By Niall Clarke
- Five lessons learned from the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia
- England reached semi-finals for first time since 1990, as Harry Kane wins Golden Boot
- France won the tournament after a 4-2 victory over Croatia in final
MOSCOW, RUSSIA – After over a month of exhilarating tournament football that has reignited interest on the international stage, what did we learn from Russia 2018?
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The international gap may be closing
France may have won the World Cup after being joint favourites to win the tournament, but the 2018 World Cup showed that the gap between the elite of World Football and the rest is closing.
Les Bleus ran out deserved winners without looking amazing. They were tested by the likes of Australia and Peru in the group stages and could have easily drawn or lost either one of those games against two teams they were expected to run over.
We saw the likes of Morocco and Iran put in excellent performances against Spain and Portugal despite it being in vain. We saw Belgium pushed to the brink by Japan in the last 16, and that is not even touching the shock exits.
World Champions Germany were bested by South Korea and Mexico as they went out at the Group Stages in the biggest surprise few could have seen coming. Spain were stifled and eventually defeated by Russia in a penalty shootout, and Argentina struggled as they went out in the last 16 alongside the Spanish.
The gap between the elite and the rest is closing and the fact that England faced Croatia for a place in the final proved that. They are both good teams but were not amongst the favourites heading in, but the latter showed their quality as they deservedly picked up a runners-up medal.
VAR has won many over
There was a lot of controversy surrounding the addition of the Video Assistant Referee to the World Cup, but overall VAR is a positive addition to the game.
Some decisions were bound to cause consternation, but blaming the technology is wrong. In the end it is the referee that makes the final decision. VAR is used as a tool for the official to come to a conclusion based on replays from different angles. VAR does not make the final decision, it makes the referee aware that there is a possible mistake or offence so it can be check it using the monitors at pitch side.
Eliminating clear errors from the game is only a good thing. Yes there were mistakes, but that is to be expected as there is always a degree of interpretation when it comes to making decisions. Helping referees make these decisions with technology is a good thing and could eliminate a lot of issues with officiating.
VAR also brought more drama to games. When the referee goes went to referral as in other sports that pioneered video technology, the wait for whether the designated official would put his finger brought a sense of the unpredictable to proceedings, which has been been needed after so many examples of injustice. VAR brought life to some of the duller games of the tournament, and for that alone we must be thankful of it.
Football united a nation again
From an English perspective, the 2018 World Cup was something special. Not only did the England team go further than expected, the nation united in support of them for the first time in 12 years.
A country so utterly disillusioned with the national team after a string of poor performances in international tournaments, 2018 brought fans back into English football. Whilst millions towed the line of ‘It’s Coming Home’ – whether in jest or not – this summer was emblazoned by a phrase that united England once more.
People who do not follow the beautiful game week in and week out were suddenly invested in football again. This World Cup felt as big as any in England and that is down to the team being likable again. Having played a more attractive style of football, with the squad more open to the media, the Three Lions again become many a fans’ second team.
England’s summer odyssey might have ended in defeat to Croatia and then Belgium this past weekend, but there is no doubt that the football team brought excitement, joy and anticipation to the nation, something that has not been felt in a long time.
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France were probably deserving World Cup winners
France won the 2018 World Cup after a 4-2 win over Croatia in the final and it must be said that on the whole Didier Deschamps’ men deserved their victory.
Many will point out the fact that France did not play to their capabilities this tournament, and when you look at their attacking talent that is true. However they did what they needed to do and that is the key ingredient to winning the tournament.
Kylian Mbappe was arguably the player in the tournament. The 19-year-old was already well known across Europe but he announced himself on the World Stage with a string of great performances in the knockout stages before becoming the first teenager since Pele to score in the final.
Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante ran the midfield in every match they played together with the former showing the form that justifies his huge price tag. Raphael Varane was also excellent in defence and marshaled every attack he came up against in the tournament.
France were hardly amazing but there was no team better in this World Cup at getting the job done. This was a tournament of fine margins and France were the best at grabbing a lead and seeing it through.
The fact they won this tournament whilst not being at their best is scary. This side is still young and has potential to grow even better in the next four years. It would be no shock to see them repeat their success in Qatar.
Russia 2018 will go down as one of best
The 2018 World Cup had it all. Shocks and surprises were not in short supply with Germany and Spain exiting earlier than expected. There were great games from France vs Argentina to Spain vs Portugal. It had great goals such as Nacho’s strike against Portugal, Benjamin Pavard’s goal against Argentina, and Angel Di Maria’s long-range effort in the same game. There was drama, controversy and great football, all the makings of the perfect tournament.
Russia did a great job as hosts and that can not go unnoticed. There were many objections when they were selected as the hosts in 2010 due to the politics in the country, the fears of racist attacks and the size of the country. Russia proved the world wrong as this tournament went ahead with no issues. Russia welcomed the world to their country and it was a huge success for the host nation both on and off the pitch.
With only goalless draw in the 64 matches played, 169 goals being scored overall and an average of 2.64 goals per match, 2018 fell two goals short of the record of 171 set by France 1998 and Brazil 2014. However 22 goals come from the penalty spot, 12 were own goals and 73 came from set pieces, all of which set new World Cup records.
And to cap it all off we had a great final as France defeated Croatia 4-2. It was a final full of controversy, goals and even a pitch invasion. It was the joint highest scoring final in 60 years and was the first World Cup final to feature more than two goals since 1998.
Whether this is the greatest World Cup ever is up for debate, but there is no doubt that Russia 2018 is certainly in the conversation.
The UEFA League of Nations begins on September 8th
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