169 goals, 12 own goals (a record), nine goals in the 90th minute or later (another record), one solitary goalless game, 219 yellow cards and 22 penalties awarded (taking the record tally to three now); Russia 2018 was truly something special.
The 21st FIFA World Cup may not have had wall-to-wall quality nor a stand-out classic team but whatever the month-long tournament lacked, it certainly made up for with its scintillating spectacle. It was stirring, it was spectacular, it was a World Cup of so many sensational moments.
World Cups heighten emotions like no other sporting event. They encapsulate the good, the bad, the ugly and the everything in between of the human psyche. During the tournament, the entire planet comes to a standstill, caught up in the battle between 22 men as they chase a ball around a field. The raw passion, pride and intensity that is invoked is incredibly powerful. If these feelings had seemed to be subsiding following several low-key offerings in a row, then Russia restored some magic to the World Cup cauldron.
This was no Mexico 1970 with its Brazil side full to the brim of individual legends that played the game in a way few ever have, or ever will. This was also no Mexico 1986 where Maradona’s brilliance seized the day and refused to let it go.
Russia 2018, instead, was a tournament for the collective. The collective unit, organised in defence and committed, together as one, in attack. France, worthy winners of which there can be no doubt, led the way in this regard but Croatia, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, Russia themselves, Japan and, yes, England all followed suit with similar feats of solidarity. The collective of the tournament organisers was also highly impressive, running a supremely slick show without any fuss.
In many ways Sunday’s final was a microcosm of the entire tournament. VAR controversy, a goalkeeping howler, an own goal, pitch invaders and teenage brilliance. Instead of being tense and nervy, the showpiece spectacle was the highest scoring since 1958 and the first to have more than two goals in two decades. In a tournament where every team scored on at least two occasions, there seemed rarely a dull moment.
The purists may not have been thrilled at some dodgy VAR decisions, at some less than impressive defending from the smallest nations, at some less than impressive all-round play from various footballing giants, but, for most, the entertainment more than made up for this.
There were memorable moments galore. Kylian Mbappe’s rampant run against Argentina, the last gasp comeback win for Belgium against Japan, England (finally) winning on penalties at a World Cup, Ronaldo’s hat-trick, Germany’s exit, Maradona doing literally anything. Russia 2018 had it all.
Despite being a propaganda exercise existing purely within ‘World Cup-ville’, the 2018 edition provided an escape. Football felt like it truly reconnected with the masses, June blurring into July as football made time feel like a long holiday. Football came back home for people all over the world.