Plain and simple: the seven main things that made the 2018 FIFA World Cup so great.
7 – Lionel-less and Cristia-No
At seven, we have the World Cup failure of Cristiano and Lionel. It may be harsh, but it is quite comical that every four years these two try, and fail, to inspire their nations to a successful World Cup campaign. Coming into the tournament, the two had a combined total of just eight goals from twenty-eight appearances at World Cups. Hardly world-class. In Russia, Ronaldo arrived with an opening-day hat-trick against Spain, but only scored once more – a winner against Iran. His decision Russia to shoot from ridiculous ranges against Uruguay ultimately cost his side at the Second Round. Ronaldo was gone.
But Lionel Messi fared even worse. Denied from the spot by Iceland’s semi-professional goalkeeper, he was similarly dire against Croatia in that 3-0 defeat. A fine, but not outstanding, goal against Nigeria in Argentina’s last game somehow made it into the Hyundai Goal of The Tournament list. There’s advertising if ever you’ve seen it. ‘Leo’ bowed out in the Round of 16 too, to France. These two have been neck-and-neck in club football for a decade now. And although both are their nations’ all-time leading scorers, neither have ever been able to shine at the so-called ‘Greatest Show on Earth’. They’re in their thirties now – this summer has got to hurt.
6 – Riveting Football
Football is a sport best played offensively. Game Management, and other such techniques, can help sides win, but they don’t help to entertain. Liverpool and Manchester City in recent seasons, led by their gregarious managers, have ditched cautious, conservative football for a goal-hungry attacking style of play. Well, this summer the majority of the 32 teams did the same. Only really Uruguay persisted with the time-waste way to play, and that brought us an excellent World Cup. We saw a six-goal final, a 3-3 draw, a 4-3 Second Round match, and a couple of hidings too. Notably, England saw off Panama 6-1, and Saudi Arabia were thrashed by hosts 5-0 in the opening game. The 2018 World Cup saw 169 goals, twelve of which were own-goals, and twenty-nine of which were scored by defenders. The 2018 World Cup had one 0-0 draw from 64 matches. That’s a record.
5 – The Fans
What a spectacle it was in Russia that fans from more than thirty-two nations turned up in fine voice, mood and colour to partake in the World Cup. City squares were packed full, and every match of the finals was sold-out. Amongst the best were the Aussies and the Mexicans, who arrived in fashion on the first weekend, and who were noisy throughout. Colombian and Peruvian fans decided they may as well see the tournament out, outstaying their own teams along the way! Beer, cheer and a good few Panama hats – the 2018 World Cup was one to remember for its supporters.
4 – England
What a failed attempt this has been to be impartial towards England! Gareth Southgate’s measured, supportive presence allowed his young players to realise a lot of the promise they had been showing. A new and improving Number One and ball-playing defenders with an aerial threat kept England assured at the back. Fullbacks with excellent delivery and creative midfielders assisting a truly world-class striker helped The Three Lions equal their best ever return at a foreign World Cup. ‘England DNA’ is finally visible on the pitch, and Southgate’s side looked as though were more than willing to give everything for the cause. Long may it continue; what a ground-breaking World Cup it was for the most inexperienced side at the tournament.
3 – Breakout Stars
Every edition has them. The World Cup will always be the making of some individuals, and this one was no exception. Russia’s Aleksandr Golovin managed to live up to the hype, but it was the host nation’s Denis Cheryshev who created his own hype. The failed Real Madrid graduate has, since being released, travelled Spain in pursuit of a successful club career. Those at the Bernabéu now must be kicking themselves after witnessing his four great goals this summer. Barcelona centre-back Yerry Mina was another showing what he can do this summer. The Colombia centre-back, and England’s Harry Maguire of Leicester City, were both a constant threat front set-pieces. Mina scored a record three goals from centre-back at the tournament, whilst Maguire scored once for England in their quarter-final. Barcelona had been reluctant to keep Mina, but both could see career lift-offs after brilliant campaigns.
Mexico’s Hirving Lozano has given clubs such as Manchester United something to think about, after his goal beat Germany in the two sides’ opener, whilst Colombia’s Juan Quintero, a lost cause at unimpressed Porto, proved a more-then-capable deputy to James Rodríguez. The Colombian scored a clever freekick against Japan, before deputising for the Bayern Munich man well against Poland, Senegal and England. This World Cup may prove a blessing for these players, and many more. Succeeding at this tournament usually means success at club level is to follow. We shall have to wait and see.
2 – VAR
VAR was absolutely barmy at the 2018 World Cup. Every decision seemed to result in a goal. Disallowed goals were turned into legitimate goals. Offside goals were deemed to be legitimate goals. Penalties that should have been given were given, and penalties that shouldn’t have been given were awarded too. Gianni Infantino was adamant the introduction of the technology had been “99.3% successful”. It really, really hadn’t. VAR checks are more nerve-wracking affairs than penalty-shootouts, and ultimately made their final incorrect decision in the final itself, when Croatia were punished for a fringe hand-ball. VAR is certainly entertaining, but it awarded goals this summer that should never have stood, and decisions took farcical amounts of time to be made.
1 – Fall of the Giants
The 2018 World Cup was remarkable before the tournament had even begun. Former winners and finalists Italy and the Netherlands, respectively, both failed to qualify. So too did the USA, Chile, Ghana and the Ivory Coast. But when the finals started, the upsets continued. Toni Kroos’ last minute winner against the Swedes in Sochi looked to have shoved Germany into action. Their defeat to the Korea Republic confirmed this wasn’t the case. They became the third defending champions in a row to die at the Group Stages of the following World Cup. Not a great omen for France.
Argentina, despite scraping through to the Round of 16, never recovered from that 3-0 mauling from Croatia, losing 4-3 to France in a game they were second best in front start to finish. Spain were lackadaisical too, as a late 2-2 draw with Morocco was followed by their penalty disaster against the hosts. Portugal were seen off easily by Uruguay at the Second Round, whilst Brazil collapsed at the quarter-finals. They still haven’t made up for that 7-1 trouncing on home soil last time out. Of the real favourites, only Belgium and France were able to fulfil anything like the potential they carried. The semi-final stage housed France, Belgium, 12th-ranked England and 20th-ranked Croatia. The big boys had been unpicked.
What a deliciously unpredictable World Cup it was; what a colourful, passionate, exciting, enticing summer of football it was. And it may just be the last ever summer World Cup like that. Qatar’s winter edition, and the 48-team expansion, may leave football fans incapable of enjoying FIFA World Cups quite so much in years to come. June-July 32-team tournaments are now a thing of the past.
In England, the sun and heat persisted, and the journey went on and on, right up until the final weekend. Summer 2018 will go unforgotten for the right reasons…if you’re a Lion.