I have the FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 withdrawals today. The prospect of no soccer today was disappointing but it is time to reflect on the tournament as a whole. The hosts held a superb tournament for the most part. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the tournament and gives out the best and worse gongs.
A couple of standout moments come to mind and unfortunately it is all South American themed. Argentina were shambolic both on and off the pitch. A team deeply divided, a team whose coach could have easily being a Sunday League pub team gaffer such was the control that Sampaoli had during this tournament. Argentina were lucky to get out of their pool. Nigeria had them where they wanted them but did not get the job done. Messi struck a forlorn figure during this tourney.
The absence of Dybala was a disgrace and Sampaoli conceivably should have gone after the Croatian result. A team on a downward spiral. Messi would do well and retire from international football. The Argentinian national side is in crisis and an embarrassment much like Diego Maradona whose cameos at the tournament were nauseating at best. The Spanish meltdown sacking their head coach before the tourney or VAR would normally get the crown but Argentina were at a different level of embarrassment in this tourney.
The sight of Neymar rolling around the pitch resembled an injured bird after hitting a clean window. This was a tournament where the Brazilian Superstar was supposed to be the main guy; the guy to take over the mantle from Ronaldo or Messi. Wrong. The player had some excellent moments but there were disgraceful con jobs along the way. Belgium beating Brazil was the most welcome victory of the tournament; if only to get rid of Neymar whose stock value has devalued to the extent that PSG may struggle to offload the player even if they wanted to this summer.
Vinny Jones Hard Out Award
Colombia. Easy decision. Four years prior, Colombia played superb passing football but thoughts of their elimination from the tourney saw a different side to the Colombian side. The side were cynical as early as the opening exchanges against Japan. An early red card for deliberate handball was the prelude. Senegal and Poland wins subtly dampened down the dirt factor but their performance against England was deplorable. Hatchet job comes to mind; the Harry Kane penalty in normal time belied belief. Colombian players kicking turf from the penalty spot. Their antics around the referee throughout the tournament beggared belief. Their capitulation in the penalty shootout was a fitting exit for the side.
Easy on the eye Award
France flirted with the neutral with their attacking prowess against Argentina and also in the second half of their World Cup final win over Croatia. However, defensive solidity was paramount and they miss out on this award. Belgium and Croatia for me were the teams that were easy on the eye, loved their style of play, passing football. Hazard, De Bruyne vs. Modric and Rakitic. It is so hard to chose. Seeing as both side did not win anything, they jointly win this reward for their cameos in the tournament.
High Notions Award
England media. Well done England for securing a World Cup semi-final berth but the record ignoring the win over Panama (pub side), there was ample precious attacking moments from open play. Set piece execution was the pivotal attacking weapon of choice for England. Kane’s goals secured a quarter final berth and then Sweden came with a shockingly poor performance. Southgate is realistic; the side are going in the right direction but the side have some way to go before being considered a contender in a tournament of this stature. The losses to Belgium and Croatia exposed composure and skill shortcomings to the max in the side. England media can calm down again.
Minty Fresh Team Award
Japan. Their performances were a breathe of fresh air; incredible honesty and ethos to their play. Pundits will ridicule their tactic of all out attack against Belgium at the death in the last sixteen round but it was so adventurous; a change from the standard negativity and hold what you have approach. Martin O’Neill would have being disgusted. Their games were high octane and their never say die attitude was one of my personal favorite moments.
A couple of manager’s come to mind. Carlos Queiroz had Iran superbly organized and with a little more conviction in front of goal should have secured a second round berth. Gareth Southgate to lead a limited England side to a semi-final berth; most unexpected. Roberto Martinez for orchestrating the best half of tactical football in their defeat of Brazil. Didier Deschamps for me is the manager of the tournament; to even get Paul Pogba to execute at the level of performance in this tourney was outstanding (given his difficulties at Manchester United). Squad depth was abundant but the ability to create the cohesion defensively and attacking wise was seen at different points of the tournament. The water carrier has done well indeed.
Player of the Tournament
Easy decision. Luka Modric creativity, game management and goal threat was seen to the fore throughout the tournament. The mercurial genius was unfortunately on the wrong end of the final result yesterday but his cameos in the previous rounds oozed class.