The dust has settled on the 2018 World Cup and it’s time for reflection. With the emotion taken away, an objective look reveals some interesting thoughts.
France, the World Cup winners, showed mental fortitude and a disciplined approach to sacrifice individual skills for the benefit of the team. Deschamps must be given huge credit for bringing together a group of talented individuals and turning them into a hard-working team. Along the way they had to overcome two South American heavyweights, Argentina and Uruguay, as well as the promising young Belgium team. France too, have a young squad, more than capable of repeating in four years time.Croatia were beaten finalists, but no doubt the surprise packets of this competition, particularly as they didn’t even get out of the group stages of the previous World Cup. When you consider Germany, Brazil and Spain were amongst the pre-tournament favourites, yet Croatia outplayed, outlasted and had more heart than the big boys. Their players were older and in their prime, and overcame expectations of tiredness to show their competitive abilities.
It was definitely a tournament where counter-stacking proved more effective. None of the top four teams possession-wise made it past the last 16, beaten by a more compact style looking to use speed in a more direct approach. There was also a staggering number of late goals, 13 in time added-on alone, whilst another 16 came in the last four minutes of normal time. Tired legs? Or a bigger heart?
It was also a tournament where the collective outshone the individual. Neither Messi, nor Ronaldo, inspired. Mbappe may have become the youngest player to score in a World Cup Final since Pele, but even his blistering speed wasn’t a consistent threat. Greismann also only provided flashes of his undoubted skill, whilst Neymar, the most prodigiously talented of them all, spent more time floundering on the grass than affecting play. Instead of the big name stars, it was the hard working Kante and Modric who showed the way with their simplistic style of play, bringing others into the game.
We also continued to see an evening-out of talent, with lower ranked teams proving solid defensively. Japan for one were competitive and displayed a skill level that enabled good performances against Senegal and Columbia, and could have shocked against the highly rated Belgium who went on to finish third. Another young team, England, showed mental strength to overcome their penalty hoodoo to battle their way to fourth spot. They had some unexpected stars, such as Keiran Trippier, and have finally given English supporters hope for the future.
There was an average of 2.64 goals per match, quite high considering the stakes, with Belgium leading the way on 16 goals. Interestingly it was France, blessed with all sorts of attacking talent, that kept the most clean sheets (four).
In terms of influence, Luka Modric was one standout with 3 Man of the Match awards, although he was matched in that regard by Antoine Griezmann, Eden Hazard and Harry Kane.
As for home grown talent, 30 teams nominated at least one player from their domestic league, whilst only England exclusively fielded players from it’s own domestic league.
France, Belgium, Croatia and England were all worthy semi finalists and helped make this spectacle one of the best ever.