Le bleu paradis

By Muhammad Nabeel
Fri, 07, 18

It’s over... the phenomenon that had engulfed this planet for the last 30 days ended on the 15th of this month...


It’s over... the phenomenon that had engulfed this planet for the last 30 days ended on the 15th of this month with France lifting the trophy for the second time in their history.

The FIFA World Cup is a truly global event that almost never fails to amuse its worldwide audience. This year’s World Cup, staged in Russia, can be dubbed as the World Cup of upsets. Some of the most illustrious names in the world of football had to face the humiliation of exiting the tournament very early.

The likes of Ronaldo and Messi could not make the most of what could be their last appearance in the World Cup. Similarly, the mighty Germans also failed to live up to their reputation; they were defending their crown.

Upset? No, Happy!

While some of the tournament favourites had to swallow the bitter pill of getting eliminated early in the event, it provided some unfancied teams a chance to etch their names in history.

There was some drama right before the start of the tournament when the Spanish FA sacked their coach Julen Lopetegui just two days before the start of the World Cup.

It was not the ideal start for the 2010 World Champions and their first game against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal was right around the corner. The game between these two sides provided the event’s first thriller. It ended in a draw with the final score 3-3. Ronaldo scored all three goals for the European Champions Portugal.

Germany and Argentina were having their own difficulties. In Messi, Argentina had arguably the best player on the planet in their ranks, but, the reality is that football is a team game and relying on the individual brilliance of a player cannot win you titles. Maradona’s 1986 triumph with Argentina is an exception to this case.

Defending champions Germany were the favourites to retain their crown. The German squad was so strong that they did not have space for the likes of Leroy Sane, one of the finest young players in Europe at the moment.

In their first game against Mexico, Germany were unexpectedly and comprehensively beaten and it set the tone for the rest of the tournament. They were lucky to beat Sweden in the dying moments of the game but in their last group game, South Korea beat them again to put them out of their misery.

The players of Belgian National football team celebrating the victory against Japan

It’s coming home... empty-handed

England brought a young side to the tournament led by the sensational Harry Kane, who scored six goals in the tournament to claim the Golden Boot, and were placed in the same group as Belgium.

Belgium, with their ‘golden generation’ of players, were one of the favourites to lift the trophy and their performances throughout the tournament showed exactly why that was the case. Their comeback victory against Japan in the last 16 round was the game of the tournament. Japan were unexpectedly leading by two goals and looked favourites to dump a team of winners such as Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne out of the World Cup. That’s when the experienced campaigners in the Belgium squad showed their true mettle; they scored three goals in 25 mad minutes of football to save their face from embarrassment.

They took the third spot after getting knocked out in the semifinals at the hands of the high flying French team, fuelled by the seemingly unending energy of Kylian Mbappe.

The English media and fans normally hype their team up so much that their eventual exit from major events becomes a subject of ridicule across the globe. This time around, however, there were no high hopes associated with Gareth Southgate’s - England coach - team and they took full advantage of that and an easier route to the last four.

It was the first time England had made it to the semis since Italy 1990; their opponent was a well drilled Croatian side with Ballon D’Or favourite Luka Modric pulling the strings.

The Three Lions succumbed under pressure and Croatia qualified for their first ever World Cup final against Didier Deschamps’ Les Bleus (France).

Out of nowhere

Everyone loves underdogs... the host nation Russia made the most of playing on home soil, and took the prize scalp of Spain in the first knockout stage. They were eventually sent packing by Croatia in the quarter-finals on penalties.

Julen Lopetegui

Another surprise package was Mexico; their brand of high octane football impressed everyone. Mexico’s journey ended at the hands of Neymar’s Brazil who, in turn, lost to Belgium in the quarter-finals.

Germany, who were expected to make easy work of the first round, ended bottom of their Group. Argentina, Portugal and Spain couldn’t make it past the Round of 16. His team’s early elimination from the World Cup, allowed Cristiano Ronaldo enough time to secure his high profile 105 million pounds transfer from Real Madrid to Juventus.

Stars of the show

In time this World Cup may be remembered as the point in football history where the baton for the best player in the world was passed from the likes of Ronaldo and Messi to the electrifying Kylian Mbappe.

Mbappe and Luka Modric were at the heart of their teams’ run to the final. Modric, of course, is a veteran of the game and has been at the center of Real Madrid’s recent domination of the UEFA Champions League.

Mbappe, on the other hand, is still in his teens and even at this young age he has shown the kind of composure and control over the ball associated with top professionals at the peak of their prowess.

His greatest attribute, however, is his mind bending speed. The kind of acceleration he showed against Argentina in the round of 16 match was a treat to watch. He just effortlessly glided past Banega, Mascherano and then Marcos Rojo in a moment that will surely be remembered for a long time to come.

Then there was that 360 degree flip and back heal pass to Giroud in the 18 yards box in the semifinal against Belgium that had genius written all over it.

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo reacts after a missed penalty kick

He capped it all with a wonderful long range strike against Croatia in the final to bring the glittering FIFA trophy back to France after 20 years.

France beat Croatia in a thrilling contest by four goals to two. Mbappe claimed the Best Young Player accolade; Luka Modric won the Golden Ball award. For his six goals in the tournament England’s Harry Kane claimed the Golden Boot trophy while Belgium’s Thibaut Courtois picked up the Golden Glove award. The likes of Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic deserve special praise for their performances throughout the championship.