The World Cup is over and we are now left to ponder the month long carnival of football that we have been fortunate to witness. What better way to relive the memories than an A-Z for the latest edition of FIFA’s pinnacle competition.
A is for Africa
For the first time since 1982, no African side made it to the knockout stages of the World Cup. Egypt and Morocco finished bottom of their respective groups, while Tunisia were eliminated before the last round of games. Nigeria were minutes away from qualifying, while Senegal lost out due to the controversial Fair Play rule.
B is for Brazil
The five time winners of the tournament entered the competition as favourites but fell at the quarter final stage to a determined Belgian side. They are many neutrals’ favourites to watch and their games provided talking points such as Coutinho’s importance and Neymar’s theatrics. Whenever Brazil play at a World Cup, there is no shortage of talking points.
C is for Counter Attack
The counter attack was an important weapon for many sides during the World Cup, particularly for the smaller teams taking on the favourites. Ironically, it was Belgium who scored the outstanding counter attacking goal of the tournament when Nacer Chadli slotted home the winner in Belgium’s breathless 3-2 win against Japan. Thibaut Courtois caught the ball from a Japan corner before the ball was in the other net in eleven seconds. Simply breathtaking
D is for Drama
The World Cup is about more than soccer. It is a carnival of soccer and this World Cup provided more than its fair share of drama. The fall of the favourites such as Germany and Spain plus the underdog stories of Russia and Croatia only increased interest in the competition. There were late goals galore such as South Korea’s two goals in added on time to eliminate reigning World Champions Germany.
E is for Europe
The 2018 World Cup saw the semi-finals comprise of four European teams. Six of the quarter finalists were European with South America having two representatives (Uruguay and Brazil). The last four World Champions have been European teams, while Italy and Holland did not even qualify for this World Cup. Does this represent a power shift?
F is for Fallouts
The sacking of Spain manager Julen Lopetegui led to major criticism of the Spanish FA and Real Madrid for approaching him just before the World Cup began. Germany’s failure to get out of a group they were expected to top led to questions surrounding Joachim Low’s future, Mesut Ozil’s role and the attitude of the squad in general. It promises to be an interesting few weeks and months as the fallout continues from Russia 2018.
G is for Goals of the Tournament
From powerhouse solo goals to epic team goals, rocket shots to delicately placed finishes – this tournament had it all. A case can be made for at least ten goals to be named the Goal of the Tournament. When Denis Cheryshev scored a majestic goal with the outside of his left foot against Saudi Arabia, it set the tone for the many amazing goals we were privileged to see.
H is for Hazard
Despite Belgium falling short of ultimate glory, Belgium’s golden generation have gone some way to fulfilling their undeniable potential. Key to their run at this World Cup was Eden Hazard who stepped up to the plate after disappointing performances in Brazil and at the 2016 Euros. He demanded the ball time and again and stamped his authority on Belgium’s matches. It was fitting that he scored the Red Devils’ final goal that sealed third place. He could be involved in a big transfer this summer.
I is for It’s (Not) Coming Home
England’s surprising run to the semi-finals saw the hype surrounding the team reach fever pitch, as Gareth Southgate’s men reach the last four for the third time in their history. This saw a reprise of the 1996 song “Three Lions” and the song reached number one in the charts before they fell to a determined Croatia side. They have been waiting 52 years for it to come home and now they have to wait at least four more.
J is for Japan
They flew the flag for Asia at this World Cup as they undoubtedly left their mark in Russia. After being criticised for relying on their superior disciplinary record to reach the last 16, their performance against Belgium was full of bravery and courage. They went 2-0 up against a fancied Belgian side before falling to an agonising 3-2 defeat in the 94th minute. After this shattering defeat, the Japanese players and staff cleaned the dressing room while their fans cleaned up after them. Class at its finest.
K is for Kante
A two time Premier League winner and now a World Cup winner. The diminutive Frenchman proved on the world stage why he is regarded as the best defensive midfielder in the Premier League. It is hard to think of a player that has such a major impact on a team and receive so little attention. He was called ashore early in the final but still enjoyed a fantastic tournament as he helped France to four clean sheets.
L is for Late Goals
Another important part of the World Cup was the goals scored in and around the 90 minute mark. From Ronaldo’s spectacular late free kick to Iran’s late penalty that secured a famous result against Portugal and not to mention Toni Kroos’ late free kick against Sweden. The knockout stages saw Belgium strike late against Japan before Mario Mandzukic scored in the extra time to crush England’s dreams. These dramatic late goals added to hat was a fantastic World Cup.
M is for Modric
Luka Modric stood up to the plate as Croatia reached their first ever World Cup final. His is a story of perseverance – rising from war trauma, overcoming the death of his grandfather while living as a refugee, rejected by Hajduk Split for being too small. He has proven them wrong with his performances over the years with Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid. His overall class shone through as he inspired a divided country to dream big.
N is for Nigeria kit
The most disappointing aspect of Nigeria’s World Cup campaign for the neutral fan was not their early elimination but the fact that their home jersey was only worn once. They defeated Iceland when wearing their scintillating kit, but lost to Croatia and Argentina in their less inspiring away one. Either way the home kit was the best kit at the World Cup. It’ a shame we did not see more of it.
O is for Oldest
Egypt goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary became the oldest player to play at the World Cup when he started Egypt’s final match against Saudi Arabia at the age of 45 years and 161 days. He saved a penalty, but it was not enough to prevent Egypt slumping to a third defeat and finishing bottom of their group. However he has etched his name in to World Cup history.
P is for Penalties
This edition of the World Cup saw a record 29 penalties awarded. This surpassed the 18 awarded at the 2002 World Cup. The increase in penalties was mainly due to VAR but also due to referees clamping down on holding in the area from set pieces. England benefited more than anyone with penalties against Panama and Colombia from corners after they were repeatedly refused penalties against Tunisia.
Q is for Qatar
The controversial hosts of the 2022 World Cup have a tough act to follow after the World Cup gone by. The announcement that the next World Cup is to be held in November and December has not gone down well. There are fears surrounding every hosting of the World Cup, but expect these fears to reach another level in the buildup to 2022.
R is for Real Madrid
There were many stand out performers at this edition of the World Cup with many of the leading players belonging to Real Madrid. Luka Modric, Rafael Varane, Toni Kroos, Isco and Marcelo were among the most consistent players for their sides. Cristiano Ronaldo, although now at Juventus was a Real Madrid player when he scored his four goals. The performances of Eden Hazard, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar were closely monitored as Real seek to replace Ronaldo. Los Blancos’ transfer activity was a major talking point at the World Cup.
S is for Saves
Another important aspect of the World Cup was the performance of the goalkeepers. Thibuat Courtois made a fantastic late save against Brazil that sealed Belgium’s semi-final spot. Hugo Lloris’ save against Uruguay was excellent and vital in ensuring Les Bleus progressed. Jordan Pickford’s last minute save against Colombia was the save of the tournament but was overshadowed by the late goal and the goalkeepers heroics in the shootout.
T is for Tiki-Taka
Spain made a staggering 1,137 passes in 120 minutes against the host country Russia. They lacked penetration as they passed the ball over and back to no avail. Spain’s tiki-taka system needs to be refined as they looked toothless in attack and failed to provide Diego Costa with any meaningful opportunities. Back to the drawing board for Luis Enrique.
U is for Upsets
In the world of soccer, shocks don’t come much bigger than South Korea beating the defending World Champions and the lowest ranked side Russia beating a star studded Spain side. Argentina being held by Iceland and torn apart by Croatia were other notable results. Iran and Morocco secured draws against Spain and Portugal in a dramatic final round of games that saw Portugal teeter on the brink of elimination. These results had the neutrals cheering and increased interest in the competition.
V is for VAR
With a few exceptions, the use of VAR at the World Cup has been a success. It lead to penalties correctly being awarded and some overturned based off replays while fears of lengthy delays proved largely unfounded. It was not perfect but it provided a major talking point. Hopefully some modifications can be made such as replaying the incident on a large screen but it was a promising debut for the new technology.
W is for Wrestling
The most common way of defending corners at the World Cup involved ignoring the ball and bear hugging the opposition players. After initially turning a blind eye, the referees decided to clamp down on this and start awarding penalties as those players guilty of WWE moves protested their innocence to no avail.
X is for Xhaka
Granit Xhaka enjoyed a mixed World Cup campaign. His Switzerland team progressed from the group stage while he scored in Switzerland’s come from behind win against Serbia. His celebration for the goal caused controversy as he referenced the two headed eagle on the Albanian national flag with tensions still high in Kosovo between Albanians and Serbians.
Y is for Yellow
Although Colombia suffered the cruelest of exits, their fans lit up the World Cup as each stadium the team played in was a wave of yellow. Los Cafeteros turned Saransk, Kazan, Samara and Moscow in to a sea of yellow. If the World Cup was decided based on the fans support alone then Colombia would easily be World Champions.
Z is for Zagallo
Mario Zagallo won the World Cup twice as a player with Brazil in 1958 and 1962 before managing his country to World Cup glory in 1970. Franz Beckenbauer accomplished the feat, winning it as a player in 1974 and a manager in 1990. Didier Deschamps has joined that select group of people and ingrained his name in history.