Thursday,15 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1402, (19 - 25 July 2018)
Thursday,15 November, 2018
Issue 1402, (19 - 25 July 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Memories of Russia

When France’s Hugo Lloris lifted the World Cup trophy, the fireworks lighting up Luzhniki Stadium declared an impressive end to Russia 2018 while launching a new, unique journey to Qatar 2022, writes Inas Mazhar

Croatia’s Modric during celebrations (photo: Reuters)
Croatia’s Modric during celebrations (photo: Reuters)

Russia 2018 was indeed a great tournament for the 32 participating nations and the sport’s football fans and lovers all over the world. The six-week-long thrilling and spectacular sports event saw many moments of victories and defeats which brought tears and disappointment. But, in the end, the beautiful game won as the world enjoyed tough, exciting and exhilarating competition.

Actually, this year’s edition of the World Cup was delightful from beginning to end. The 21st edition produced numerous unforgettable moments that will endure and sustain in the collective memory of those who love the beautiful game. From Kaliningrad to Ekaterinburg, from Saint Petersburg to Sochi, there were smiles and celebrations aplenty as millions came together to enjoy what was a true festival of football. There were goals abundant: the first and only goalless draw at Russia 2018 came after 36 matches, which was the latest for a single edition in history.

While the host nation’s organisers worked so hard to produce a remarkably successful competition and ensure that all stakeholders taking part – teams, officials and visitors – were happy and well served, Qatar, the next host nation has been observing from close range.

During the weeks of the competition, 180 professionals appointed by Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC) have been observing the 2018 FIFA World Cup operation in the 11 host cities. In addition, more than 25,000 football fans visited the exhibits managed by the SC in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, a taste of the atmosphere they can expect in 2022.

The next four years were also discussed in a meeting held on Friday, before the play-off match for the third place, between FIFA President Gianni Infantino and the managing director of the SC Sheikh Mohamed bin Hamad Al-Thani.

“We already work very closely with Qatar 2022, and the experience here in Russia made the bonds even stronger. The shadowing programme provided a fantastic opportunity to share knowledge and exchange experience,” said Infantino. “Qatar’s public interactions in Moscow and Saint Petersburg have ignited excitement among the global football community and the reaction has been fantastic, with fans and the general public very keen to engage with Qatari culture and heritage. The activities showcase the fact that Qatar will host a unique tournament – one that is compact, welcoming to all and family-friendly.”

The Russians and the Qataris were happy people when the 21st edition of the event came to an end. The Russians were thrilled as the world sang the praises of a great and superb world-class event. The Qataris, on the other hand, were excited that the world’s focus of attention will now move to their small Gulf country with so much anticipation for the 2022 host nation and what it is capable of showing the world in four years’ time.

It was the French people who were the happiest in the world as they were crowned champions for the second time in history and for the first since they were hosts in 1998, after defeating Croatia 4-2 in what will go down as one of the most thrilling World Cup finals ever. Nineteen-year-old Kylian Mbappe became the second teenager in history to score in a World Cup final, following in the footsteps of Pele who did so as a 17-year-old in 1958. Goals and performances from midfielder Paul Pogba and forward Antoine Griezmann also proved vital in helping Les Bleus become world champions once more.

The tournament saw significant and defining moments throughout the whole period; the Kazan Arena witnessed the elimination of multiple World Cup heavyweights. Holders Germany, for example, were defeated 2-0 by South Korea and failed to progress from the group stage for the first time in the country’s proud World Cup history. The next giant to fall was Lionel Messi’s Argentina in the Round of 16. In one of the most thrilling matches of the tournament, France – led by the exhilarating youngster Mbappe – saw off La Albiceleste 4-3. Brazil, Argentina’s long-time South American rivals, were next, as Neymar and co were beaten by an impressive Belgium side in the quarter-finals.

And, there were quite some surprise packages for the participants as some nations scaled new heights at Russia 2018. The Red Devils of Belgium had their best-ever World Cup, finishing third, eclipsing their fourth-place finish in 1986. Roberto Martinez’s side, who finished as the top scoring team (16), were one of three sides – the others being Uruguay and Croatia – who emerged from the group stage with maximum points. Russia’s quarter-final finish was their first at that stage since the former Soviet Union did it in 1970. Sweden reached the last eight for the first time since USA 1994, while Croatia contested the country’s first ever World Cup final.

Interestingly, fans and hosts created a carnival atmosphere according to FIFA’s official Website. Throughout the various FIFA Fan Fest, the streets of all the host cities and beyond and of course in the stadiums themselves, the fans made this a World Cup to treasure. Supporters came with their chants, their colours and above all, a relentless support for their teams, and they were met in turn by friendly and welcoming locals.

Russia 2018 was also a venue for the breakout of some stars who were unfamiliar to football fans before, in particular Mbappe, but after watching France they certainly knew all about him by the time the final whistle sounded. The 19-year-old starred with his electrifying pace, skill and finishing ability in Les Bleus’ epic 4-3 comeback win against Argentina before becoming the second teenager to score in World Cup final history in France’s 4-2 win over Croatia. Denis Cheryshev also had a tournament few will ever forget. The Russia star bagged a brace in the hosts’ 5-0 opening match win over Saudi Arabia, put in two Man of the Match performances and scored a brilliant goal in their quarter-final defeat at the hands of the tournament’s runners-up. Colombia’s 23-year-old defender Yerry Mina was crucial in their run to the Round of 16, showcasing his aerial prowess to score in three consecutive matches for Los Cafeteros, a feat any forward would be content with, let alone a centre-back.

The 45-day event also saw some great players bidding farewell to the pitch as the tournament brought an end to their World Cup stories. Javier Mascherano played his 20th and final World Cup match for Argentina, Japan’s Keisuke Honda his 11th and last game for the Samurai Blue. Scorer of the winning goal in the 2010 final, Andres Iniesta’s last outing in a Spain jersey was in La Roja’s penalty shootout defeat by the hosts in the Round of 16. As for Mexico stalwart Rafael Marquez, he became just the third player to play in five World Cups.

VAR made its bow in this year’s edition of the World Cup. While it is said that Russia 2018 was historic for many reasons, in the field of football technology it was the dawn of a new era with the introduction and use of the Video Assistant Referee. History was made in France’s 2-1 win over Australia, when Griezmann scored the first penalty kick resulting from a VAR review.

Many matches went into injury time and surprisingly, 19 goals were scored in second-half injury time at Russia 2018, setting a new World Cup record. Neymar also scored the latest ever goal at a World Cup in regular time (90’+7’) when he doubled Brazil’s lead in their 2-0 win over Costa Rica.

Awards:

LUKA Modric (CRO) was confirmed the best player at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia after the official awards were announced. The Croatian midfielder won the adidas Golden Ball which is awarded to the best player by the FIFA Technical Study Group (TSG). Eden Hazard (BEL) and Antoine Griezmann (FRA) came second and third, respectively.

The adidas Golden Boot was won by Harry Kane (ENG), with six goals. Antoine Griezmann (FRA) collected the Silver Boot and Romelu Lukaku (BEL) the bronze. Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois (BEL) collected the adidas Golden Glove while Spain took the FIFA Fair Play Trophy. The FIFA Young Player Award goes to Kylian Mbappe (FRA).

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