Was there any other kind of World Cup Final that this tournament was going to serve up? It was supposed to just be a game of football, not an entire novel but we had drama, controversy, comedy, romance and plenty of tears come the end.
The last teenager to score a goal in a World Cup Final was some nobody called Pele, so we can probably assume in safety that Kylian Mbappe will also disappear off the face of the earth in the same way. That said, at least we can stop all the Messi/Ronaldo-esque chat of “yeah, but is he really the greatest if he’s never won a World Cup” in its tracks before it gets going.
Mbappe might have added the frills to the cake come the end, but credit to the Argentine referee for remembering how Croatia had totally destroyed them in a group match and dishing out his own kind of revenge. Was it a free kick that led to Mario Mandzukic heading home the opening goal of the match, albeit for the wrong team? No. Was it a penalty? Well, if VAR is only supposed to assist in matters of clear and obvious errors, then no. So Croatia were 2-1 down having not really done anything wrong and that folks, that is what you get for ending the whole “it’s coming home” narrative! An own goal having scored the winner in the semi-final against Southgate’s boys? Yeah, you take that ‘Super Mario’. Not so super now, even if he did go full Brian Kilcline and score at both ends.
And what about Paul Pogba? It’s almost as if you take him away from Jose Mourinho and he looks like a world-class footballer. Mind you, it needed N’Golo Kante being subbed after an hour, that multi-million proposed move to Barca clearly messing with his head, for the Pogba to be unleashed. Imagine what he could do at Old Trafford if he was able to knock it to Mbappe and not Rashford. Frankly, Mbappe is what United fans think Rashford is. A superstar.
Even Hugo Lloris trying to make Loris Karius feel better about himself could not stop the French. Talk about a goalkeeping union.
Of course, Croatia were not going to win the final, the French media hadn’t insulted them in any way meaning they were clearly lacking in motivation. Dejan Lovren didn’t even try and prove he is one of the best defenders in the world!
On a side note, I wonder what happened to the two pitch invaders we saw early in the second half? At a guess, I’d say Russia isn’t the country to do that in.
But what else will we take away from the FIFA World Cup 2018 and lock away as memories forever?
We should probably start at the beginning, and the beginning means Robbie Williams being the main event of the opening ceremony and his song, “Let Me Entertain You” proved to be quite apt, especially if he was serenading the VAR officials. And those VAR officials, wow. Fair play to them for sitting in a studio in Moscow no matter where the actual match was being played and fully kitting up. That is proper dedication, even down to the boots (though have you ever tried wearing studs on a normal floor? You fall over more than… well you know who).
Actually, I have jumped ahead already by talking about the opening ceremony. The real opening ceremony happened the day before when Spain chose NOT to win the World Cup by sacking their Head Coach Julen Lopetegui just 48 hours before they kicked off against Portugal. Sure, deciding to join Real Madrid just days after a signing a new contract wasn’t massively cool, but was it worth sabotaging a whole campaign over? David de Gea still doesn’t look like he has recovered and it must be pretty bad if he is looking forward to getting back to Jose Mourinho because that feels nice and stable. 11 shots, 6 goals David. 11 shots, 6 goals.
And what about Russia? Have many hosts made such a strong start to a tournament? I guess whatever they might have been taking had an immediate impact but started to wear off as the weeks went by. Either that or Putin was constantly on the phone reminding the opposition players he knew exactly where their families lived. Did anyone really expect them to go as far as they did and beat Spain? Definitely not and I don’t ever want to truly learn how they did it. They can have immunity on this one.
Brazil’s hopes hung on Neymar who spent more time on the floor than most of the goalkeepers in the World Cup. However, when Neymar had enough energy to stay on his feet he was at the heart of anything positive that Brazil pulled out of the bag. Gabriel Jesus is clearly more of an Easter holiday type of player, not a summer holiday type as he was pretty much anonymous but Brazil were decent. Until they met Belgium, that is.
Belgium, managed by Bobby Martinez, finished third. Third! Managed by Bobby Martinez! Just imagine what they could have done had they had a coach in charge that had more than one tactical trick up his sleeve. That said, Roberto did completely confuse Brazil in the quarterfinal in the one true tactical masterstroke of the whole tournament. And, by starting Fellaini more than once he showed Jose it is possible to close out a match without bringing on the big tree to shore things up. Belgium’s finest moment though was Michy Batshuyai celebrating one of the many goals they scored by smacking the ball straight back into the net and it instantly returning right into his face. If you haven’t seen it, YouTube is your friend here.
Can we mention England yet? Oh, go on then. Look, you can only beat what is in front of you and we should all be grateful that we had Tunisia, Panama, Colombia and Sweden in front of us more than we had Belgium and Croatia. England will return to Blighty reputations enhanced, unless you are Phil Jones, and there will be talk of a new era in English football as football oh so nearly came home. Except, realistically, it was nowhere near coming home at all but we all knew that really, didn’t we?
Better still, Harry Kane won the Golden Boot for scoring two tap-ins, three penalties and one off his backside in the group stages. Ignore the fact he didn’t get a shot on target in the knockout rounds, they were in July. And July is a little too close to August for Harry’s liking.
England also managed to get fined more by FIFA for sock offences than any other fine handed out for racist chanting in a stadium. Ever. Let that sink in for a moment.
Argentina provided some of the finest entertainment before they imploded. The entertainment was of the car-crash variety as we all watched Messi stroll around a pitch wishing he had a primetime Iniesta, Xavi and Busquets somewhere near him. And what about Maradona? That was his best World Cup performance since 1986! Actually, it was more akin to 1994 upon reflection.
Germany didn’t fare much better and at least we saw the end of that “Manuel Neuer is so good he could play in midfield” chat. No, he can’t.
For me though, the biggest takeaway from the FIFA World Cup 2018 is what a sensitive bunch the British media are. I don’t think any of the British based hacks given an all-expenses-paid trip to the greatest football show on Earth managed to get through the tournament without one precious little social media meltdown, mainly down to the whole “photogate” situation around Gareth Southgate’s team selection for the Panama game. No matter which way they try to justify it, they were wrong. And what really proved they were guilty were the sarcastic tweets that followed every time there was some actual news to break. Chaps, and it was pretty much only chaps, you are in a privileged position. Treat it with respect, no?
And finally, the closing ceremony. If you felt Robbie Williams was a bit odd then the sight of Will Smith rapping like he was still the Fresh Prince and Ronaldinho on the bongos will probably never, ever leave you.
Thank you Russia, it was a damn sight better than we expected.