The 2018 FIFA World Cup kicks off June 14 in Russia. Meet the South Florida fans of every country represented in the tournament and learn about their best memories, favorite players and predictions.
Name: Gabriel Baldassini.
Lives: Pinecrest, since 2001.
Memories of national team: 1978 World Cup. It was Argentina’s first world championship. I remember it very well because it started on my 8th birthday. I also have vivid memories of the 1986 Cup, our second title, when I was 16.
Favorite players: Maradona. He was the best. If I have to start a team, I want Maradona, not only for his skills, but his attitude and spirit. I also like Messi. He needs to win a World Cup. That is the last challenge missing for him.
Where will you watch the World Cup: Russia with my wife and friends! I will see Argentina’s group games — vs. Iceland in Moscow, vs. Croatia in Nizhny Novgorod and vs. Nigeria in Saint Petersburg.
Favorite national cheer/chant: The song Argentines sang to Brazil in Brazil in 2014. The end says “A Messi lo vas a ver, La copa nos va a traer, Maradona es más grande que Pele.” (Messi will bring us the Cup, Maradona is bigger than Pele).
Best local spot to get Argentine food: The Knife, at Bayside and Hollywood.
World Cup prediction: I’d like to say Champion. We can always hope and wish. But at least the semifinals.
Name: Kruno Krslovic.
Lives: Boynton Beach, moved to South Florida 1977.
Memories of national team: I was born in old Yugoslavia, so I rooted for the Yugoslavian national team, but the team was divided and we all knew who was Serb and who was Croatian. I grew up watching Hajduk club, and their rival Dinamo Zagreb. Ever since we surprised everyone and finished third at the 1998 World Cup in France, the whole country does not expect less than semifinals in any competition.
Favorite players: Zvonimir Boban. Davor Suker. Robert Prosinecki. Luka Modric. Ivan Rakitic.
Where he will watch the World Cup: With members of the Deerfield Beach Croatian club.
Favorite national cheer/chant: U Boj! U Boj!, za narod svoj! — “Into battle, into battle , for your people.”
Best local spot to get Croatian food: Bura in Lighthouse Point. Similar to Italian food.
World Cup prediction: We should go through with Argentina. After that it’s roulette. The big debate is: Is this team better than 1998 team? They have the talent, but do they have the heart?
Name: Olaf Skulasson.
Lives: Delray Beach, moved to South Florida 1997.
Memories of national team: Iceland has never been really good in soccer. We’re a very small nation. This is totally new for us. First time in the World Cup. We used to watch these games, but they never mattered until the past few years.
Favorite players: Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Gylfi Sigurdsson $45 million. Also, there’s a guy with my same exact name Olaf Skulason.
Where will you watch the World Cup: We have two places. Waxy O’Connor’s and we gather in a hall on our own.
Favorite national cheer/chant: The ThunderClap.
Best local spot to get Icelandic food: No place. Whole Foods has lamb from Iceland Sept-Oct. And now you can get our yogurt, skyr, in most stores.
World Cup prediction: We’re going to make it out of the bracket...Unfortunately, we would meet really strong teams after that.
Name: Tusin “Tumak” Makinde.
Memories of National Team: I remember 1982, I was 17 or 18, and we came so close to qualifying for the World Cup but lost by one goal — an own-goal — to Tunisia in Lagos. That was the most painful game for all Nigerians.
Favorite players: Jay Jay Okocha and Rashidi Yekini.
Where he will watch the World Cup: At his North Miami restaurant, Moji African.
Favorite national chant/cheer: “All we are saying (pause) is give us one goal.” (sung to the tune of “All we are saying, is give peace a chance”) Also, when Nigeria completes a pass, people chant “Eh-eh-eh,” and when we lose possession, it changes to “ooh-ooh-ooh”.
Best local spot to get Nigerian food: Moji African, of course.
World Cup prediction: Nigeria always gets put in the Group of Death, and same this time with Argentina, Croatia and Iceland. I still say maybe we can reach quarterfinal.