Melwin Joy
AUTHOR

Melwin Joy

All stories by: Melwin Joy
FIFA World Cup 2018

France – the champions of the world once again. Twenty years after Didier Deschamps lifted the trophy with the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Patrick Viera and Thierry Henry by his side, he did so again, this time with the rest of his coaching staff beside him. He was not wearing the French blue but a three-piece suit that got drenched in the rain in Moscow. He was the first French captain to lead his team to a World Cup title in 1998 and on final day he became the third man to win the title as captain and manager with the same team.

The 2018 World Cup was where the strength on paper was diminished to a useless statistic. Germany ended the first round as wooden spooners of their group, while Spain, Argentina and Brazil fell in the knockouts. France themselves ensured the ouster of Belgium. Out of all the teams that were deemed favourites before the World Cup started, Les Bleus were the only side that looked on course to proving that tag right.

France were put ahead in the 18th minute of the match by an own goal from none other than Mario Mandzukic. He had the dubious honour of becoming the first man to score an own goal in a World Cup final but he would get to make amends later in the match. Exactly 10 minutes later, Ivan Perisic equalised for Croatia after a deft set-piece routine triggered by the unconquerable Luka Modric.

The drama was not to end there. Just over five minutes before half-time, then referee, with assistance from VAR gave France a penalty kick due to an apparent handball by Perisic. The validity of that decision was debatable – replays indicated that Perisic did not move his hands towards the ball – but Antoine Griezmann was in no doubt as to what he wanted to do with it. He calmly rolled the ball past Danijel Subasic into the bottom left-hand corner and France was in the lead at halftime. Therein lay record number 2: France became the first team to go into halftime of a World Cup final in the lead.

The second half started with Croatia all over the French defence. Deschamps’ men weathered that storm and it was not too long before they extended their lead Paul Pogba sent in a thunderous strike from the edge of the box and extended France’s lead to 3-1.

Minutes later, Kylian Mbappe scored a similar goal, from outside the box and that marked the third record of the day – Mbappe became the first teenager to score a goal in the World Cup final since the great Pele. Croatian shoulders slumped at that point but this match was not done yet.

France goalkeeper and Captain Hugo Lloris has built a reputation of having a sturdy pair of hands and a calm head to go with them in the years in which he has been Tottenham Hotspur and France’s no. 1 goalkeeper but he chose a very wrong time to make an uncharacteristic blunder. He literally put the ball into the path of Mandzukic who tapped it in to goal. Record no. 4 fell with that goal: Mandzukic became the first player since Netherlands’ Ernie Brandts in 1978 to score for his team and an own goal in the same game.

All those second-half goals were scored within the space of nine minutes and after that, France held on. They kept making attacking moves whenever they could and eventually, the Croatian players’ body language said that they knew it was now a lost cause. The final whistle came and tears flowed on both camps, albeit for opposite reasons.

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From June to July, students across the globe escaped the realities of their summer jobs and classes to passionately support their favourite national teams at the 2018 FIFA world cup.

With massive upsets, goals that took our breaths away, and more penalty kick shootouts than we could handle, this past World Cup will surely be remembered as one of the best in the tournament’s celebrated history.

Triumph of France

One by one, the world’s greatest soccer powers – Germany, Spain, Argentina and Brazil – were knocked out until the pool of eligible world cup winners was narrowed down to France and Croatia, who proved to be two of the most exciting teams in the tournament.

Led by star striker Antoine Griezmann and lightning-fast 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe, Les Bleus came into the finals in dominant fashion, conceding just one loss throughout the tournament.

Surprise finalist Croatia – led by eventual Golden Ball winner Luka Modric and dynamic striker Mario Mandzukic – were fresh off three come-from-behind victories in the knockout stages, two coming by way of penalty kicks.

Although Croatia managed to tie the score 1-1 in the 28th minute, they were ultimately unable to work their comeback magic for a fourth straight match. The perfectly executed French counterattack resulted in their winning 4-2.

If their play in the tournament was any indication, France was as worthy a world cup winner as any. They recorded four clean sheets in seven total games and had the highest shot-conversion rate of all participating teams.

France’s win over Croatia marked their second world cup victory. With a young core of Mbappe, Paul Pogba and Samuel Umtiti, France fans may not need to wait much longer to see a repeat performance.

Debut of VAR

Coming off the heels of goal line technology at the 2014 World Cup, this year’s event introduced the Virtual Assistant Referee (VAR) to aid in a referee’s often difficult decision-making.

Using this year’s World Cup as testing grounds, VAR reviews a head referee’s decisions through video footage and headset communication.  It was used in numerous controversial in-game situations to accurately catch and call handballs, penalty kicks, and dives.

According to FIFA, 99% of the 335 VAR-reviewed incidents in the world cup’s group stages were successful. The current correct call rate for referees hovers at 95%.

Although rendering near perfect calls, critics of VAR claimed it led to lengthy stoppages in games and placed heaps of pressure on referees to go back on their word and overturn calls.

Technical analysis of outcome

Following the exciting 64 matches of the 2018 FIFA World Cup™, FIFA has invited the head coaches and technical directors of all 211 member associations, as well as the technical experts of all six confederations, to the FIFA Football Conference to be held on 23 September 2018 in London, the birthplace of the modern game.

The purpose of the conference is to analyse FIFA’s flagship competition from a technical and tactical point of view, identify trends and compare the main findings with previous editions of the FIFA World Cup based on the report by FIFA’s Technical Study Group (TSG), which is due to be presented at the conference. The event will also comprise discussions about the implementation of VAR and its impact on the game.

“The 2018 FIFA World Cup was a huge success on and off the pitch. Through this conference, we aim to present and discuss the main findings identified on the pitch by our experts while listening to the feedback from our member associations. The World Cup should be seen as a learning platform that could have a positive impact on football’s technical development around the world. By having a single conference, we can engage with all our member associations at once and trigger a rich and diverse football dialogue,” says FIFA Deputy Secretary General (Football) Zvonimir Boban.

World Cup 2026

The World Cup is coming to Canada.

Collective bids between Canada, the United States and Mexico have edged out Morocco at the 68th FIFA Congress in Moscow to host the 2026 World Cup. It marks the first time the tournament will be hosted on Canadian soil.

Although entered as a combined bid, the US will host a majority of the matches (60), while Canada and Mexico have been allotted 10 games each. Toronto, Edmonton and Montreal will host domestic matches.

Canada has not made an appearance at the World Cup since 1986 but, as hosts, will earn an automatic place in the tournament. Only eight years away, Canada will hope to develop a skilled and competitive team that can proudly represent the nation at home.

If you think you’ve missed this year’s sports fiesta it’s your chance to make up for it and start planning for the next one.

Melwin Joy
AUTHOR

Melwin Joy

All stories by: Melwin Joy