Hipster’s Guide to the World Cup Vol. 6: Getting Ready for the Final
Looking at the Pros and Cons of Russia 2018 before France plays Croatia in the Final.
A Final Fitting
This Sunday will be the final match of the FIFA World Cup, and it’s going to be quite the curtain call. The tournament’s favorite, France, will face-off against a very determined Croatian team to see which nation is the best in the world. I’m going to point out the obvious: no one saw this coming.
The French Golden Age
Le Bleu always had an amazing chance of getting to the final. This team brought so much youth and depth that they could have two separate teams that are just as competitive as another country’s starting eleven.
France was able to hit a sweet spot between experience and youth for this tournament, and Kylian Mbappe has been their spark. He brings a dynamic flare to the game, and not only attacks defenders, but has the sense of when to release the ball. He plays with a level of IQ and skill that other 19 year olds merely dream of.
The most crucial and overlooked moments of France’s semi-final against Belgium consisted of defending. Pogba was able to sprint back and defend every ball in the air that Mertens and Belgium would launch. It’s important to notice his role as a defending player in this game because in the end it doesn’t matter how many goals you score if you lose. Take that Pogba critics!
Some French players haven’t been as convincing as they were in the Euros. Antoine Griezmann is usually known for making off-the-ball runs to create space for him to score, but he hasn’t done that this tournament. That, alongside Giroud’s inability to put goals in the back of net, has been a setback for France. They’re not putting the necessary urgency into the game, and it will haunt them in this final.
Who Doesn’t Root for the Underdogs?
Croatia… the classic Cinderella story. This squad is not necessarily the best team in terms of talented players, but their unity and passion are what has gotten them through; I can’t forget to mention their endurance. This Croatian side has played every single elimination game into extra time. That’s a cumulative of 102 extra minutes to their legs. That’s an entire game more, but this side just keeps getting stronger.
Luka Modric, the team’s captain and Real Madrid midfielder, has been a beating heart for this team since he scored the banger against Argentina. His chemistry with Barcelona rival, Rakitic, is remarkable. People can’t believe that this team is in the final, but realistically, how can you not? They’re well known players with incredible skill, which is why they play for the best clubs in the world.
There is this traditional mentality around the sport: the most well-known and overhyped countries (such as Argentina and Germany) are the best. It’s not true. History is in the past, live in the present.
This is the wonder of the World Cup. Every four years, each team is fresh and new. There are always new coaches, players, and match-ups that can influence the end of the tournament. It’s even better than the Olympics. Although it’s an entertaining spectacle to watch, the USA will always come out on top with the most gold medals. No question. It’s been this way since 1996, and it makes sense because the U.S. has the most privileged athletes with facilities that put them ahead of others.
The World Cup is different because it considers talent, teamwork, and a lot of luck.
Although Croatia definitely deserves to be in the final for grinding out each game, it’s no doubt that their side of the bracket was easier. France had to play: Argentina, Uruguay (who knocked out Portugal) and Belgium (who had beaten Brazil). Croatia, on the other hand, simply had to win against: Denmark, Russia, and England. They were all fair games though, but it would be a lie to deny that Croatia had the luck of the draw. Modric and his nation defied all odds, and are prepared to stun the world as the second smallest nation to play in the final of the tournament.
The Pros of Russia 2018
There were so many things that made this event a great tournament to watch. Although the matches were in the morning in the United States, there was a still an enthusiastic fandom and culture that took over the country. From early drinking parties at bars during a work day, to witnessing the LA streets get shut down by a Mexican victory, soccer was definitely present.
Secondly, every single match was exciting. There wasn’t a game that was really considered a blow-out (besides the games against Tunisia and Panama, who let’s be honest had no place in this tournament). The teams had all prepared very well for the tournament, and brought their best attitude to the world stage in order to demonstrate what they can do. Usually the World Cup has a “group of death” where every single team has a superpower that needs to be dealt with. This summer, there wasn’t a single one, and it’s because each group had teams that could play at the same level as their opponents.
The ball change is new, and I’m not arguing. In the past, there would only be two official match balls during the event. One is just a basic match ball, and then in the final the colors would change to gold (fitting right?). This year though, Russia decided to change the ball for the round-robin portion of the tournament as well. The Telstar was given a makeover and red flares. These colors captured the intensity of the matches, and offered a glimpse at how beautiful the final golden match ball will be.
Lastly, this tournament offered spectators the ability to see into the future of the sport. With each team being so driven, talented youngsters sparked from every nation. This offers hope that soccer will not be conquered by one country, but by the strongest team who is able to balance their skilled players with the team’s chemistry. Croatia is in this final for their ability to believe in one another and play with love for their compatriots, not for a chance to individually shine. Then, there’s France with the second youngest team at the tournament, alongside Nigeria. Also, England proved that they could put up a fight (and it almost came home). All these players will be around for a long time to admire and assist in the development of soccer.
VAR: The video assistant referee is to help diminish the mistakes of missed calls that could change a game, which has been the most controversial aspect of this summer. In an ideal world, the system is helpful. However, this World Cup showed two sides to the technology.
At the beginning of the tournament, referees exploited the use of VAR. Every single call went to the assistants in Moscow, which made the matches drag on with huge increments of extra time. Referees were put into question because this device was only meant to check on certain things that were not in their line of sight. Instead, the officials went to VAR to make every single decision in the game. This led to the entire penalty kick spree in the group stage. Not only that, but the issue that occurred with Ronaldo against Iran led conspirators to believe that Moscow was controlling the calls of the game. (Ronaldo should have been given a red card, but the Iran coach believes that he was only shown a yellow due to the Gods in the VAR room.)
Then, in the eliminatory games, VAR was seldom used. Referees took the criticism against the system to heart, and would not look at any possible fouls unless told to do so through the headset. For example, in the Brazil vs Belgium game there were at least two possible penalties for Brazil that were missed. The officials would not go to the replay.
Why? Well, to go against the criticism of it being overused before.
Nevertheless, VAR is a great concept. It’s helped the offside rule be more reviewable and fair, but the officials have to balance its use. The video assistant referee can’t be making every single call for the center official, but the central referee needs to make a just decision when refusing to use the system.
Count on VAR to be used in major events for its potential, however, don’t be upset if it still doesn’t go your way.
Next, Russia 2018 says a probable goodbye to the modern soccer legends. Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal were eliminated in their match against Uruguay, and Messi against France. Although completely different players, their skills are to be respected. Sadly, Messi still hasn’t been able to conquer an international title for his country besides the Olympics, but he has another chance in the Copa America. Messi has already retired from international play before, and it is hard to say whether he wants to continue playing for Argentina.
Ronaldo was able to leave a mark in Russia with his hat-trick against Spain. He’s recently transferred from Real Madrid to Juventus in Italy to further his playing career. The 33-year-old is being told by the technical staff in Italy that they plan to keep him in shape and challenged in order for him to maintain himself, and play in Qatar 2022. So, don’t be surprised if you see him again.
If these two players decide to continue, then it will be there fourth World Cup and another chance to watch these two idols fight for the World Cup title. Lets keep our fingers crossed!
Another con? The fact that some of the games were at five in the morning Pacific Time. It would have been great to catch every single match, but hey, if I have to sleep, I have to sleep.
There was a lack of goals that made some games difficult to bear. Strikers just couldn’t provide for their teams unless it was from the penalty spot. Defenders are getting stronger and more intelligent, but players need to adjust and get creative. They need to shoot from outside the box, and I just wish forwards would do their job (@ Lukaku, Gabriel Jesus, and Giroud).
So, who will win? The quick answer would be France. They’re a team that’s fresh and ready to unleash their talented roster, but Croatia has already warned to never count them out (props to Mandzukic for coming in clutch against England).
Now, before I leave everyone to ponder about the upcoming matches, I will say this: Italy and Netherlands were missed. I apologize to the United States, but come on, Panama. We couldn’t classify over Panama. Until there is a shift in the U.S. soccer federation, America won’t be in the World Cup until 2026, and that’s because they’re hosting it.
Where will you watch the final? Catch me at Orange County Great Park at 7am for their watch party!