Opinion

We all have our favourite World Cups. We all have reasons for our favourite World Cups. Invariably a lot revolves around your favourite team and that’s fair enough of course. The usual crime sheet would involve things like goals, players, memorable matches and great teams. I was a bit ambiguous about Russia 2018.

A major tournament of course puts the summer in pretty well before the season starts again. That sort of sentiment would suggest I have been scarred by Scudamore and am a Premiership stargazer and hate international football. Far from it and I have to say this was a damn good tournament.

Consensus, in the broadest possible terms of contributing noise was that it was a great World Cup and when the non-football civvies are saying this one needs to get out the Bunsen burner and tin foil to really ascertain the quality of all this. When everybody is speaking there are too many different personal agendas competing from the corporate to the media friendly, from the purist to the event attender.

Getting to it I will say yes, I did enjoy it and what are my take home points about it that I think I will remember in years to come? It’s a good challenge for me as up until Romanian intervention last November my summer holiday this year was very nearly rummaging around in the Russian bear’s fur. So what have we?

General

Like a lot of foreplay the early rounds can be tedious or an indicator to better times ahead but as in work that must be done, there was plenty of good stuff here. A classic match in the first two days with Portugal and Spain playing the Iberian Cup did wonders. This closely followed the Russian 5-0 hammering of the Saudis and any host nation doing well always helps the pallor of a World Cup.

Several epic goals in those matches as well. The remaining games then took on the hue of the stronger sides really not getting it their own way and of course the noise of Die Mannschaft falling down the mineshaft was heard all around. Of the big boys only the Brazilians seemed to have a certain measure to their stride and the openness of the tournament was the defining feature by the time we were into the knock out rounds.

The fact that France, England, Croatia and Belgium were the last four standing would be a defining memory of this World Cup for me and any final that has someone who has not won it before always helps. The final itself was a belter and this of course is a bit of a must if we are looking for cerebral stud marks. In broader terms an awful lot of matches just could not be called and that highlights one of football’s great beauties.

VAR

What to say! Unsure as to how VAR will finally settle into the game in the future, we may well look back and see that the group stage of the 2018 World Cup was the ice cutter for the beast, insofar as unlike the selected Premiership games in 2018 where it really was a disaster it seemed to get better and better.

It needs to be said here that part of this was also largely due to VAR finally getting the attention of the players and their bowing to its will. Did you note how much less of a feature it was in the second half of the tournament, the final notwithstanding? I am hesitant to say was this down to the less excitable nature of the European teams who tended to dominate the latter stages but that is a bit of a distraction.

Gradually the players realised that all in wrestling would be punished at free – kicks and the nonsense started to evaporate. I believe that all sorts of correct decisions that were made were the correct ones and the best was probably the Mexican equaliser against Germany. Nonetheless, when they get it wrong with VAR it sends you up the wall.

The Iranian penalty v Portugal did my head in and also Tunisia’s penalty v England I thought was a nonsense but it must be said that these were decided after the ref checked so human error is still part of the game. By and large goal celebrations covered over the decision time so I wasn’t too conscious of empty space. Part of me was fighting however against the game being adapted for the TV viewer but we’ll let that ride for the moment.

Negatives

For me not too many. In the case of finals I can morph into a consumer and can get annoyed at teams wrecking a final with whatever. I was well pleased to see Argentina beaten in 1990 after their antics and was disgusted at Holland in 2010 for their approach, especially having grown up with their sides of the seventies.

At the risk of coming across a bit down on Hispanic sides they need sat on a bit. Columbia and Panama would put your teeth on edge the way they got on and it is here football referees need to get a grip. I am glad enough to see teams who don’t normally appear get their spot in the sun but if you are going to pollute the place take your time coming back.

For a period in each game against England the above teams literally tried to take the game to teetering point. I don’t have a problem with teams being professional and having street cred if you want to put it like that. The game is the game of the people and the world and it is generally reflective of that. Watch rugby if you don’t want your sensibilities offended.

However why no football referee stops and thinks that he needs to sort a game out rather than reacting to the next issue only takes any particular match into a swamp.

A reading of the riot act to both captains never seems to happen in football. It might not work but it could recover initiative. Likewise the old chestnut, diving. Again some players seem happy to extract the Miguel well beyond the Tropic of Capricorn so much so that it is becoming a proper Cancer. Hitting on Hispanic America again there I‘m afraid.

Why Neymar and a few others were not booked, especially following VAR is bizarre and at that point you lose sympathy with refs for their stupidity. FIFA clearly are taking steps to improve the game but this is still a wound and leaves the game open to ridicule.

Off the Pitch

I’m going to make it up to some of the Hispanic nations a bit here as well as challenge myself. Without doubt one can feel the fun and party of a tournament even down a Soviet sponsored cathode tube. This is territory I don’t like talking about as you are heading towards the corporate border where the suits count their money and happy, smiling fans who never lose a match are their homeless civilians to try and put a sinister slant on it.

As a fan two years ago in France whose team didn’t add much to the tournament on the pitch but certainly did off the pitch – guilty as charged your honour. Football following is generally about suffering but that ain’t media friendly.

This needn’t be an issue all the same even to miserable stone breakers like me as football following is very much about memorable times, events and matches and with increased global mobility and access this shouldn’t be denied. The lack of Russian violence either by authorities or fans of course was huge but the colour, joie de vivre and scale of all the fans was impressive.

Having pre or post match crack with other fans is a massive part of it all and the less familiar the better. Colombian and Peruvian fans led the way in this sphere. It really does seem sometimes that the first part of a World Cup is as much about this aspect and then second half knock – out phase is the serious on pitch stuff. Simplistic but it does no harm to keep looking at it.

Personally my highlight is agreement with Michael O’ Neill who correctly identified to all that the World Cup is still the daddy of them all and not the Champions’ League which is mainly about money and hype. By and large it looked like the greatest show on earth and I like that when it is my favourite sport.

Anyway, just a quick mental review of it on my part. Players of the tournament for me were in no particular order – Trippier, Mbappe, Pavard, Modric, Cheryshev.

Match of the Tournament – France 4- 3 Argentina.

And as we finish on Argentina, still my favourite World Cup.