A WONDERFUL WORLD CUP WITH MEMORIES GALORE – CHAPEAU RUSSIA 2018

So Russia 2018 is finished and it saw France win their second world title in what can only be described as a very entertaining final which had excitement, some fantastic goals, a classic howler and inevitably some VAR controversy. A fitting finale to a fantastic tournament, which for me has been the best World Cup I have seen in my lifetime. European teams have now lifted the trophy 12 times to South America’s 9, this has included a side from Europe winning the last four editions. It is clear that is where the powerbase is in football at the moment. Maybe the exodus of so many South American’s to play in Europe’s leagues gives the countries in the second smallest continent more opportunities to become familiar with differing styles and come up with successful strategies to counteract them.

LES BLEUS LOVE EUROPEAN SOIL

The French have recently specialised in going far when the World Cup is played in Europe, having made the final on the last three occasions, also winning in 1998 and even in 2006 it took penalties for the Italian’s to beat them. The next two tournaments are in Qatar (2022), then USA, Mexico and Canada (2026) a great opportunity for their talent packed squad (just look at the players that didn’t even get picked for Russia) to win a tournament on another continent. One things for sure, their victory in Russia makes up for their defeat to Portugal on home soil in Euro 2016 Final.They are deserved champions, despite Croatia being the better team in the final, but you cannot deny that any side that has beaten (in 90 minutes too) Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium to get to the showpiece has not done their dues on the way.

Some personal thoughts below from myself:-

FAVOURITE MATCH

France 4 Argentina 3 – Rip roaring contest, which showed that France, when they needed to, could step up in adversity, especially in the knockout phase, where one poor performance can mean you are going home. Ahead and in control, then behind and under pressure. 10 minutes of fantasy football later, two goals ahead, before holding out, JUST.

Notable mention – Portugal 3 Spain 3 – a cracker of a group phase match, a Ronaldo hat-trick and goals galore with Spain dominating but just not being able to put a spirited Portugal away – it really felt like the World Cup had begun before, during and after.

FAVOURITE GOAL

Stoppage time decider at the death – Belgium 3 Japan 2 – Nacer Chadli’s injury time winner against Japan, with basically the last but one kick of the game. Straight from a Japanese corner they broke, Courtois, De Bryune, Meunier then Chadli and not forgetting two runs from Lukaku that opened up the space for his colleagues in the build up. It was the denouement of a classic match, Japan were so unlucky to lose like that but it showed Belgium had the bottle to go far in the competition after coming back from 0-2 down.

Notable mention – Harry Kane’s winner against Tunisia,  yes I have gone a bit native but it was such a huge goal for the English in the grand scheme of things. It took away a lot of the pressure, allowing them to be in control of their own path through the competition which was crucial for their relative success in the tournament.

FAVOURITE PLAYER

Luka Modric – Croatia – He may not have lifted the trophy but he just pipped N’Golo Kante for the reason that he totally dominated him in the final to the extent that the French player was booked and then hooked by his manager. The Croatian captain has been outstanding during a World Cup where his country have just kept going and going, driven on by the Real Madrid midfielder. Despite the bitter disappointment of losing at the last hurdle, he won the Golden Ball, given to the player of the tournament and after his masterclass in Moscow, you cannot argue with that.

Notable mention – Diego Godin, Uruguay’s capatain and leader. An absolute wall of a man, who like Modric leads his team to perfrom so much better than may be expected for such a small nation. Even though they went out in the quarter finals to the eventual winners France, his performances were outstanding and if they had have been on Croatia’s side of the draw, who knows maybe the South American’s may have made the final, which would no doubt have been because their skipper was front and centre.

A FINAL MEMORY

Toni Kroos freekick against Sweden, which basically saved (at the time) Germany’s place in the World Cup. Sweden took the lead, the Germans came back, then had a player sent off. Sweden should have sealed the game off seconds before they gave away a freekick on the left side edge of their penalty area. Step up the Real Madrid midfielder to curl in a beauty in the 95th minute. At the time it seemed like the defending champions had somehow escaped from a very deep hole, in the end they still went out in the group phase pretty pathetically, but this moment was one of my highlights of Russia 2018.

QATAR NEXT AND MY PREDICTION CAME THROUGH

So we now head to Qatar in 4 years, well actually 4 years and 4 months to be more precise as the tournament will be taking place in late November and early December, with the final to be played a week before Christmas. It has a lot to live up to, but I said the same after Brazil 2014 and Russia 2018 has lived up to it and more.

One final musing (and my squad of the tournament as below) – after hitting the bar in the last World Cup (Argentina) and Euro 2016 (France) at last one of my predictions has actually come off. Vive la France.

My Squad of the 2018 World Cup 

GoalkeepersThibaut Courtois, Hugo Lloris, Jordan Pickford

Defenders – Diego Godin, Fyodor Kudryashov, Diego Laxalt, Harry Maguire, Kieran Trippier, Samuel Umtiti, Raphael Varane, Sime Vrsaljko

Midfielders – Kevin De Bruyne, N’Golo Kante, Jordan Henderson, Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic, Paul Pogba, Lucas Torreira

Forwards –  Antoine Griezmann, Eden Hazard, Harry Kane, Mario Mandzukic, Kylian Mbappe,

What do you reckon – I’m sure there will be other names you would maybes put in but its all about opinions I suppose.

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