Publication date: June 2018   (Vol.20 No.6)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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