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World Cup 2018 Review: A Tournament of Thrills, Spills and VAR

17 July 18 words: Nelson Walker
illustrations: The Art of Football

Well, what a tournament that was. Four weeks of exhilarating jousting on the football field which saw France crowned as World Cup champions for only the second time...

Although coming into the tournament, Russia was shrouded in uncertainty; would fans feel safe heading to games? And what of the players in the stadiums? What reception would they get? As it transpires, Russia have delivered an almost seamless World Cup, performing well to implement the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), while all games, bar one, have succeeded to be sprinkled with some magical moments.

Nationally, one of the main talking points of the tournament has been England’s stunning trajectory to the semi-finals. While largely unanticipated, Gareth Southgate and his youthful team were able to banish former international footballing agony and progress where many others have failed. In doing so, they have managed to reconnect with the fans, moulding a team we can all support.

Harry Kane got the party started with a late winner over the Tunisians in the opening group game, while Southgate and his men put Panama to the sword with a crushing 6-1 win to cap off a perfect Sunday afternoon back home. A memorable penalty shoot-out success followed against Colombia, cuing the fireworks, before victory over Sweden put the Three Lions firmly in sight of the trophy. Ultimately, it was not to be, the team falling just short by losing to Croatia, yet Gareth and his men have done us all proud.

Indeed, this World Cup has been characterised by unpredictability and surprises. Holders Germany crashed out at the group stages, a fragmented team shattered by the South Koreans. Prior to the tournament, Russian supporters deemed their side the worst in the national team's history, fearing humiliation before a ball had even been kicked. What transpired was a 5-0 thrashing of Saudi Arabia in their first game before victory over Egypt ignited the nation’s attention. They ground out resolutely against the Spanish, taking the game to penalties in the last sixteen, with goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev’s heroics securing a momentous win. Neither could anyone predict Croatia’s rise to the World Cup final, a meticulously woven side battling past three series of extra-time on the road to the showpiece against the French.

It was a tournament not short of controversy either. The introduction of VAR added another dimension to the game, the palpable anticipation of referees making their final decision. There was dubious behaviour too; wrestling and tug-of-wars in the penalty area, scuffing up penalty spots, beehives of players swarming around the referee, and who can forget Michy Batshuayi’s infamous kick against the post?

In addition, the tournament also culminated in the emergence of many players on the world stage. The prodigious Kylian Mbappé announced himself with two goals in the rollercoaster game against Argentina, before becoming the first teenage player since Pélé to net in a World Cup final. Meanwhile, the evolution of Paul Pogba as a leader became one of the great components of France’s success.

Overall, the tournament saw a powerful team spirit and work ethic triumph over talent; Just take a look at how Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo bowed out on the same day in the last sixteen. Eventually though, Didier Deschamps found the perfect combination as French manager to lead Les Bleus to glory over Croatia. And that is it for another four years as we bid farewell to the greatest show on Earth once again. However, we have many moments to savour.

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