The biggest sporting extravaganza of 2018 has now passed us by and what a ride it was! The FIFA World Cup in Russia was one of the greatest tournaments in the history of football. Whilst some of the world’s best players showcased their talents, there were others that disappointed and under achieved on the biggest stage of all. As video technology waded its way into the biggest moments and conversations, even our own country had reason to celebrate and feel pride as England impressed everybody. For anybody that travelled to Russia, it was the ultimate football road trip!
It’s time to relive this amazing tournament so before you tear down your wall chart, grab a seat and take a read at our roundup of Russia 2018.
France are on top of the world
France may have started the group stage slowly with narrow and unconvincing wins but Les Bleus certainly stepped up their game when it mattered most. After bringing Olivier Giroud into the centre-forward position, the dangerous French attack suddenly clicked into gear. Kylian Mbappe picked up the young player of the tournament with four sumptuous goals from 19-year-old. Antoine Griezmann was quiet but still picked up four goals himself, benefitting from more penalties being given at the tournament. Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante bossed the midfield with Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti providing a tough rearguard action. They may not have been spectacular and their style of football was accused of being ‘anti-football’, but the streets of Paris, Lyon, Lens and beyond were celebrating France’s return to the top of the game.
Southgate’s Heroic Three Lions
Nobody expected England to get further than the Last 16 with some even harbouring hopes of a first quarter-final since 2006. Instead, we got to a first World Cup semi-final since 1990, a first ever victory by penalty shootout at a World Cup and a complete togetherness of a squad not seen since Euro 96. It is no wonder that the whole country got behind Gareth Southgate’s young team. Jordan Pickford was saving everything, Kieran Trippier created the most chances at the World Cup, Harry Maguire was heading everything and the team scored the most from set pieces. It was just so good to watch.
While they may have had an easier side of the knockout draw and when they did come up against competitive sides, a victory wasn’t forthcoming. However, this was a huge step in the right direction after the humiliation of losing to Iceland at Euro 2016. Football almost came home but at least Three Lions got to Number One again!
Harry Kane’s Golden Boot
One trophy that did come home was the Golden Boot. Kane had targeted the accolade at the start of the tournament, having been top goalscorer twice in the Premier League. The opening game certainly saw a statement of intent for the prize as he scored both England goals against Tunisia. He followed this up with a hat-trick against Panama and a penalty against Colombia. However, he was more of a spectator against Sweden and Croatia as England bowed out of the tournament at the semi-finals. Despite fading in the tournament, this was a huge achievement for Kane and he deserves great accolades.
The Impact of VAR
The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) was expected to have a huge impact on this World Cup and its presence was well and truly felt. Incidents that were missed by the referee was easily picked up by the myriad of cameras in the stadium, and the team of fully kitted officials watching from a studio in Moscow. Most notably, Neymar’s dive for Brazil against Costa Rica saw a penalty decision correctly overturned that otherwise would have gone unpunished.
The most obvious change was the huge amount of penalties given across the tournament. 29 were awarded with 22 scored and 7 missed – these were all new World Cup records. Games that would have finished scoreless were now having goals awarded after the intervention of VAR – only France vs Denmark finished 0-0 in the entire tournament. Although, whether all of those decisions were right is still open to debate, including the controversial Ivan Perisic handball decision in the final. VAR is here to stay and soon enough, every league in the world will have this system in place.
Belgium’s Best Ever Finish
Belgium’s ‘golden generation’ had high expectations at this tournament with many even predicting they would go all the way to victory. Alas, they did come unstuck against eventual winners France in a narrow 1-0 defeat at the semi-final stage. However, thanks to fantastic performances from Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku, they achieved their country’s best ever finish of Third Place. The future looks bright for the Red Devils and we expect even more from them in the upcoming tournaments. It’s definitely worth a football trip to Belgium at Antwerp, Bruges and Brussels to see the next generation prepare for the future.
Germany’s Shock Exit
The defending World Champions Germany were expected to put on a strong defence of their trophy. The events that followed certainly shocked the world. Despite having the 6th most shots on goal in the tournament (72), Germany struggled for goals and ultimately lost two of their group games and crashed out of the tournament. No one likes seeing the big favourites go out early, as it can diminish the quality of a tournament. You could argue they were unlucky and some were even pointing to a current curse. Recent champions to go out at the Group Stage after winning the tournament include France (2002), Italy (2010) and Spain (2014). There will be no panic just yet, as the pool of current German talent playing across Cologne, Dortmund, Dusseldorf and Hamburg is still the envy of the world. They will be back even stronger in Qatar 2022.
Will Russia 2018 be the Final World Cup of Messi & Ronaldo?
Two of the greatest footballers to ever play the game were once again expected to showcase their well-known talents to the biggest audience. Cristiano Ronaldo started strongly with a hat-trick in the first game against Spain before adding another in the next match versus Morocco. Lionel Messi only mustered one goal in Argentina’s victory over Nigeria. Both Argentina and Portugal were eliminated at the last-16 stage which meant both players went home early. Despite their incredible records, neither player has scored a goal in the World Cup knockout stage. With Ronaldo turning 37 and Messi turning 35 in 2022, it is highly likely that Russia 2018 was their last World Cup. However both players have shocked us before on a football field, so it wouldn’t surprise us if they both appeared again for one final chance at World Cup glory.
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