France are champions of the world after a largely understated yet efficient campaign, while Croatia illuminated the tournament with their skill and never-say-die attitude. The final, which streamed live on SuperSport on DStv Now, illustrated all that was good about this year’s tournament.
France’s 4-2 win over Croatia in the final was the highest-scoring final since 1966, when England beat West Germany by the same scoreline. A total of 169 goals were scored across the 2018 tournament’s 64 matches – the third highest in World Cup history.
Own goals win the golden boot
Harry Kane may have bagged six goals, but it is own goals that topped the scoring charts with 12. One of these came from the hapless Mario Mandzukic who headed the ball into his own net against France, becoming the first player in history to score an OG in a World Cup final.
VAR: A mixed success
Video assisted referees were introduced for the first time at the 2018 World Cup, and a VAR decision was the main talking point of the final. Referee Nestor Pitan deemed via VAR that Ivan Perisic had handled in the box to award France a penalty. Pundits are divided on the validity of the call as it didn’t seem intentional and Perisic didn’t stop a key goal-scoring opportunity.
Underdogs make an impact
Croatia’s story and ability to rise from the dead in knockout matches is already firmly etched into World Cup lore. But they weren’t the only underdogs to leave an impression. Host nation Russia surpassed expectations by reaching the last eight, while the unfancied Japanese team made it into the second round.
Match of the tournament
It was indeed Japan who played their part in an epic against Belgium in the last 16. Genki Haraguchi and Takashi Inui’s sublime goals put Japan two goals to the good after 52 minutes against the Belgians. But Belgium fought back gamely to steal a dramatic win with the last kick of the game through Nacer Chadli’s goal. The Japanese players then made headlines again for cleaning their change room and leaving a thank you note for their Russian hosts. Other standout matches include France’s 4-3 win over Argentina and, of course, the World Cup final.
Picking out the stars
Luka Modric’s role in Croatia’s success is well documented, while Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann both scored in the final to underscore their status as star players. Other notable performances came from Leicester City Harry Maguire, who was one of the defenders of the tournament, as was Croatia’s Domagoj Vida who took no prisoners throughout. An honourable mention too for Aleksandr Golovin, who was Russia’s playmaking force.
Just how good are France?
Didier Deschamps became the third man in history to win the World Cup as a player and manager. His side cut loose in the 2018 final but tended to play more conservatively than their talent suggested they could. But with an average age of just 26, the second most youthful in the tournament, this is a team that could go on to dominate European and world football for an extended period. By comparison, the 1998 World Cup winning squad of which Deschamps was a key player had an average age of 27 and went on to win Euro 2000, while six of the side from 1998 also helped Les Bleus to the 2006 World Cup final.
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