Why Russia 2018 has been a football festival of the ages

Round of 16 - Uruguay vs Portugal - Fisht Stadium, Sochi, Russia - June 30, 2018 Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo reacts at referee Cesar Arturo Ramos REUTERS
Teamwork excelled and individual brilliance was not enough as likes of Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar fell by the wayside.

The Russia 2018 World Cup has been phenomenal and as France play Croatia in the final this evening, football fans will miss the edge of the seat entertainment.

For all their talent, Hollywood Oscar Award winning mega producers, James Cameron (Titanic), George Lucas (Star Wars) and Steven Spielberg (Jurassic Park, Jaws etc) could not script anything close to what transpired in Russia since June 14.

This tournament made mockery of the most experienced pundits and football experts as the established order was ripped apart in a World Cup where 'all logic' was thrown out of the window.

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With so many talking points that can cover the distance from the earth to the moon and back, here are three things that made Russia 2018 a tournament to remember.

Video Assistant Referee (VAR)

This World Cup introduced a new animal called VAR and it quickly became part of conversation whenever a decision needed to be challenged, not only in football but also in everyday life.

Designed to help guide match officials at the tournament on potential game-changing decisions — such as incidents in the build-up to goals or penalties, as well as straight red cards or cases of mistaken identity — it was not long before the new video system found itself under the spotlight in Russia.

VAR played a huge role, particularly in the group stages, sparking intense debate that made the technology get a life of its own. Could France be in the final if VAR had not awarded Antoine Griezmann a penalty in their first game against Australia which they won 2-1?

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Innovative Kenyans jumped on the VAR craze and it soon found its way to the national fabric, with fans attending domestic SportPesa Premier League, National Super League and other local matches using the box symbol whenever they felt a decision has gone against their team.

World Cup - Quarter Final - Brazil vs Belgium - Porto Alegre, Brazil - July 6, 2018 - A fan reacts during the match. REUTERS
Don’t be surprised if you see a child or matatu named VAR soon. You know its coming.

Fall of the mighty

Before a football was kicked in Russia, the 2018 World Cup was billed as the last chance for Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, considered as the greatest players of the modern era and to some of all time to finally lead Portugal and Argentina to glory to cement their status.

Champions Germany, the machine that crushed all before them in Brazil 2014 came in as odds on favourites too to become the first team since the great Brazilian team of 1958 and 1962 to hold on to the trophy.

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But alas! All sense was quickly thrown out of the window when Mexico produced the first shock in stunning Germany 1-0, setting the tone for a tournament where for the first time in living memory, Die Manschafft, Argentina, Brazil, Italy or Holland did not appear at the semi finals of the World Cup. The latter pair did not even make it to Russia.

Ronaldo and Messi, who had carried their limping sides from the group stages, never went past the round of 16, with Uruguay and France forcing them to summer holiday earlier than they had expected.

The Kazan Stadium proved to be the graveyard of the greats, with Germany beaten 0-2 by South Korea to end their defence before France and Kylian Mbappe in particular, sent Messi and Argentina parking in a 4-2 thumping.

Brazil were the last titans to fall in Kazan when Belgium ran rings around them in the first half and held on in the second to record a 2-1 upset, ending their hopes of extending their record to six.

Teamwork over individual excellence

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Until Russia 2018, football was running the risk of being a sport that glorified individuals over team ethic.

This World Cup was sold as the tournament of Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar and at a shout, Egypt star Mo Salah to stamp their authority.

However, as the tournament progressed, the Golden Ball is likely to go to Luka Modric of Croatia and England’s Harry Kane is in for the Golden Boot after their unheralded nations made the last four.

The ‘United Nations’ team of France and Belgium were the other semi finalists and the common denominator of their success in Russia was placing more value on team ethic as opposed to individual flair.

Honourable mention goes to battling hosts Russia who made the quarters having started the tournament like a house on fire, scoring eight goals in two games and despite a wobble when they lost to Uruguay, recovered to dump 2010 winners Spain out before falling to Croatia on penalties. No one had given them a prayer.

In all, this World Cup made no sense at all but in truth and fairness, it reminded us that football is a team, not individual sport.