RUSSIA 2018: highpoints, low points and talking points

BY: Akinpelu Yusuf

The Russian sky might have been blue before but this moment its blueness is a glorious blue – that which brightens the night making it as clear as the day. You know why? Les Blues of France are the champion of the world for the second time after 20 years of wait.

Didier Deschamps side aren’t champions by a stroke of luck. They are by every inch of deservedness: they won the much coveted trophy by seeing off every opponent that came their way in regulation time save for Denmark whom they drew after they had already sealed qualification as top of their group.

Didier Deschamps has now joined the duo of Mario Zagallo (as player in 1958 and 1962 and as manager in 1970) and Franz Beckenbauer (as player in 1974 and as coach in 1990) as the only people to have won the world cup title as player and coach. And his side, France, also became the sixth multiple winners of the tournament – Brazil, Germany, Italy, Argentina and Uruguay are the others.

Away from this, however, there would be more to talk about the tournament than just the records made by Deschamps and his squad. The world cup would be remembered for more things than the records. So, certainly, questions abound on what has been, what will be and will not after the tournament. Among many others, below are some that have a large stake.

Who joins Messi and Ronaldo for World Best Award?

The tournament brought to limelight the brilliance of some players. The record breaking young whizkid, Kylian Mbappe, had a brilliant campaign and was instrumental with those surging and mesmerizing runs on the right flank that delivered the trophy to the French. For all his excellence, he won the young player award, deservedly.

But for Modrić, Croatia could have lacked the mental character that took them as far as the final. The Real Madrid midfield maestro was a collection of flair, clear vision, diligence, discipline and fantastic coordination prowess. In fact, he covered the farthest distance in the entire competition.

Sticking within the confines of players who had a terrific tournament having had a successful session with their clubs, Ivan Rakitic and Antoine Griezmann are also in the class of their own. On one hand, Rakitic blended his midfield creativity with Modić’s brilliance to form one of the best midfields — if not the best combo — in the tournament. On the other hand, Griezmann was a lethal force in the French attacking line that raked 14 goals, making them the highest scoring side — second to only Belgium’s 16.

Clearly, this six, some have had a brilliant campaign both for club and country and they certainly have a stake in who would be crowned the World Best Player. However, as it stands, the award has been rotated between the two arguable “GOATs” (Greatest of all Times) — Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo — for the past one decade. Sadly, the duo had a shambolic outing in the mundial.

The poser here is who will join the duo to complete the top three shortlist? Would one of the two “GOATs” be left in cold and left out of the list for the first time in ten years? Who will even win it? Will Mo Salah also make the list from the backdoor? This and many more are some of the talking points the world cup has left unanswered.

Time to leave for Hazard and Mbappe?

If there is something Real Madrid won’t compromise, it is a quick and shrewd replacement for their talisman, Ronaldo. And if there ever is a time for a replacement, it is now that the dyad of Hazard and Mbappe are on the high.

Though the latter has stated he is “staying at PSG”.And, a statement released by the Spanish club last Wednesday has explained that there has been no “agreement between Real Madrid C.F. and PSG for the player Kylian Mbappe,” stating that the news in circulation “is completely false.”

“Real Madrid has not made any offer to PSG or the player and condemns the spreading of this type of information that has not been proven by the parties concerned.”

Hazard, though, is salivating for a European glory and a world best mention. The news of a possible departure from Chelsea has been shrouded around the Belgian captain. He further dropped a clearer hint when he told reporters after Belgium’s third place win over England:

“After six wonderful years at Chelsea it might be time to discover something different,”he had said. “Certainly, after this World Cup, I can decide if I want to stay or go, but Chelsea will have the final decision.” He completed saying, “You know my preferred destination.”

Is Hazard going to join the Galacticos? Amidst denial, will the Santiago Bernabeu landlord eventually scoop the service of the young sensation, Mbappe? Who will replace Ronaldo? Hazard? Mbappe? The duo? Or even Neymar? Again, before the close of the transfer season the cloud will be clear.

Breakage of the tripartite soccer force

The almost impervious dominance of the tripartite football forces — Brazil, Germany and Argentina — was broken for the first time in Russia. For the first time in the history of world cup, none of this trio reached the semi-final of the world cup. Among them alone, they have shared half of the entire 22 world cup trophies won since the 1930world cup staged Montevideo, Uruguay.

Germany was meshed in a 20 year old jinx of defending champion not qualifying from the group stage. They required a last gasp Kroos goal against Sweden to pick their only win of the tournament. Mexico defeated them and they had no answer to the questions asked by the high spirited, fast paced brand of football of the South Koreans.

Though Brazil had it somewhat good from start but they were torn apart when it mattered most by a Hazard-inspired Belgian side. Argentina snatched only a win against a jittery Super Eagles of Nigeria. They too lost scandalously to the eventual finalists. Were we to forget the outing of these three teams in this World Cup it is certainly not soon!

Discipline pays

For the first time in FIFA history, the FIFA fair play rule came to play, and Senegal was the victim. Africa was at the brink of having their sole candidate in the second round when Japan was handed the ticket by the virtue of fair play rule.As the rule stipulates that teams with same points, same goal difference, same number of goals scored and no better head-to-head permutation, the number of cards picked come to play. After the last game, Senegal had had six yellow cards as against Japan’s four. Eventually, Senegal rued their disciplinary slackness.

Croatia came to this World Cup with only two natural strikers: Juventus’ Mario Mandzukic and AC Milan’s Nikola Kalinic. For a fourth successive international fixture the latterwas left on the bench. So, when asked to come on in the 85th minute in Vatreni’s win against Nigeria, Kalinic complained of a back problem and refused to enter the fray — something which didn’t convince his manager, Zlatko Dalic. He was eventually sent packing from the tournament.

His exit meant Croatia would have just Mario Mandzukic left within their squad as an out-and-out No.9.The rest is history. The remaining 21-man squad have a silver medal to their name. Kalinic would have to wait another year before he could have a shot at getting that far. Again, discipline pays.

READ THIS ALSO: Croatian media hits back at English media after semi-final triumph

In the same circle of thought, Zlatan Ibrahimovich, mid-way through April, told Jimmy Kimmel Live! That he would be going to the World Cup,saying, “I’m going to the World Cup, yes. If I say more, they will hang me, so I have to be careful what I say.”

The Swede then boasted, “A World Cup without me wouldn’t be a World Cup.”

Lars Richt, Head of the Swedish FA, went on to later squash the talk. Richt explained: “I talked to Zlatan on Tuesday. He announced he did not change his mind about the national team — it is no.”

Though, Sweden did not go past the second round, they topped a group that had Germany and Mexico, pulling one of the biggest surprises of the world cup. Without Zlatan, World Cup was world cup for the Swedes!

On a final note, ….

Russia 2018 had a lot of talking points. With Qatar 2022 in view, this year’s edition will be the last 32-team tournament. Its successful use of VAR also proved the vindication to the use of technology in the round leather game. The gradual redundancy of tika taka going forward is also a lesson many teams must have learnt. As it stands now, shall we say Qatar 2022 here we come?

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