Serbia takes home 2018 DC Embassy World Cup

The D.C. World Cup's award ceremony. Photo courtesy of National Geographic's Hilary Andrews.

By: Carlo Massimo

The Embassy of Serbia’s soccer team won the 2018 DC Embassy World Cup, beating Argentina, 4-1, at the Jelleff Recreation Center in Georgetown. 

This was no Saturday pickup match. Sixteen embassies fielded official teams in the tournament this summer. The Russian Embassy, in cooperation with FIFA, gave the DC Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) permission to use the 2018 FIFA World Cup’s official mascot, Zabivaka, the wolf. Djerdj Matkovic, the Serbian ambassador, and Nikolay Pukalov, senior consul at the Russian Embassy, both attended. 

The tournament made news in Russia and across Europe. Some of the matches drew crowds well over 500 people, according to DPR. 

As the rain subsided to mist on Saturday evening, DPR and several embassies set up pavilions along the Jelleff pitch. The Australian Embassy arrived with an impressive display of maps and pamphlets, along with Vegemite on crackers. The Serbian tent offered heaping platters of sausages, vegetable relishes, and cake.

The Russians, who contributed to the official FIFA swag, had cookies, posters, leaflets, and pyramids of commemorative mugs. Well over 100 people chattered happily in English, Spanish, Serbian, Russian, French, Portuguese, and German.

The teams, comprising both embassy staff and members of each nation’s respective community in the District, played seven-on-seven matches under the DPR referee’s eye. Brazil and France went head-to-head to battle for third place at 6:00 p.m. The Brazilians carried off the title.

The Serbian and Argentine teams marched onto the pitch at 7:00 p.m., each singing its national anthem. The Serbian players had the advantage in height and strength. And while the Argentines kept the match close through good pace, they began to slip in the second half, surrendering two goals near final whistle. It was a spirited match. And the two sides embraced each other at the end.

But the real hero of the tournament didn’t play. Jose Soto, DPR’s Director of Soccer, not only came up with the idea of an Embassy World Cup, but organized the tournament almost single-handedly. 

“It was all Jose’s idea,” a DPR staffer said. The staffer added that since Soto came in April, there has been “a whole different atmosphere at the office” – an atmosphere of energy and creativity.

Soto came to DPR from AC Milan, where he worked as a performance coach and grassroots youth lab leader. More than identifying talent, Soto organized youth leagues and free play time for at-risk youth — emphasizing the value of good sportsmanship, leadership, exercise, and nutrition.

Now, Soto intends to bring those values and passion to the District. His energy is contagious. The Embassy World Cup began a few weeks after he proposed it, with no lack of willing participants.

Now that D.C.’s little World Cup is over, Soto is looking to make soccer a more accessible sport across the city, extending play hours at the District’s fields and developing free community youth leagues. DPR will help organize soccer matches during the Kids Euro Festival this Fall.

And when the captain of the French team reminded the crowd that 2019 would mark the FIFA Women’s World Cup, Mr. Soto nodded enthusiastically. Yes, there will be a Women’s Embassy World Cup. It’s confirmed.