Yet another World Cup has come and gone. With its ups and downs, this competition has now gone into the annals of history. Unfortunately, I must say that this World Cup leaves me personally with a bitter taste in my mouth for a number of reasons. Despite that, however, I would be remiss not to mention the high number of goals scored (169, with an average of 2.6 per game and only one goalless draw between France and Denmark) that helped provide us with entertainment and plenty of suspense throughout this last month.
But let’s take things one at a time. First topic of discussion would be the debut of the Video Assistant Referee (more commonly known as VAR) at this World Cup. It appeared, only to prove that it does not work. Of course, there are those players that might try to take advantage of the referee’s bad point of view, to which end yes, VAR might prove helpful, but as a general rule it doesn’t really make a difference. Because at the end of the day, no matter how much technology is introduced to the world of football, it is still up to the individual to make the call. Case in point, the final between France and Croatia, where Perisic’s supposed handball gave France the lead. After checking with the VAR, the referee decided to award France the penalty, yet the overwhelming majority on social media claimed that the decision was unjust and unfair for Croatia.
Something else that left a bit of a bad impression at the 2018 World Cup was the disappointing performance of some of the greater teams. And if for Spain it was a little expected -considering their former head coach’s Julen Lopetegui’s decision to abandon his nation a few days before the start of the tournament-, it came completely out of right field for some others, such as Germany (who fell victim to the “winning nation” curse), Portugal and Argentina. Struggling against sub-par opponents, eventually being disqualified very early on, this was not what we expected from the representatives of these nations. Combined with the absence of Italy, Chile and the Netherlands, and also the fact that such an event occurs for a second consecutive time right after the European Championship of 2016, it might just go to show that the so-called top quality players are being a bit too overexerted with continuous games and responsibilities for clubs and nations. The players of other nations didn’t have as many games on their feet and were able to apply pressure for longer periods of time (case in point: Germany vs. South Korea).
On the other hand, we saw teams get very far in this tournament that under different circumstances, shouldn’t have. And at this point, I can’t but mention the incredibly narcissistic England who, for some reason have come to believe that the World Cup did at some stage call their country home for it to be “coming back”. Gareth Southgate’s men (who seemed to be the only one in comprehension of the reality of the situation), after barely scraping a win from Tunisia in their first game, got a comfortable victory over the tourists of Panama in the second, then decided to lose to Belgium’s B’ team in order to avoid clashing with Brazil in the knockout stages. Instead, they met up with the tragic Colombia (whoever saw their game against Senegal knows what I mean), had to take them to penalties to advance, then got through Sweden admittedly relatively comfortably, only for them to meet up with their first real challenge in the face of Croatia once they had already reached the semis. If England were any luckier, they would’ve met with Japan in the final! They showed absolutely no improvement in this tournament, just a series of flukes.
Unfortunately, to speak a bit about the winners, the Cup ended up in the hands of the team with the most realism. Not the one that played the most attractive football (Brazil), not the one that scored the most goals (Belgium), not even the one with the best defense (Croatia). But to the team that did what was necessary to get results. Leave no gaps in defense, apply the pressure in midfield, leave the ball to the opposition and hit them on the counter-attack thanks to possibly the fastest forward of the whole tournament (Mpappe). France did that. Realistic to the core, each player knew exactly what was required of them on the pitch. They gave the sense at times that they could even go down to Australia, yet not even the likes of Belgium could break them down. The style of football that Didier Deschamps has instilled into his team is quite reminiscent of that which helped Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid reach two UEFA Champions League finals. However there they met with Real Madrid. There’s no such team on national level.
A lot of speculation went around if Russia was even going to be ready to host this World Cup, considering they were missing some of the deadlines to deliver their stadiums to FIFA’s organizational committee. But in my opinion, I feel the world owes a standing ovation to the hosts, as they held a magnificent competition with grand venues and perfect pitches that helped the players in their efforts. In addition, the weather was pleasantly nice for a country like Russia, since in all the games I personally watched, I only remember it raining once, something very rare for cities like Samara, Gdansk or Sankt Peterburg.
The next World Cup will be held in Qatar during the summer of 2022. It will be very interesting to see how FIFA will cope with hosting such a tournament in the middle of the championship season for Europe. But until then, we have four whole years…
Originally published at sopeoplewhatsup.blogspot.com on July 16, 2018.