Russia 2018 World Cup delivered on most fronts

By Mark Namanya in Moscow

Sometimes, the best thing for a major tournament like the Fifa World Cup is a wave of negativity prior to the competition.
The South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014 editions were met with deep pessimism from sections of the Western media but when the tournaments were staged and the trophy handed over, there were few complaints from the very people who predicted doom and gloom.
Russia was not any different. Diplomatic tension between Russia and several major capitals in the West threatened to overshadow the 32 soccer teams preparing for the World Cup and at times, it looked like the 21st edition of the legendary competition was going to etch itself in history as the poorest tournaments ever.
After all there was to be no orange flair of the Dutch or the blue grit of the Azzurris after Netherlands and Italy both missed out on qualification last year.
What the Russia 2018 Local Organising Committee did was to receive all the negativity reports, internalise, deliberate extensively over them before delivering what has gone down as the best tournament of all time.
It helped that the expectations were so low going into the World Cup that by the time football tourists flew out of the country, they left with pleasant memories of a wonderful edition.
Anyone of France vs Argentina (4-3), France vs Croatia (4-2), Belgium vs Japan (3-2), Spain vs Portugal (3-3), Belgium vs Brazil (2-1) and Russia vs Croatia (2-2 Croatia won via penalties) was a genuine contender for the match of the tournament.

Dramatic encounters
There were also dramatic encounters and results that turned World Cup on its head. Think Germany vs South Korea (0-2), Argentina vs Croatia (0-3), Uruguay vs Portugal (2-1) and Iceland vs Argentina (1-1).
If the games were full of drama, some of the goals simply took the breath away. Ricardo Quaresma’s swish with the outside of his right boot against Iran was an absolutely sensational finish.
Then there is Cristiano Ronaldo’s free-kick against Spain that will be replayed on the highlights reel of best free-kicks ever, Kevin De Bruyne’s peach of goal against Brazil and Denis Cheryshev’s beautiful curler against Croatia. There are many others.
The controversial Video Assistant Referee (VAR) was employed for the first time at the World Cup and although it enraged a few coaches, players and fans, the system ensured that 99 per cent of borderline moments in and around penalty box were called right, including the Ivan Perisic handball in last Sunday’s final.
Russia 2018 will go down in history for the highest number of last minute and injury time goals, and the dawn of new age where the gap between the game’s aristocrats and hitherto lesser sides is now at its thinnest.
Russian people were extremely warm and welcoming and their hospitality made for a magnificent competition.
Qatar 2022, and Mexico-USA-Canada 2026 for that matter, will do very well to match Russia 2018.

*The writer is this paper’s Sports Editor

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