Heroes and Zeros

The FIFA World Cup just ended with one of the greatest finals in living memory, and the largest number of hugs given out in a public arena since some ultras set off marijuana flares in a lower division game in the ’70s. One of the previous two statements is not true. But what is true, is that the casual fans who crop up every two years have swiftly started moving towards the exit, with only a few choosing to stick around. I love how some people spend a month getting to know the countries, learn how to pronounce the exotic names and then simply slip back into their old habits. But enough about the British TV commentators. We’re not here for them. We’re here to cast our eye towards those who illuminated the tournament and those who, for lack of a better phrase, shat the bed under pressure. These are your World Cup heroes and zeroes.

Heroes

France: Well, duh. They arrived with 23 players and one manager. They departed with 23 players and the same manager, which is a bigger achievement, given their history at tournaments.

Kylian Mbappe: No, I will not tell you what I was doing at 19, thank you very much.

Luka Modric: The Croatian maestro followed in the footsteps of Lionel Messi by winning the Golden Ball and being forced to watch the victors prance around the pitch for an entire 20 minutes, ‘A Clockwork Orange’ style.

Croatia: The tiny nation defied all expectations and managed to reach the World Cup final. In the process, they also made us rethink how we pronounce everyday words such as comic, basic, traffic, panic, iconic and dramatic. Yes, I am aware it’s quite moronic.

Belgium: Their highest ever finish in the World Cup, ever. And this, despite Bobby Martinez’ best efforts to mend what wasn’t broken in the first place.

Eden Hazard: Florentino Perez just found his next Galactico. And Chelsea just found another £200 million they can blow on your Drinkwaters and your Barkleys.

England: It didn’t come home, but it did leave England fans with a sense of how it feels to support Liverpool in the Premier League. 2022 could be their year. Or 2026.

Gareth Southgate: The Messiah who gave hope to millions and made them believe it was actually coming home. Yes, he actually made them believe it was coming home. Give him a medal, right now.

Russia: Another team that raised expectations and fostered hopes of a miracle. Alas, adrenaline and vodka can only get you so far.

Luis Suarez: For once, he didn’t bite anyone, dive around or offend people. Unlike…

Zeroes

Neymar: The rolling stone, rolling in the deep, just rollin’ rollin’ rollin’. Neymar became an overnight meme with his diving and rolling around on the pitch in fake agony, but his real crime was that spaghetti hairdo at the start of the tournament.

Germany: Consumed by overconfidence and the curse of the holders, Germany exited the competition with trademark Teutonic efficiency.

Spain: Kids, if you ever wondered how Spain was before everything just fell into place, you got your answer – perennial underachievers.

Julen Lopetegui: Pissed off the Spanish FA, half of his squad and millions of people who had placed bets on Spain winning the World Cup. You can’t please everyone.

Argentina: Awful. Simply awful. No wonder Messi’s head started hurting when he looked at the faces around him during the national anthem.

Jorge Sampaoli: Seemed to have put more thought into his tattoos than team selection or tactics.

Nikola Kalinic: Picked a wonderful time to throw a temper tantrum and was promptly told to do one by his coach.

Goalkeeping Howlers: Fernando Muslera, Willy Caballero and Hugo Lloris all contributed to this collection at various times. Willy Caballero had the top spot covered until the final when Lloris decided to win this particular contest by a landslide.