From the highs of France lifting their second World Cup title after a gap of 20 years to the lows of defending champions Germany being eliminated in the group stage itself for the first time since 1938, this has certainly been the World Cup of upsets as for the first time in the tournament’s history there was no Brazil, Argentina or Germany in the semi-finals.
On the individual front, a 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe made a name for himself with his magical speed and commendable breakthrough techniques. On the other hand, Neymar Jr, regarded as one of the better footballers of this generation, remained the favorite of the meme makers on social media due to his on-field antics.
Relive the best and the worst moments from the World Cup here:
While France won their second World Cup after a gap of two decades thanks to its exceptional talent and ruthless efficiency, it is the runners-up Croatian team that won the hearts of many with their performance throughout the tournament. Croatia is a country of just 4.2 million people and it became the smallest nation after Uruguay in 1950 to reach a World Cup final.
Russia was the lowest ranked side at 70 among all countries entering the tournament. So, no one expected much from the Russian squad. But Russia shocked the world by entering the quarter-finals with a stunning win over 2010 champions Spain in the round of 16.
Uruguay, Croatia and Belgium made the most out of their group matches, finishing with the maximum of nine points, with Uruguay not conceding a single goal in the group stage of the tournament. While Belgium finished third, their best ever showing in a World Cup, Uruguay reached the quarterfinals. It is interesting to note that Uruguay has just 3.4 million people while Belgium’s population is only 11.5 million. Even the English side which finished fourth equalled their best ever showing at the World Cup since 1990.
One of the best things to have happened at this World Cup is that no major racist incidents were reported among players and fans. Nor were there any incidents of hooliganism or violence. There were concerns initially in the run-up that the World Cup could be tarnished by racism and hooliganism in a country notorious for such things. In the end, Russia proved to be an extremely friendly host.
The African nations of Senegal and Nigeria, and Asian football powers of Japan, South Korea and Iran played some good football giving a tough fight to some of the superior sides. In fact, Nigeria and Senegal were just minutes away from qualifying to the round of 16. Although only Japan managed to get out of the group stage among Asian and African countries, the performance of these sides and the series of upsets at the World Cup clearly indicated that the standard of world football is on the rise.
Despite the heart-breaking loss against Belgium in the round of 16, Japanese fans set a precedent for fans across the world by cleaning the stadium stands after the match. Not only that, the players even cleaned their dressing room and left a ‘Thank You’ note written in Russian before leaving the country. Even Senegalese supporters cleaned up the stadium after their country’s game against Poland, which they won 2-1.
The curse of champion struck at this World Cup as well. Defending champions Germany finished at bottom of their group with just three points from three games and were eventually eliminated in the group stage itself for the first time since 1938. Germany’s loss against Mexico and South Korea was highly unexpected. Their downfall continued the recent trend of winners becoming losers, as the Germans became the third consecutive title holder to fall in the group stage after Italy in 2010 and Spain in 2014.
With Argentina and Portugal losing in the second round, the dream quarterfinal of Messi versus Ronaldo could not take place. It also meant the World Cup career of the two of the greatest players of this generation - Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo - will end with the World Cup trophy missing from their cupboard. It looks highly unlikely that Messi, 31, and Ronaldo, 33, will play in the next edition of FIFA World Cup four years later.
It was unfortunate that Senegal exited the World Cup on the basis of fair play points after Senegal and Japan were tied with four points in their group after their three games. They were tied in terms of goal difference too. Since Senegal accrued two more yellow cards than Japan, they were eliminated.
Most of the controversy at this World Cup was related to the video assistant referee (VAR). The referees, despite the chance to see replays in a World Cup for the first time, still managed to make wrong decisions. A technology that was used for the first time in a major tournament for the benefit of players made headlines mostly for wrong reasons instead of the right ones.
Neymar may be a Brazilian superstar but it’s his non-footballing antics that really made headlines at this World Cup. The 26-year-old came under intense criticism for his diving and play-acting every time he was touched by a rival player. Even fans who appreciate his unquestionable brilliance were turned off by his antics and demanded that he stopped with the fits, the complaining, the arguing and the faking.
What a shame!
During the World Cup, there were lots of complaints from fans, reporters and officials regarding inappropriate behaviour like men groping and kissing numerous women reporters, sometimes during live broadcasts. Clips have gone viral online of fans from various countries singing obscene songs to female visitors and locals and of sexist comments being made.