So after 64 games, the 2018 World Cup is over. It will be a World Cup remembered for shocks. Spain, Argentina, Germany & Brazil didn’t make it to the semi-finals. The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo & Leo Messi went quietly into the night, seemingly losing their best chance to lift the World Cup. Whilst VAR caused endless debate particularly in the group stages, only for it to reappear in the final, to award a controversial penalty to France.
More importantly, this can be a World Cup that celebrated the collective over the individual. For every moment of magic from Ronaldo, Messi & Neymar you had celebrated moments for Croatia, France and Belgium. It showed that football has evolved, and changed away from the individual dominance of a big game player, they can’t do it all on their own.
You have to remember that the teams made this 2018 tournament. The passion and vibrancy of Peru, the magical but not-quite-winning football of Morocco, the Mexico side that burned so bright in the group stages only to face up against Brazil in the last sixteen, the curse of the fourth game struck again for Los Tri.
Ultimately it was pragmatism that won out in Russia. Despite being blessed with plenty of attacking talent, France and crucially Didier Deschamps found the right balance with his young side. Solid at the back Samuel Umtiti & Raphael Varane who looked like world beaters, scarier perhaps is that they are just 24 & 25 years of age.
Whilst sides such as Sweden, Uruguay and even hosts Russia all reached the final eight based on defensive solidity and striking when the moment was right. It may not have been the fantasy football that we expect from a World Cup, but it certainly showed that this was the way to succeed in Russia.
Then England, oh England. Gareth Southgate united a nation. A nostalgic summer for the whole country as a youthful three Lions side defeated three beatable sides on route to the semi-finals before bowing out in a flood of drama and heartache in extra-time. Some things never really change. Although the English public now actually supporting England seems to be the overriding good thing to come from this. Gareth & the young lions must ride this good vibe all the way to the Nations League, were in a quirk of fate they will play Croatia, the side who stopped football from coming home.
To the final, a final which seemed to adequately sum up Russia 2018. An own goal, (they were the highest scorer with 12 SIX ahead of Golden Boot winner Harry Kane) a highly dubious and debated VAR decision for Griezmann’s penalty. A spirited fightback from Croatia, before the pace and running of France, blew them away in the second half. Two sides so defensively strong over the course of the last month straining under the number of games who just decided to concede a few. Ultimately, France came away from the deserved victor with Deschamps getting it tactically right in every knockout game.
So as Gianni Infantino passed Hugo Loris the World Cup crown, as the heavens opened and more crucially Vladimir Putin’s security detail blocked that all important “money shot” of the trophy lift. This World Cup may not have been picture perfect, but the enduring legacy of team-work and shock moments will make it live long in the memory.