Termed as the most gripping World Cup final match, the face-off between France and first- time finalist Croatia had all the ingredients of a Hollywood flick, such as emotions (self goal by Croatian Mario Mandzukic), drama (penalty kick by Antonie Griezmann) and comedy (the goof-up goal of France goalkeeper). The end result of 4-2 in favour of France, made this the highest scoring final since 1966 and probably the most entertaining.
Regarded as a dark horse of the tournament, Croatia did everything possible to stop France in the finals but their efforts were thwarted by amicable and accurate French players.
France’s World Cup squad, which included star players Kylian Mbappé, Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kanté and Griezmann, did their best to win the cup after 20 years. France was not regarded as a potential winner but they overcame misfortune, defeating Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium before beating Croatia. All four of their knockout-stage victories were secured in regular time.
Croatia, neither a favourite like Germany nor a classical team like Brazil, played remarkably well throughout the tournament and well deserved to be in the final. But against France they succumbed to pressure after the penalty kick of Griezmann.
The hosts, Russia, against all odds, including terror threats, doping scandals, lack of infrastructure and racism, organised the best ever World Cup tournament, and Fifa president Gianni Infantino acknowledged it in his post final match press conference.
Rise of a new kid
Stalwarts like Ronaldo, Messi, Ozil and Muller saw their World cup dreams snuffed out in Russia, but a French teenager, Kylian Mbappe, emerged as an “heir of greats”. Echoeing several others, former England defender Rio Ferdinand said Mbappe is the guy who will be standing up on that Ballon d’Or podium in years to come.
His intense speed and skills were much talked about even before he played the first match in the World Cup.
Mbappe scored his side’s fourth goal as France beat Croatia 4-2 in the finals and won the tournament’s Best Young Player award.
Former Germany striker and manager Jurgen Klinsmann, speaking on World Cup Match of the Day, said Mbappe looked like he had been playing in France’s team “for 10 years”. “There is so much to come down the road,” added Klinsmann.
After receiving the award Mbappe said it was too early to compare him with other greats like Pele. “I am very happy with my performance, particularly in the final,” he summed up. “It was a long road, but it was worthwhile and we are world champions and very proud. It is the life that we wanted, we are proud to make French people happy. It was a superb goal, especially since it was a goal that gave us wings.”
Miserable Messi (Argentina)
Heavily criticised by the football pundits for failing to deliver for his country, Messi ~ arguably one of the greatest football players ~ could no longer mesmerise. The perennial favorite team arrived at the grand stage of football as a strong contender to lift the World Cup but left early from the scene.
When asked about Messi’s failure in the World Cup, Argentina coach Jorge Sampoli said the ace footballer did not owe a World Cup to Argentina, football owed a World Cup to Messi. But statistics tell a different story.
At the club level, Messi is untouchable, with 31 trophies for Barcelona. While for Argentina he would always be a fallen hero, three major finals defeats tell the entire story about him. Simply put, disheartened, disappointed and dismissed, are three words that summarise Argentina’s 2018 World Cup campaign.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
If anyone has an idea of feeling the pressure of performing well at the quadrennial event of football, it has to be Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo. Being a European Champion of 2016, expectations were high from Portugal and Ronaldo, but like other prominent favourites, Ronaldo succumbed to pressure.
This was evident when he got things going with a sensational hat-trick against Spain as both teams played out a thrilling 3-3 draw. His speed and brilliance came to the fore in a scattered manner, which was not enough for the team to go the distance. As a soccer player, Ronaldo is both special and unique. He may not just be the greatest of this era, but perhaps also the best of all time.
Mesut Ozil (Germany)
Before the World Cup started, a debate in the German media over Mesut Ozil’s capability and work ethics ~ whether he was good enough for the team ~ was getting more space then Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel. Ozil simply hasn’t been good enough in Russia. He was playing in his third World Cup and would have been tasked with leading the way for the younger players. But he had a shocking tournament.
Ozil was not at his best against Mexico. Coach Joachim Low dropped him against Sweden, but many were surprised to see him back in the crucial match against South Korea. It was not expected to see a change in the winning combination and that proved to be a wrong decision as Ozil yet again failed to make his mark. It wouldn’t be a surprise if this was his last major tournament. His failure cost Germany dearly as the defending champion exited the event in Group stage.
David Silva (Spain)
With a very good premier league season with Manchester City, David Silva has been a key player for Spain and was expected to thrive in a midfield that included Andres Iniesta, playing a similar style of football.
But he just couldn’t make an impact. He was dragged off after just over an hour against Russia and it wasn’t really a surprise. It is clear that he is a brilliant footballer, but it didn’t work for him at the World Cup.
Thomas Muller (Germany)
Coming with a disappointing season in the German football club Bayern, Thomas Muller was probably the most disappointing player in team Germany.
In his first two World Cup tournaments, he scored 10 goals, including picking up the Golden Boot in South Africa in 2010. But he looked a pale shadow of his former self. He was slow, laboured and just seemed a little bit lost. German fans did not expect this from him.
Brazil is known for ruthless football and wins, but in Russia there was nothing left for them to enjoy the outing. Their main player Neymar, who has been lauded for sublime performance at the World Cup matches, has also come in for criticism over his theatrics on numerous times on the field.
His rolling around in apparent agony after the lightest of touches from an opponent, made him a butt of jokes on social media for his play-acting during Brazil’s 2-0 win over Mexico. Ironically, statisticians have calculated that Neymar spent 14 minutes of the 360 he has played in Russia, lying on the turf due to apparent injury.
In the match against Mexico, which many branded as the “peak of his playmaking”, he spent a staggering five minutes and 30 seconds on the deck. After that game, Peter Schmeichel branded the player’s actions “disgraceful” and called upon FIFA to look at the Brazil Number 10’s actions.
However, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho said Neymar was not the only culprit and that the issue was endemic to the teams in Russia.
With this kind of acting Neymar should have attempted a bold bid for a Golden Globe rather than the Golden Boot by rolling around. In his defence, it could be argued that Neymar had been fouled 23 times in Brazil’s four World Cup matches.
Essential facts about VAR
The team consists of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) and his three Assistant VARs (AVAR1, AVAR2 and AVAR3). All VAR team members are top FIFA match officials.
The VAR team supports the match officials during the match. It is located in a centralised video operation room and has access to all relevant broadcast cameras and two dedicated offside cameras.
The video assistant referee does not take any decisions; he supports the referee in the decision-making process and the final decision can only be taken by the referee. Football fans will be informed about the review process by broadcasters, commentators and infotainment.