There was much criticism of the competition before the start of the World Cup in Qatar, with some justification, but in the end the quality of the football and the fairytale result made it seem all worthwhile. Lionel Messi captained Argentina to beat France on penalties in what some are calling the greatest final in the history of competitive football. Messi finished second in the scoring charts behind the new “world’s best player” Kylian Mbappe but won the Golden Ball award for best player in the tournament whilst guiding Argentina to the trophy. All of this looked a long way away after the Argentinians suffered a shock opening group match defeat against Saudi Arabia, but they rallied superbly and were just about the best team in the tournament with France a very close second.

There were a few shocks at the group stage, chief of which was the exit of Germany from group E. They were pitched alongside Spain in the same group and both of these world giants were supposed to progress quite comfortably, but Japan had other ideas. The Asian side had the temerity to beat both Germany and Spain by the same score 2-1 and qualify as group winners. This after a loss to Costa Rica in between the two victories.

Incidentally Japan won both of those games whilst setting a record for the lowest percentage of possession in a World Cup against Germany at 26% and then breaking it against Spain with only 17%. Just goes to show sometimes it’s what you do when you have the ball, not how much you have it that counts.

Other surprises were Denmark crashing out allowing Australia to reach the last 16 and Belgium, second in the world rankings and expected to go far by some, exiting group F behind surprise packets of the whole tournament and history makers Morocco.

The round of 16 went very much to form except for the mighty Morocco knocking Spain out on penalties and the quarter finals was the place where everything really started to take shape. Brazil were still favourites at this stage but were up against Croatia here, who don’t know when they’re beaten and continued their brilliant World Cup form by hold the Brazilians to a 1-1 draw before going through on penalties.

France beat England 2-1 to go through and this was a real good game of football. There was nothing much in it and although France just edged it after Harry Kane missed a late penalty you would expect England to build on this as they have some exceptional young players coming through.

Portugal had a strong squad and were expected to end the run of Morocco. Nobody told the Moroccans though, who played brilliantly to edge the Portugese out 1-0 and become the first team from the African continent to reach the semi finals. In the last game Argentina cruised into a 2-0 lead but were pegged back by a quietly fancied Netherlands, who scored the equalising goal in the 11th minute of time added on before losing out on penalties.

And so to the semi finals. Two good games here but both Argentina and France eventually cruised through quite comfortably against Croatia and the heroic Moroccans respectively, setting up the final which everyone wanted between the two best teams in the competition. Although I wouldn’t think that anybody could envisage what was to come in the final.

Of course the big story was Lionel Messi. The World Cup is the one trophy that has eluded him and the Maradona legend has loomed large over his career for that very reason. Until now. Argentina were brilliant for the first 75 minutes to go into a 2-0 lead and then conspired, as they had against the Netherlands, to get pegged back. This was mostly due to Kylian Mbappe producing one of the goals of the tournament with ten minutes to play which followed a penalty only a few minutes before. You could have forgiven the Argentinians if they had dropped their heads but they roared back in extra time and took the lead again through Messi before again being pegged back by an Mbappe penalty. That goal made him only the second player, after Sir Geoff Hurst, to score a hat trick in a world cup final.

The penalties were a slight anti climax really. The French were never really in it and Argentina didn’t need the fifth spot kick to run out 4-2 winners and give Messi his crowning moment in the game after a glittering career. The best ever? An argument for another article perhaps.

So all in all it was an excellent footballing World Cup for both players and fans alike, and after some initial misgivings, things turned out pretty well. Let’s hope the array of young talent on show here continues in the same vein for many tournaments to come.


Comments are closed.