The four weeks of Russia 2018 will surely go down as some of the most memorable in the World Cup’s glittering history, with plenty of talking points on a seemingly daily basis on top of the fantastic football that was served up – with France ultimately claiming the trophy for a second time.
Here are some of the highlights:
Russia as hosts
There were plenty of question marks over Russia’s suitability in hosting the World Cup for the first time, but they answered them all excellently. Fans were massively complementary over the welcome they received, with no reported violence, while transport seemed to run smoothly across the vast country.
This allowed all fans to concentrate on the pitch and they were rewarded with games that were generally of an extremely high standard. Home fans got behind their national team and they outperformed all expectations, finishing second in Group A before beating former world champions Spain on penalties in the last-16 and narrowly being eliminated by Croatia in the quarter-finals.
Russia 2018 will be remembered for its entertainment value and part of that was the sheer number of upsets that took place. Germany, champions in 2014, were eliminated in the group stage, finishing bottom after losing to Mexico and South Korea.
Argentina also struggled, relying heavily on Lionel Messi for inspiration and after stumbling through the group stage – which included a humbling 3-0 loss to Croatia – they were knocked out by eventual winners France 4-3.
Many of the tournament’s underdogs had a real go, which made for some great spectacles, with a special mention going to Iran and Morocco who gave Portugal and Spain a fright.
There were 169 goals scored across 64 matches, which gives an average of 2.64 per game – this is just short of the record amount of 171 in 1998 and 2014. There was just the one goalless draw – between France and Denmark – as teams generally tended to prefer attacking play; this resulted in several classic encounters.
In one of the most unexpected pre-tournament moves ever seen, Spain sacked v their opening match against Portugal after the 51-year-old agreed to take over at Real Madrid after the tournament without asking permission first.
Fernando Hierro was drafted in as interim coach for the tournament but, despite being among the tournament favourites, La Roja seldom showed their best form and crashed out in the last-16 against Russia.
The return of England as a force
Few expected England to have any real impact this summer after Gareth Southgate named a young and internationally inexperienced squad with future tournaments in mind. However, the Three Lions were one of the most exciting group stage sides and beat Panama 6-1. Crucially, they finally won a World Cup penalty shootout against Colombia and, in finishing fourth, recorded their joint-best finish since winning the trophy in 1966. Harry Kane claimed the Golden Boot despite struggling in the knockout stage and the country are on their way to becoming an international force once again.
The Video Assistant Referee debuted on the biggest stage at the 2018 World Cup and was available to be used to correct obvious mistakes that has initially been missed by the on-field referee. Statistically, decision-making accuracy has improved and red cards have sharply reduced, but it has not been without controversy with the final itself seeing an unclear penalty given to France with the score at 1-1. Further fine-tuning is likely to be required before VAR is rolled out in all the major leagues.