The 2018 World Cup delivered on all the promises and allayed all the suspicions and jeremiad predictions. It had a gamut of ineffaceable moments, vocabulary of emotions, kaleidoscope of iconic goals and unforgettable controversies.
More often than the football fan would want, World Cups can be deceptively monolithic in terms of crippling nerves, attritional play, combative and virulent atmospheres and some really uninspiring 90 minutes. But the recent edition had a sweet embrace of a breakaway success replete with entertainment, flair, drama, heroism, grit and revelry.
The malachite -based, 36.8 cm high, 6.1 kg heavy 18 carat gold Trophy went to Les Blues as the Croatians in their famous check jerseys were checkmated in the downpour painting the Luzhniki blue. France head coach Didier Deschamps became only the third man to win the Cup both as player (1998) and manager after Brazilian Mario Zagallo (1958, 1960 as player and 1970 as manager) and German Franz Beckenbauer (1974 as player and 1990 as coach). French defender Raphael Varane also claimed a slice of history becoming the 11th player to win both the Champions League (Real Madrid) and the World Cup in the same year.
For five weeks Russia turned into a hotbed of sporting passions and witnessed a gladiatorial showdown between footballing warriors. To Victor went the spoils and for the spectators in the Luzhniki or billions glued to their screens a rekindling of the forgotten love affair. Arguably the best World Cup (1970 Mexico the only one that comes close). As the French savor the lift off into the orbit of celestial luminance, as the French boulevards turn into scenes of pandemonium, as the Croatians nurses an incurable injury….the rest of the World finally has time to catch its breath and take in the splendor that we all been pampered with for this summer.
Unquestionably, this World Cup has been brilliant for theatre with VAR adding a whole new dimension. It was wrought with 22 converted penalties with total of 73 goals from set pieces, 9 stoppage-time winners (more than the last three World Cups combined). It had Own goal as the top scorer (plays with uncanny anonymity) with 12 goals although Harry Kane got the Golden boot with 6 goals. On average we were fed a diet of 2.6 goals and 3.5 yellow cards per match. It had 4 red cards and four penalty shootouts. With a total of 169 goals we had just a single goalless draw (France vs Denmark) and every team scoring at least 2 goals.
Notwithstanding the snooze fest between France and Denmark and the testy, fractious encounter between England and Colombia, there were some blockbuster matches. The list of thrillers of the summer includes Japan vs Belgium, France vs Argentina and the final itself. We had two Goats (Messi and Ronaldo) captaining their respective sinking boats and bid farewells to Iniesta and Mascherano. As Hazard and Cavani finally swaggered their stardust on the World stage, new superstars strutted irresistible genius as there was changing of the guard. Likes of Courtois sizzled in goal, Modrić spun yarns of strings in Midfield, Kane and Griezmann dispatched the penalties with aplomb but it was 19 year old Kylian Mbappé who stole the show
Asian giants like Japan and South Korea displayed the progress of Asian game with massive upsets. Mexico provided some exhilarating counter attacks in the victory against Germany. Russia against Spain, Iceland against Argentina and Denmark against France embellished the occasion with unflinching Scandinavian resolution.
From the battling Russians to the listless Germans, the thespian performances of Neymar to the priceless insolence of Cheryshev we saw the best and worst of the exciting possibilities the grandest stage has to showcase.
The last four had Belgium, finally proving their mettle as their Golden generation clinched their best ever finish of 3rd. First time since 1990, we heard the premature murmurings of ‘It’s coming home’s as England, the inventor of the Sport, trudged to the semis. Of course, the luck of the draw can only last as long but they did manage to bury their penalty shootout hoodoo along the way.
And then there were two. Croatia proved to be the most enduring team (first one to progress through three extra-time finishes with two consecutive penalty shootouts). They imbibed an unwavering with a reservoir of guts, gumption and glory.
They had the Medfield magicians in Modrić and Rakitić and dynamic winged duo in Rebić and Perišić. The defensive duo of Lovren (self proclaimed best defender) and Vida and striker Mandžukić provided a formidable spine to the team.
France, on the end, had an indefatigable metronome in Kanté (nicknamed the ‘French Duracell Bunny’), balletic bulldozer in Pogba, dancing gazelle in Varane and lightning whisper in Mbappé. The final was billed as the glorious vs the gutsy, Velvet vs Steel, the unstoppable wind vs the immovable wall. Immortality was at stake and France became a two time World Champions.
With a rip-roaring final, the showpiece gala got its crowning jewel. Notwithstanding the first pitch invasion by 4 overzealous souls or the august company of Will Smith and Emmanuel Macron, the script had drama, humor, suspense, shock and the final denouement. It had an own goal (1st ever in a world cup final), a penalty goal with VAR, a comical goal (horror for Loris) and three sensational goals. One of the three made wunderkind Mbappé the only teenager since Pele in 1958 to score in a World Cup final. A scintillating metamorphosis of potential into a performance, prodigy into a phenomenon! Modrić c earned the Golden Ball even though he would swap that with the World Cup trophy in an instant.
As the French exorcised the ghost of Euro 2016, the Russian air will long be imbued with resounding reverberations of the famous Napoleonic words…Veni! Vedi! Vici!
Interestingly if France, with 11 players with immigrant origins in their squad, was as bigoted in its treatment of ethnic minorities and immigrants in Football like in other spheres, the Cup would certainly never be coming home to Paris.
From the slants of skepticism to the exultation of romanticism, the showpiece delivered and how!
A World Cup for all ages and all of time. As the razzamatazz of the spectacle, the majesty of the occasion and the mesmerizing, manic mayhem bids adieu for another four years, here’s wishing a swift return. See you in Qatar!
Zeeshan Ali has studied Journalism and Engineering. Through is education and experience he has developed passionate interest in Sports, Science, Literature and Theology. He values honesty and sincerity in any piece of work either his or otherwise.