If you haven’t followed the 2018 FIFA World Cup closely, then you don’t know what you are missing. The biggest sporting extravaganza on the planet is witnessing its greatest ever tournament and we have our reasons to back it up.
Right from the first game of the tournament, there have been enough incidents to send the fans into a state of frenzy.
After each passing game, the fans are stuck in a conundrum as they are unable to decide which game has been the most exciting, which incident was the most shocking, which goal was more awe-inspiring or which result was unexpected.
Twenty four teams have been eliminated and just eight remain. The next eight games promise to be equally thrilling and let’s hope that is the case. On that note, here are five reasons why this is the best World Cup ever.
#5 Video Assistant Referee
Before the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the record for most penalties at a World Cup was 18 from the 1990, 1998 and 2002 editions of the World Cups. That record was smashed in the group stage of the ongoing World Cup.
After the first knockout stage, 28 penalties have been awarded by the referees of which 10 were awarded after VAR review! The introduction of the VAR has resulted in players being penalised for shirt pulling and grappling inside the box which used to go unnoticed.
The plethora of penalties have been decisive in many games and even turned the game or even a group around its head.
VAR has also been used to revoke penalties awarded by the referee. During the game between Brazil and Costa Rica, the former was awarded a penalty for an alleged foul on Neymar but the referee rescinded the penalty after VAR review. A similar incident happened in the Round of 16 game between Switzerland and Sweden when VAR review showed that the foul was outside the box.
The technology has also been used to review potential red card incidents and was notably used against Cristiano Ronaldo in a game against Iran and against Mathias Jorgensen of Denmark against Croatia.
Another area where this was used was to review offside decisions and was notably used to review Iago Aspas’ goal against Morocco which sent them top of their group.
Pierluigi Collina, the famous former referee, currently works as a member of the UEFA referees committee and the Italian has hailed the use of VAR.
According to Collina, in the 48 group stage games, 335 incidents were checked by VAR which is nearly seven per game. There were 14 on field reviews made by referees and three reviews were made by VAR team on factual decisions like offside calls.
The referees made 95% of their calls correctly and VAR has helped improve that to 99.3%.
“We have always said VAR doesn’t mean perfection – there could still be the wrong interpretation or a mistake – but I think you would agree 99.3% is very close to perfection,” said Collina.
#4 Late goals and drama
In the 56 games played so far, 146 goals have been scored by all teams combined and all 32 teams have scored at least one goal.
Out of the 146 goals, 23 goals were scored in the 90th minute or in the added time of the second half. That’s 15.75% of the total number of goals scored.
Out of these 23 goals, 9 goals were the winning goals in their respective games, four goals levelled the score and ten goals didn’t make any difference to the outcome of the game.
The winning goals were scored by Salem Al-Dawsari against Egypt, an own goal by Aziz Bouhaddouz against Iran, Ivan Perišić against Iceland, Philippe Coutinho against Costa Rica, Xherdan Shaqiri against Serbia, Toni Kroos against Sweden, Kim Young-gwon against Germany, Harry Kane against Tunisia and Nacer Chadli against Japan.
Some of these goals changed the final standings in their groups and even affected qualification. Chadli’s goal against Japan was the most recent late winner netted in the World Cup and it knocked Japan out after the Asian side led 2-0 in the second half of their Round of 16 game. This game was arguably the best game of the World Cup.
There have been goals late in many games after the 80th minute which changed the complexion of the game. Notably, Marcos Rojo scored a goal in the 86th minute against Nigeria and without that goal, Nigeria would have progressed to the next round in place of Argentina.
During the group stage, there was drama till the final whistle in Group B, Group D, Group F and Group H as a goal for any team playing in the final group stage game would have turned the table on its head.
In fact, Group G cut it so close that Japan progressed at the expense of Senegal because they picked up fewer yellow cards than the African side.
Coming into the World Cup; Germany, France, Brazil and Spain were the favourites to win the tournament. Teams like Portugal, Argentina, Belgium and England also had an outside chance.
However, the World Cup has packed surprise after surprise for the fans.
Germany were knocked out in the group stage after losing to Sweden and South Korea. They became the fourth successive European team to win the World Cup and get knocked out in the group stage of the subsequent World Cup.
Spain’s World Cup drama started a day before the tournament kicked-off when they sacked their manager Julen Lopetegui. The 2010 Champions struggled their way out of the group before getting knocked out by hosts Russia in the first knockout stage. This was the 9th time Spain lost to a host nation at a major international tournament.
France and Brazil were given a couple of scares and tough matches, but they have made it to the quarterfinals.
Portugal had the chance to top their group but were held by Iran in their final group stage game and as a result, got knocked out by Uruguay in the Round of 16.
Argentina were left embarrassed in the group stage after being held to a draw by Iceland before they were humbled by Croatia. They scraped their way into the knockout stage only to be dismantled by a strong France side.
Belgium topped their group and played Japan in the knockout stage and were on the verge of getting knocked out after Japan took a shocking 2-0 lead. However, they clawed their way back to win 3-2.
The World Cup proved to be unpredictable beyond imagination but the biggest shock was when England won on penalties against Colombia. The three Lions never won a penalty shootout in their World Cup history but this young side kept their nerves and made history.
#2 The route to the final
The shocking results of the group stage also led to an interesting scenario in the knockout stage.
On one side of the draw were Uruguay, Portugal, France, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Belgium and Japan. These teams have won a total of 10 World Cups between them. On the other side of the draw were Spain, Russia, Croatia, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Colombia and England. These teams have won a total of two World Cups between them.
In the quarter-final stage, in the first side of the draw are Uruguay, France, Brazil and Belgium who have won a total of eight World Cups between them. The other side has Russia, Croatia, Sweden and England; and Between them, they have one title which was won by England in 1966!
This means that one of Croatia, Russia, Sweden or England will play this year’s final!
England haven’t gone past the quarterfinal stage after winning the World Cup in 1966, Sweden’s best finish was 2nd in 1958 after which they finished 3rd in 1994. Croatia best result was 3rd in 1998 and this team has a chance of bettering that result. As for the hosts, their best finish was fourth in 1966 when they were still the USSR.
Four teams who were surely not among the favourites to reach the final have an amazing opportunity to play one of France, Uruguay, Brazil or Belgium in the final on 15 July.
#1 Close encounters
This World Cup has been full of drama and surprises and one major reason behind that is because the matches have been closely fought.
After 56 games, 14 games have ended with the scoreline of 1-0 and only one game was in the knockout stage. In addition, ten games ended with a scoreline of 2-1 of which again only one was in the knockout stage.
In total there were 26 games in which the winning team won by a single goal difference and there were only two games in which the winning team scored more than two goals. Both those games were in the knockout stages - France’s 4-3 win over Argentina and Belgium’s 3-2 win over Japan.
There were 11 games that ended in a draw and six of those were 1-1 draws and there has only been one 0-0 draw. In fact, this World Cup saw a record of 37 consecutive games before a goalless draw.
If this World Cup has taught us anything, it is to not take any team lightly.