And breathe. The 2018 World Cup was one that perhaps did not have the hype surrounding it that the carnival of Brazil 2014 or the landmark South Africa 2010 had but boy did it deliver. Game after game of exhilarating football was played and indeed the hearts of a nation were won back by certain teams. Russia 2018 has truly embodied everything that is meant to be good about a World Cup and here are the five main reasons the tournament was amazing.
No Security Problems
One of the big strikes against the tournament before a ball had been kicked was the fears over security. After the clashes between England and Russian fans in Marseille during Euro 2016 there were fears that this tournament would be marred by hooliganism and violence. Luckily this could not be further from the truth. The Russian people appeared friendly and welcoming and bar those rather odd pitch invaders during the final there was no real trouble at all. Now you can make up your Putin based conspiracy theories as to why there was no disturbances but I for one am glad the reputation of football supporters has been done no damage by Russia 2018.
Big Teams Being Poor
This World Cup was such an open one and one of the main reasons for this was the traditional ‘big teams’ being enjoyably below par. Germany went from triumphant winners to a shock group stage exit winning one and losing two of their games. Argentina were pretty much a shambles from start to finish and barely made it out of the group while Spain ruined their chances by sacking their manager on the eve of the tournament. This made the tournament so much more exciting as there was a genuine belief that anybody could go all the way.
Small Teams going above and beyond
This one goes in conjunction with the above point but some of the traditional ‘smaller teams’ had some tremendous victories. Mexico defeating Germany early on was a particular highlight as was Sweden’s run to the Quarter Final. Russia, the host nation no less, came into the tournament on a wave of negativity yet they too reached the Quarter Finals, defeating pre-tournament favourites Spain on penalties in the process. Of course, Croatia managing to make it to the final was incredibly impressive and in particular that 3-0 thrashing of Argentina really showed that reputation was not important in this competition.
England doing well
Yes, the run to the semi-final was kind, yes, most goals game from set pieces and yes football isn’t coming home but this has been an absolutely crucial tournament for England. Not since the heroics of Euro 96 has there been such optimism and togetherness surrounding the team. After the defeat to Iceland in Euro 2016 faith in England was at an all time low. But our waist coat wearing warrior Gareth Southgate, a man whose appointment was largely derided, led a young but hungry England side to an impressive semi final finish, the joint best since the legendary winners of 1966. England still have a long way to go to win the tournament, but the nation fell back in love with the national team. Gone was the idea that the players were overpaid brats who did not want to be there plus we finally had a manager that we could believe in. If that does not convince you that England did very well at this tournament we won a penalty shoot-out for god’s sake. For everyone in this country England’s exploits made the tournament feel that little bit more special.
If it wasn’t for the abysmal France Demark every single game in this tournament would have had a goal inside 90 minutes, something that is simply unprecedented in the modern era. Almost every single game was gripping, from Portugal and Spain’s enthralling 3-3 in the group stage, to France defeating Argentina 4-3 to Belgium’s dramatic 3-2 comeback against Japan. Even the final, usually a dull cagey affair in recent years was a 6-goal thriller. There were some absolutely fantastic goals too from Nacho and Pavard proving right backs can score screamers, to Di Maria’s cracker against France this tournament was littered with great goals. It is this kind of scintillating football that made Russia 2018 so remarkable.
The tournament was fantastic and even VAR did not ruin things as much as the cynics thought. This may be the last ‘good’ World Cup though, with a bizarre Winter tournament in 2022 followed by an unnecessary expansion to 48 teams in 2026. So savour this tournament while it is fresh in the memory as we can only hope the World Cup is ever this good again.