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The best World Cup in decades
July 15, 2018, 4:47 pm

The Russians can be proud of hosting one of the most crucial World Cup tournaments in recent memory.

The official World Cup Russia 2018 ball handed over to Qatar


This one is for the record books having seen a number of firsts – title holders Germany ousted from the first round for the first time in 80 years; the introduction of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), through which many penalties were awarded – including in the France-Croatia final; the first own goal in a final game; the fewest red cards since 1970 … the list goes on.

And what an exhilarating final – France takes the trophy for the second time in 20 years.

In the decades I have avidly watched the World Cup – from the time Mario Kempes dazzled on the pitch and helped Argentina win it’s first trophy in 1978 to Germany’s ouster in 2018 – the tournament in Russia 2018 has been the most exciting.

And the most revolutionary.

Every thing we knew about international football has been turned upside down.

Germany is no longer the Teutonic terror it once was, striking fear in other teams just by taking to the field. The title holder was ousted in the preliminary stage thanks to some brilliant football from South Korea.

Brazil no longer sambas with brilliant footwork and team precision. In this tournament, Belgium and France did more of that than the now deposed Latin American giants.

And despite all of Maradona’s praying for Argentina, that team resembled more a broken and spent race horse in need of retiring to less competitive pastures.

Instead, teams like Morocco, Senegal and Nigeria captured our attention for going up against more experienced teams and holding their own.

Lowest-ranked Russia showed us what spirit against the odds could do. Black horse Belgium sent people back to the drawing board as its neat football had us readjusting our bets. Japan proved there was a new powerhouse in Asia, despite Australia’s lackluster performance in the early stage.

And, of course, cracking Croatia. With utmost nationalistic pride this team proved why it was the wild card of the tournament reaching all the way to the final game.

VAR catches it

This tournament is revolutionary also because of its application of the video assistant referee (VAR), which depended on 35 field cameras picking up even the slightest infraction between players. As expected, VAR highlighted many fouls, which would have likely gone unnoticed in previous tournaments.

Support for VAR has been divided with some arguing it takes the spontaneity and chance out of the game and is ultimately down to a human decision. Others have said that it helps to rectify the errors of the past – human errors, because – after all – referees can’t see every angle.

And every angle we did get to see through the VAR. Perhaps that is why most think refereeing in this tournament has been the best so far.

One of the new realities of Russia 2018 is that players were drawing rectangular boxes in the air to indicate that they want the referee to go to the VAR to replay a foul or suspected handball.

The super team

But the real revolution in Russia 2018 is that what should matter most has thankfully been highlighted with sheer brilliance and harmonic execution: Teamwork.

In previous years, the media fell into a routine of cheering mediocre footballing by focusing more on how much a player was worth rather than on their ability to play effectively within a team.

It isn’t the super footballer that wins tournaments; it’s the super team – and that’s the root change which emerged in Russia.

All the traditional football powerhouses which fielded the super footballer were knocked out relatively early. Argentina’s Messi’s; Portugal’s Ronaldo; Spain’s Pique and Ramos; Uruguay’s Suarez and Cavani, among others.

Yes, these are formidable players in their own right. Cavani, for me, is an unstoppable football behemoth when he plays with French club Paris Saint-Germain. But it just wasn’t the same with his national team.

Something was lost in translation from club to national side.

The same goes for Messi, who just couldn’t function properly with the other stars in Argentina’s lineup.

Oh, and about Italy and the Netherlands not making it beyond the European qualifying stages … better let that one go.

See you in Qatar 2022.

By Firas Al-Atraqchi for The BRICS Post