There was thunder, lightning and buffeting rain but for France, the Russian sky was a glorious blue because Les Bleus became FIFA World Cup champions for the second time in 20 years.
Didier Deschamps’ side did not get to be crowned Russia 2018 champions by just a stroke of luck – they deserved the title as they fought for it every inch of the way.
They finished the tournament unbeaten and scored in every game apart from their third group game against Denmark – for which they didn’t need to sweat as they had already qualified.
Deschamps is now the third man ever, joining legends — Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer — to have won the World Cup as a player and then as a manager.
Asides this, there would be more to talk about the tournament than just the records made by Deschamps and his squad. The 2018 World Cup will be remembered for more things than those records.
Certainly, questions abound on what has been, what will be and will not after the world cup. Among many others, below are some that have a large stake.
Will Russia 2018 help someone unseat Ronaldo and Messi?
The tournament brought to limelight the brilliance of some players. The record breaking young wunderkind, Kylian Mbappe, had a brilliant campaign and was instrumental for France, with those surging and mesmerizing runs on the right flank that ultimately delivered the title. Deservedly, he won the young player award,.
But for Luka Modric, Croatia could have lacked the mental character that took them as far as the final. The Real Madrid midfield maestro was a testament of flair, clear vision, diligence, discipline and fantastic coordination. In fact, he covered the farthest distance in the entire competition.
Sticking within the confines of players who had a terrific tournament having had a successful session with their clubs, Ivan Rakitic and Antoine Griezmann are also in the class of their own. On one hand, Rakitic blended his midfield creativity with Modric’s brilliance to form one of the best midfield duos in Russia — if not the best combo — in the tournament. On the other hand, Griezmann was a lethal force in the French attacking line that raked in 14 goals, making them the second-highest scoring side — second to Belgium’s 16.
Clearly these aforementioned six players had a brilliant campaign both for club and country and they certainly have a stake in who will be crowned the World Best Player.
Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo have shared the award for the past decade but both had indifferent campaigns at the World Cup. Ronaldo added some bluster with his three-goal haul against Spain while Messi’s campaign, coupled with Argentina’s, was candidly shambolic.
The poser here is who will join the duo to complete the top 10 shortlist? Would one of the two “GOATs” be left in cold and left out of the list for the first time in 10 years? Who will win it? Will Mo Salah also make the list? This and many more are some of the talking points the World Cup has left unanswered.
Time to leave for Hazard and Mbappe?
If there is something Real Madrid won’t compromise, it is a quick and shrewd replacement for their talisman, Ronaldo. And if there ever is a time for a replacement, it is now that Hazard and Mbappe are on the high.
Though the later has stated he is “staying at PSG”. And, a statement released by the Spanish has explained that there has been no “agreement between Real Madrid and PSG for the player Kylian Mbappe”, stating that the news in circulation “is completely false.”
“Real Madrid has not made any offer to PSG or the player and condemns the spreading of this type of information that has not been proven by the parties concerned.”
Hazard, though, is salivating for European glory and a world best mention. The possible departure from Chelsea is weight and a normally reticent Hazard has stated publicly he would love to move to Madrid to join Real.
“After six wonderful years at Chelsea it might be time to discover something different,” he said. “Certainly, after this World Cup, I can decide if I want to stay or go, but Chelsea will have the final decision.” He completed saying, “You know my preferred destination.”
Is Hazard going to join the Galacticos? Amidst denials, will the Santiago Bernabeu landlord eventually scoop the service of the young sensation, Mbappe? Who will replace Ronaldo? Hazard? Mbappe? The duo? Or even Neymar? Again, before the close of the transfer season, the cloud will be clear.
Breakage of the tripartite soccer force
The almost impervious dominance of the tripartite football forces — Brazil, Germany and Argentina — was broken for the first time in Russia. For the first time in the history of the tournament, none of the trio reached the semi-final. Among them alone, they have shared half of the entire 22 world cup trophies won since the 1930 World Cup staged in Uruguay.
Germany joined the stats of defending champions, since 2006, falling at the group stage and that has led to Mesut Ozil’s departure from the team, citing racism.
Five-time champions, Brazil had a somewhat good start but they were torn apart when it mattered most by a Hazard-inspired Belgian side. Argentina snatched only a win against a jittery Super Eagles of Nigeria in their third group match to ssneak into the second round, where they fell to France.
For the first time in FIFA history, the FIFA fair play rule came to play, and Senegal was the victim. Africa was at the brink of having their sole candidate in the second round when Japan was handed the ticket by the virtue of fair play rule.
As the rule stipulates that teams with same points, same goal difference, same number of goals scored and no better head-to-head permutation, the number of cards picked comes to play. After the last game, Senegal had six yellow cards to Japan’s four. Senegal thus rued their disciplinary recklessness.
Croatia came to this World Cup with only two natural strikers: Juventus’ Mario Mandzukic and AC Milan’s Nikola Kalinic. For a fourth successive international fixture, the latter was left on the bench. So, when asked to come on in the 85th minute in Croatia’s win against Nigeria, Kalinic complained of a back problem and refused to be a substitute – a move which didn’t convince his manager, Zlatko Dalic. He was eventually sent packing from the tournament.
His exit meant Croatia had to rely on Mandzukic. The rest is history. The 21-man squad have a silver medal to their name. Kalinic would have to wait another four years before he could have a shot at getting that far. Discipline and teamwork paid.
On a final note…
Russia 2018 had a lot of talking points. The successful use of VAR vindicated the use of technology in the game. There were not many cricket scores, which showed that teams are closer than ever before and looking ahead to Qatar 2022, one can easily predict there could be a new country crowned winner in the Middle East. For all who enjoyed Russia 2018, we can’t wait for Qatar 2022.