Sometimes, to move forward, it helps to turn around and look back from our starting point. Ahead of this year’s much anticipated 2022 World Cup, we thought it compelling to reminisce about three of the most reminisce-worthy things at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
VAR Takes Over
VAR, short for Video Assistant Referee, had been mooted in football since 2012 but was only rolled out in a few leagues (slowly, meticulously) from 2016. Its approval and full-scale application at the 2018 World Cup signified FIFA’s unequivocal approval of what was (at the time) a highly suspect, radical technology. Detractors of VAR mainly decried its capacity to slow the match down, invoking great exasperation among supporters by stifling the game’s momentum. What made it worse was, even after the time squandered – sometimes as much as a couple of minutes – VAR still managed to get a few calls wrong. Because eagle-eyed technology, a whopping 440 times in Russia, the impact was telling and took a lot of getting used to. All said and done, though, change is inevitable, and resistance, in this case, was futile. We’re all just too set in our ways as humans! Looking back from a 2022 vantage point, ahead of the tournament in Qatar, introducing VAR was the right call by FIFA. The officials had become more proficient at using it, ironing out most of the glaring deficiencies that hampered it when founded. Offside goals are almost a thing of the past because, as a forward, you know something as trivial as an offside toe, nail, or hair disqualifies you.
Out: Messi & Ronaldo, In: Mbappe
For years, world football debates had been (still are) dominated by one topic: who was better between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi? But the plot changed on June 30, 2018, thanks to a fresh-faced striker named Kylian Mbappe. Argentina squared off vs. France in the last 16, and, arriving on the scene as a hot teenage prospect, Mbappe scored twice in four minutes to send Messi and Argentina home from the competition. On that same day, Uruguay ousted Ronaldo and Portugal, a memory that would still linger painfully in the memory of the Man United striker. So Messi and Ronaldo, the world’s best, were usurped by a 19-year-old that had idolized them (still does). Going on to win the 2018 World Cup with a great goal in the final, Mbappe broke onto the world football scene with such a bang that spectators and pundits arrive at one conclusion: there’s more to soccer than Messi and Ronaldo.
Spectacular World Cup Final
Of course, nothing comes more prominent than a world cup final. The ultimate battle in a long war full of grit, passion, joy, heartbreak, and the gamut of emotions encompasses the human experience. It was quite a journey for the two finalists – Croatia and France – to reach the showpiece, and they gave us a show to remember for generations to come. It wasn’t one of those tight, unwatchable contests as many cup finals tend to be. They played great football and, naturally, the goals flowed. In the highest normal-time goal tally in a World Cup final since 1958, France beat Croatia 4-2 to lift the trophy at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium. We also witnessed:
- A pitch invasion: no proper final is complete without one of those!
- A teenager is scoring: Mbappe became only the second teenager in the sport’s history (after Brazilian Pele) to score in the finals.
- An own goal: Mario Mandzukic headed into the wrong net and then made up for it on the other end, capitalizing on a French goalkeeping error.
- VAR controversy: yes, of course. With the game tied at 1-1, Ivan Perisic handled the game deliberately in the box, and, after a customarily lengthy VAR review, the ref awarded a penalty. Antoine Griezmann converted to make it 2-1, but that call still enters soccer debates to date. At the time, some pundits termed it a “farcical” decision.
Ultimately, the 2018 World Cup final proved an adage true: hard workers make their luck. France was solid in Russia and put in the work that many felt merited their vast success on the overall balance. However, in that final, lady luck did smile lovingly on Les Bleus, much less on underdogs Croatia, who had bellied their lowly status to reach the showpiece. How both the penalty and the free-kick (from which Mandzukic scored the own goal) came were fortuitous for France and hard on Croatia. Taking away those two goals would conceivably have sent the game to extra time at 2-2, and then who knows from there! Overall, it was a fantastic spectacle, and anything similar in Qatar would be a welcome proposition.