The World Cup: in review

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Second year french and politics student Daniel Dyson provides an overview of all the entertainment, shock departures and glorious goals that the 2018 World Cup brought to our TV screens.

This summer’s World Cup kicked off with a match between Russia and Saudi Arabia – a game of seemingly more political than football interest. Little excitement was expected from the two lowest ranked sides at the tournament but a scintillating performance and five goals from the host-nation Russia provided us with an unexpectedly great start to the 2018 World Cup.

With hindsight, the opening game signalled that this tournament would be special and as spectators, we were not let down and were provided with a World Cup which will live long in our memory for its drama, controversy and England’s commendable performance.

By the end of day two, we had already witnessed an 89th minute winner for Uruguay against Egypt, a 95th minute winner for Iran against Morocco and a Cristiano Ronaldo masterclass, scoring a hat-trick in an enthralling 3-3 draw with Spain.
Spectators were also rewarded for sticking each game out until the final whistle given that there were nine winning goals in the 90th minute or later, more than any previous World Cup.

As well as this, there was rarely a dull moment throughout since, aside from France and Denmark’s 0-0 draw in the group stage, we were not forced to bear witness to any other goalless games.

Great footballing sides going home early added even more entertainment to this World Cup. Spain lost to Russia on penalties in the round of 16 and Lionel Messi's Argentina scraped through the group-stage before also exiting immediately after. Most shockingly, four-time world champions Germany lost to Mexico and South Korea to bow out in the group-stage.

The quality and excitement of the World Cup was epitomised by its final: a match which so often lacks goals and has little in the way of excitement shown by the previous two finals finishing 1-0 after extra-time.

However, this year was different. France and Croatia both attacked each other, resulting in a 4-2 win for Les Bleus, with penalty controversy and a hilariously calamitous (albeit insignificant) error by French keeper, Hugo Lloris.

We will not only remember this World Cup for its quality of entertainment though. It will be looked back on as the tournament where Video Assistant Referee (VAR) made its major footballing debut.

Technology is best used in sports for decisions that are objective – such as judging whether a rugby player has touched the ball down for a try. But football's aspects are not all objective, such as deciding whether a player has been fouled.

When used for offside/onside decisions, VAR is undeniably helpful as it can quickly and factually tell us whether a player was offside when the ball was played.

However, VAR allows referees to review their decision to award penalties, but the final decision is down to them and remains subjective. So, as we saw in the final when referee Néstor Pitana reviewed a handball by Croatian Ivan Perišić and awarded a harsh penalty for France, mistakes can still be made, even with technological intervention.

Despite this, having been used in the most high-profile of football tournaments, it is almost impossible to see FIFA discontinue its use, so pundits and fans alike should accept that it is now part of the game and move on.

Besides, VAR’s installation led to a total of 29 penalties in the 2018 World Cup (16 more than in 2014) and who can deny the excitement of more penalties? And, although slightly farcical, watching Néstor Pitana deliberate for over a minute as to whether to award France a penalty in the final added even more entertainment.

As England fans, we will also look back at this World Cup with fond memories due to the thrilling journey we were taken on by Gareth Southgate’s men.

An important reason England did so well was that for the first time in a long time, they were not expected to succeed so the youthful squad were liberated to play how they wanted and could almost do no wrong.

As it happened, they almost did do no wrong and reached the semi-final before bowing out to Croatia, giving the nation World Cup fever along the way. Now, the players have returned to England and have restored optimism amongst fans.

However, there is potential that England’s minor success in Russia will mean they will be expected to do equally well in coming tournaments and, as we all know, expectation and England do not mix.

This undoubtedly talented, youthful group will hopefully possess the mindset to ignore the hype that will surround them going into Euro 2020, but we should be wary of putting too much pressure on them and remain realistic for now.

Late drama, goal-filled games, giant killings, and a rare, great final gave us exhilarating football displays. VAR undoubtedly confused households at times but nonetheless gave us great memories. And even England fans were able to enjoy (almost) all the tournament. For these reasons, this summer’s World Cup should be looked back on as the greatest ever.

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The expulsion of over 100 Russian diplomats from western countries and fears of a second Cold War just months before the World Cup began revealed the huge differences between ‘us’ and ‘them’.

It is impossible to escape this sort of bleakness in our troubled world, but we can always rely on football to try. And try it did. The 2018 World Cup allowed us to momentarily forget our differences and remember our shared love of football, allowing the whole globe to collectively enjoy a truly captivating month of football.

Featured image: Unsplash / Tom Grimbert


What are your highlights from the World Cup in Moscow? Let us know!

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