Nobody could have predicted how the World Cup in Russia panned out. From the welcoming residents and searing temperatures, to Croatia’s emphatic run to the final, it was the blatant antithesis of anything anyone expected. Here are the three things that stood out in Russia:
Peruvians stealing the show
If anything was unjust at Russia 2018, it was Peru’s early exit at the group stage. The South Americans were exceptional in all 3 of their matches with Carillo’s scintillating pace and power causing nightmares for defenders. However, it was a dreadful penalty from Cristian Cueva and a classy counter attack from the Danes that put Peru in a precarious position going into their 2nd match against France. A win for Les Bleus, and the Russians could finally take their ear muffs off now that the cacophonous roar from the crazy Peru fans had passed. Once again Peru put up a valiant effort with Farfan hitting the woodwork and Guerrero impressing again, but the talent of the French was just too much. Finally, the hard work paid off as Peru sealed a 2-0 victory against the Auzzies, helped by a thunderous volley from Andre Carillo. To the joy of some and the dismay of others, the incessant songs of the Peru fans remained in Russia even up until the final. They knew that although their team hadn’t progressed far, they may never see them play as well ever again.
Modric for Ballon D’or
Surely a Golden Ball award isn’t enough for Modric. What more can he do to be likened to the Ronaldo’s, the Messi’s, the Iniesta’s, the Zidane”s? How many times have we seen great players crumble this tournament? Messi with Argentina, Neymar with Brazil, and, arguably, Ronaldo with Portugal. This was Croatia’s golden generation – their last chance to prove something to the world. Modric, though, was unperturbed by the pressure that was mounting on him and his team and he remained composed and ,instead, used it as momentum. With Rakitic largely on the periphery, Modric produced some outstanding performances , particularly against Argentina and Nigeria, to help his team to the final – where he impressed once again. Yes, there was talent around him, with Perisic and Mandzukic, but non contributed more than the captain. He was the enforcer, picking unforeseeable passes in and behind the defence and, when called for, used his dexterity and effective bits of skill and trickery to make it out of tight areas. However, most importantly, he portrayed immense mental resilience. After missing a penalty against Denmark in the second half, many would been intimidated when stepping up for the second time in the penalty shootout, but he stroked it coolly past Kasper Schmiechel to keep his country in the shootout. It must be said, it wasn’t the most difficult path to the final, but Croatia were the joint third least populated country at Russia 2018 which is what makes this achievement so incredible. Although they did not emerge victorious in the final in Moscow, they were certainly moral winners. After 4 champions leagues, a league title and a run to the World Cup final, a Ballon D’or is due.
England have a long way to go before they are 4th best team in the world
England finished 4th at Russia 2018. Although they were simply not the 4th best team in the tournament. An unprecedented comfortable side of the draw, with none of the big teams, brought us to the semi-finals. We were expected to qualify, expected to defeat Sweden and Colombia and Croatia deserved to beat us. What was so special about England’s performances ? It is simply outrageous that people were suggesting an open -top bus parade. The positives we can take from Russia, however, was that when push comes to shove, we proved we can get the job done. This simple asset has been lacking from previous England sides. For example, losing to Iceland at the Euros and failing to get 3 points against Algeria in 2010 which proved to be fatal. So credit to Gareth Southgate, for helping his players feel like adults and athletes which is essential when facing the smaller nations. Although even he can improve. Some of his substitutions were questionable: when Eric Dier was brought on against Colombia it interrupted the midfield flow where chemistry needed to be at its strongest heading into the final moments. Maybe, he also failed to utilise the pace of Jamie Vardy. Another thing Southgate’s men must improve on heading into Euro 2020 is creativity and unpredictability. Perhaps, playing through the middle more instead of either down the channels or over to the top would encourage the Alli and Lingard to express themselves more. Too many times we saw Henderson launch the Ball over the top for Sterling when Alli and Lingered were open.
Germany will not be remembered as champions of 2014, but losers of 2018
After calamitous effort to retain their title in Russia, the world finally had the license to ridicule ands mock the Germans. Complacent, lethargic and disjointed are three words that sum up their world cup. After a shock defeat to Mexico, and a magnificent free kick from Toni Kroos against Sweden, the Germans had a chance to salvage something in their penultimate match against South Korea. The rest is history. The ethos of German football are to be efficient in defence and distribution, and then ruthless in front of goal. It is not Calypso football, playing to impress, it is playing to win. The German parents admit that “we don’t get our children to start sport so they can enjoy it, merely so they can win”. So why, when the stakes were so high, did the South Korea match defy all the core values of not just German football, but German sport as a whole? In the absence of the leadership qualities of Philip Lahm, Boateng and Hummels were tentative and unfocused throughout the tournament. Even the reliable Neuer suffered the worst tournament in his career,and, Bild( a german newspaper) deemed it not just the worst defensive performance by a German team, but “the biggest disgrace in German World Cup history”. Germany as a country put their pride and joy on the ‘Nationalelf’. While other countries use their leagues for commercial reasons, the Bundesliga is used to mould players ready for the international stage. The DFB is one of the most envied football associations in the world. This is why ,although the majority of the squad endured the 2014 success, this team will be remembered as the failures.