If someone had said Croatia would make it to the finals, before the World Cup began, no one would have believed him... But that’s just what happened. This unpredictability was the beauty of this year's World Cup; a World Cup, which saw the rise of the so-called smaller nations and the decline of the nations dubbed regularly as football giants. Not only that, Russia 2018 also saw the breaking of a few football curses and continuing of few others.
Some of the greatest moments, this time, came not from teams such as Brazil, Argentina and the like but from less-known underdogs. We witnessed great moments like World Cup debutants Iceland holding former champions Argentina to a draw, Japan making favourites Belgium work hard to go through in what looked to be a one-sided affair on paper, and Russia pulling off one upset after another in their historic tournament run during which they famously knocked out Spain in the Round of 16.
This World Cup also saw the introduction of VAR, which drew criticism and praise alike. Yes, some of the decisions were controversial, but overall it was a success.
A special performance, which deserves recognition, is that of Belgium because despite being two goals down in the Round of 16 against Japan, they somehow mustered enough courage to hold on to their nerves in a high-pressure environment, managed to recover from the deficit and then won the match in the final seconds. They beat heavyweights Brazil in the quarters before coming up short versus France in the semis.
The Golden Generation finally delivered something in the form of a third-placed finish, Belgium's best-ever world cup performance.
One must also applaud the stamina of the Croatian team, who played back-to-back three matches into extra-time (two of which even went to penalties) on their road to the final in Moscow.
CURSES AND CRASHING OUT
This World Cup also saw England breaking their 'penalty curse'. For the first time in the history of the tournament, the Three Lions managed to win a match on penalties when they beat Colombia in the Round of 16.
On the contrary, another curse, namely 'the curse of the defending champions', stuck for last time's champs Germany. Interestingly, this was the fourth time the winners of the last edition were knocked out in the first round itself.
EXPECTATION VS REALITY:
This was supposed to be Messi’s World Cup, Ronaldo’s World Cup, Neymar’s World Cup, but a group of extremely determined people had some other plans. Russia 2018 pitted the quality and experience of former champions against the will and sheer hard work of newcomers in what became a delectable showcase of David vs Goliath.
For a neutral viewer, this was probably the most entertaining World Cup in years. It's a rare but exciting thing to see small teams stepping up and performing better than what is usually expected of them in such big tournaments. The number of upsets that took place in this year's contest made sure the audiences were always invested to see what would happen next.
This World Cup was completely unpredictable for the eagle-eyed pundits and the avid fans both. In Russia, no one could write any team off and herein lies the true excitement of the beautiful game.
In the end, it was France, who took the iconic golden trophy for the second time in their history, and deservedly so because of the incredible consistency they showed throughout the tournament.Published 07 Aug 2018, 17:57 IST