Only three teams advanced with three victories in group play at the 2018 FIFA World Cup: Uruguay, Croatia and Belgium. And only Uruguay did so without allowing a single goal.
What’s the reward for such a fine performance? A round-of-16 matchup with the fourth-ranked team in the world. No. 14 Uruguay took on No. 4 Portugal — which features the best player in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo — on Saturday in Sochi, Russia.
It certainly wasn’t the most favorable draw for Uruguay (No. 3 Belgium, for example, will face No. 61 Japan), but it didn’t matter. Uruguay’s Edinson Cavani netted both of Uruguay’s goals in a 2-1 victory to send his nation onto the quarterfinals against France. In his third World Cup, those were Cavani’s second and third goals of the tournament. He and his fellow forward, Luis Suarez, are the only Uruguayan men to score at three different World Cups (2010, 2014 and 2018).
And Cavani does it all to honor God. He’s worn “I belong to Jesus” T-shirts under his jerseys, and told the Spanish newspaper El País that he is not an athlete of Christ, but rather “an athlete for Christ.”
“That’s why I play for Him, to give Him glory, to thank Him for giving me the ability to play football … for giving me that divine gift that I am trying to manage more and more. We belong to the Evangelical church. I don’t like the term athlete of Christ,” Cavani told the newspaper.
When he’s not starring for Uruguay, Cavani plays professionally for Paris Saint-Germain in France’s top league, and before that he suited up for Napoli in Italy’s top league. In Italy, his faith grew to a new level.
“I read the Bible every day, study it, and share with my wife the blessings of faith,” he told the Guardian. “I understand that there is a time for everything: for the sacrifice, the rewards and goals.”
“Football puts everything at your fingertips,” Cavani added. “And I was raised in a way that focused everything on looking after your family. Faith really helped me realize that the temptations that you have on hand will give you joy, enjoyment, whatever, but only for a short while.”
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