World Cup 2018; Musings of a Football Fanatic in Words
The 2018 edition of the FIFA World Cup has come and gone, and I must say it has been an absolute pleasure watching it. Prior to this, I had France 98 and Germany 2006 as my top favs, but Russia 2018 has come and blown the competition for the award of "Otoiks' favorite World Cup Ever" open.
There are a couple of things I want to touch on about this World Cup, and seeing as I'm at an Airport with football on my mind, I may as well take you guys with me on this early reminiscing..
I have to say this World Cup was one of the worst ever in terms of publicity in the build up. Hardly any crazy commercials/adverts that played every hour, social media promo wasn't super engaging, club football seemed to be on everyone's mind, and to be honest I still don't even know the official 2018 World Cup song ( Shocking. Was there an official song? I'm not even sure ).
This was all building up to a dull tournament and a distraction to our beloved English Premier League, Italian Serie A, Spanish La Liga, etc..but boy did we get the shock of our lives once the games proper began. It started with the opening match...
Russia entered the tournament as one of the lowest ranked teams ( If not the lowest ), but began in some style..trashing an admittedly poor Saudi Arabia ( Did Oil prices go up after this game? The score had me worried for a minute ), and igniting the excitement of the whole nation of Russia. If this was supposed to do the trick and raise everybody's spirits, then it worked like magic...Let the games begin.
Ronaldo and Messi dominated talks of the group stage and there was some premature crowning of who the GOAT player is, and which one of them would lead their country to the Cup and be forever stamped as the Greatest Player of All Time...but well, It wasn't to be.
Cristiano started off with a bang, scoring a hattrick against Spain, including that last minute sublime freekick...Now that's how to start a tournament. He looked like a man on a deadly mission, like MI6 007 Agent James Bond ( The Daniel Craig version by the way ) with instructions to destroy every enemy agent and save M ( There's only one M version that counts: Judi Dench, and she is awesome), or even to save the Queen. .
Speaking of the Queen, when did we first hear that it was coming home? England started off well too, and it was the first gear shift of the car taking the famous World Cup trophy home..."It's coming home" "IT'S COMING HOME" they said...I'll get back to this.
Spain came in with the reputation as the tiki taka masters, but fired their coach 2 days or so to the tournament ( Who does this? Apparently Spain does ).
I had them as part of my tier one pre-tournament favorites alongside Brazil and Germany ( Confession time: I was so wrong. My tier 2 favorites were France and Argentina..So at least I got something right. Whoop ). Once I saw Spain VS Portugal, I knew neither was going to win the cup.
Spain became the masters of 1000 passes in games, only to not do anything with them. They also had an impostor as the Goalkeeper, a body double ( oh you thought that was David De Gea? Ha. You're so easily fooled my friend ). They got someone else as a Goalkeeper to look like Dave ( while he had summer off with his girlfriend off the coast of Spain ), and the least they could have done was get someone with a little talent. I feel disrespected ( We should all feel this way ).
Germany...The machine country. It is often said that "Football is a sport played by 22 men, and in the end, the Germans win" ( Who even said this? )..This time around, they started off with a banging loss vs. Mexico..Led by Chicharito, Lozano, and an 89 year old Rafa Marquez who came off the bench to break all sorts of records..and he did very well.
After this game, I think it would have been fair to say the German machine was well and truly....Kaput.
Wait a minute, did you think I was going to forget about the little genius? You know, the one and only Lionel Messi? He came into this tournament with heavy expectations, but left with an even heavier heart. Missed penalty vs. Iceland, Argentina trashed by Croatia, and only scoring in the last group game vs. The Supermodels of Nigeria ( This goal was actually my own choice for goal of the tournament. I don't want to go into the reasons why, but it was sublime. My 2nd goal of the tournament would be Vertonghen's header vs. Japan ).
Messi and Argentina only scraped through the first round, and it seemed like they didn't even know what they were doing ( bad coach anyone? ).
Brazil and Neymar looked compact and solid, with Coutinho excelling and Neymar trying to do too much and too unnecessary. I'm a huge Neymar Jr fan, HUGE, but I think he needs to get to that point where he's more focused on the things that actually matter.
He is not 19 anymore, and needs to cut out all the flicks and tricks that are not needed. Do you see how he played in the 2nd half of the game vs. Belgium when they were trying to level the score? More purpose, less unnecessary tricks..Almost like he knew that being focused was better..too little too late though.
As all the big guns were floundering one way or another, France and Belgium were lighting it up ( In totally different ways ). France was strong, compact, purposeful..Belgium was playing some sleek football , with their star players clicking.
A Kante and Pogba midfield started feeling like a cheat mode.. Kante the supreme ball winner and chaser, Pogba the flashy creator who played a more disciplined position and role..and made his team so solid. Pogba had a hand in all of Les Bleus goals in the first 2 games for France..the 3rd game he didnt play? A 0-0 draw.
Overall, the first round was a masterpiece. It could have been painted by Michelangelo himself..A classic that sat on a big canvass, right in the heart of St Peter's Basillica.
At the end of the tournament though, we would get to realize that the group stage was actually a painting by Raphael, hung in the Piazza Del Duomo, the main stuff was coming..Michelangelo..the KO rounds..
THE KO ROUNDS
It was time to separate the boys from the men, although it became a case of the boys sending the men home ( puberty? teenage rage? We would never know )...But Brazil, Argentina, Portugal, Spain, Germany ( they didn't even make it out of their group ) all fell by the way side.
In came Belgium, France, Croatia ( remember them? They trashed Argentina 3-0 and became the masters of extra time in the KO rounds. Led by the indomitable Luka Modric aka #LukaZooka. I formed this hashtag alongside one of my very good friends, and I think it's a worthy description of Modric ).
England continued to sing "It's coming home" and it worked like a charm..They were in the Semi Finals of the World Cup for the first time since 1990.
Special mention to Russia, Uruguay, Japan, Mexico, and Sweden. They gave their KO games a real fight, but came up just short. They should be proud of themselves.
England vs. Croatia was settled by a Mandzukic late winner, and the trophy took a detour...It wasn't going home ( hey, sometimes we don't go straight home after a night out..but after all is said and done, we go home in the morning ). So England, look at this as a pause, the World Cup may still come home next time..or not.
France vs. Belgium was super tight, and only settled by a header from a corner kick. Either of these teams could have made it, but in the end, the French won. ( New football saying anyone? " Football is a game played by 22 men, and in.... )
AND THEN THERE WERE 2...
France vs. Croatia. The Final of the ...( okay so I have to board my flight. Will continue in a jiffy )..
Here we go...The Final. The 2 best teams of the tournament. A Final is the game to show up and be counted, on a team level, and on an individual level. The French team delivered on both, and I felt so happy for them.
Pogba had a great game ( and a great tournament ). He was disciplined, intelligent with and without the ball, was diligent in the defensive phase, and played some nice offensive passes ( a couple to Mbappe, with the one before the 3rd goal standing out in particular ). Pogba capped off a brilliant tournament with a well taken goal, and he deserves every accolade possible.
And how about his partner in crime Kante? What a player, what a dynamo. Truly an elite defensive midfielder who does his job effortlessly ( Sounds weird considering his job requires a lot of effort, but this is the genius of Kante ).
At the back, Varane was a monster, superb tournament too from this young man who seems to have won everything...sky is the limit. Hugo Lloris ( Deadly strain of the Karius virus infection apart ) was awesome, Umtiti too.
The fullbacks Pavard and Hernandez have been revelations, Griezeman delivered some sumptuous balls all through the tournament, Matuidi is still running and chasing as we speak, and Kylian Mbappe had an absolutely amazing World Cup..at 19.
He may look 19 and sound 19, but that boy's brain is at least 32..We will be hearing about him for a long time, and he deservedly won the Best Young Player Award, succeeding Paul Pogba from the 2014 edition.
Special shout out to Luka Modric who won the Golden Ball, and who was exceptional all through, but unfortunate to lose at the end.
An article from me without some tactical analysis? Did you really think it was possible?
Overall, the World Cup has never been one for tactics per say. Teams do not get to train as much as club sides..What makes the World Cup exciting is the fact that, well for one it is the World Cup... The prestige, emotions, what it represents, and the fact that it is the absolute pinnacle of football.
My tactical summary of the tournament is that teams did what they thought was best for them, what they thought played to the strengths of their players. Compact, strong, hit on counter? Check. Tiki Taka 1000 passes? Check. Beautiful counter attacks? Check. Give the ball to Messi? Check. Give the ball to Musa? Check.
I'm a tactics man but I'd be lying if I said that was my concern in this World Cup. I was here to enjoy a spectacle, and I did. If any tactical system stood out, I'd have paid attention to it. 4-3-3, 3-4-3, and 4-2-3-1 were very prevalent. The French used a 4-2-3-1 on paper, but had Matuidi wisely check in to the middle so they'd not get outnumbered there againts 3 CM's..Worked like a charm.
TEAM OF THE TOURNAMENT
This was tough, really tough. But here is my Team of the 2018 FIFA World Cup:
Right back: Trippier
Left back: Strinic
Center Back 1: Varane
Center Back 2: Alderweireld
Midfield Trio: Kante, Pogba, Modric
Forwards: Mbappe and Griezeman ( I had Mandzukic in here as of 1 day before the Final ).
Lots of other contenders, and you can drop yours here or tweet at me ( @Otoiks ) if you like to.
In summary, I miss the World Cup already. It was a truly magnificent tournament, and one for the books. See you in Qatar. Will it come home finally? Will Neymar come through? Will Spain get to 6,000 passes? Will we cement our new football saying.."Football is a game played by ...."