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July 21, 2018

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France provides sparkle in World Cup 2018 rain

IN the end it was Didier Deschamps in the rain, looking up at the stands after his side beat Croatia 4-2 in the World Cup final, water dripping down his face and golden ticker tape in his hair and on his jacket.

Two years ago, he’d been the loser after Portugal defeated France 1-0 in the European Championships and now the French had redemption.

Although the events at a World Cup are universal, everyone who travels to watch or work at the tournament has their own special personal experiences.

Now that the curtain has drawn on Russia 2018 it’s time to look back at some of the best and worst moments.

Uruguay’s 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia won’t stay long in my memory, because as soon as Luis Suarez opened the scoring the winner was never in doubt. However, the Saudi’s recovered well to claim some Group A pride with a late winner to defeat Egypt, and a clearly unfit Mohamed Salah, 2-1.

Japan and Poland’s footballing truce, with Poland 1-0 up, but with Japan assured of a place in the last 16 with 10 minutes remaining, was perhaps a low point, especially as the Japanese showed that they were an exciting team to watch. Even the Japan coach admitted in his press conference that he hadn’t been happy with what he had done.

So on to the good stuff and Spain’s 3-3 draw with Portugal in Sochi was a great way to start out. Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat-trick in the game gave no hint that neither team would make it past the last 16.

In fact Spain’s performance implied they had not been too badly affected by the sacking of coach Julen Lopetegui just 48 hours before kick-off. How wrong we were. Brazil’s 1-1 draw against Switzerland, in Rostov-On-Don did, however, showed that for all their attacking talent Neymar and company would have problems with their link-up between midfield and attack. The Swiss showed they deserved to be taken far more seriously as a football nation.

Brazil looked to be back on track when they beat Mexico 2-0 in the last 16; frustrating for the Mexicans, who have reached the same stage in 5 World Cups and never got past it. After the first 20 minutes in Samara it looked pretty obvious that history was going to repeat itself.

The big talking point of that game was the accusations of ‘play-acting’ against Neymar, who needed 4 minutes treatment after Mexico defender Miguel Layun trod on his ankle. There was contact but how much remains a moot point.

Having watched England’s campaign from a distance, it was nice to be in Samara to see them progress to the last four with a 2-0 win against Sweden. Harry Maguire rose like a Sputnik to head home the opening goal and confirm him as one of the tournament’s best players.

France’s semi-final performance against Belgium was criticized for being over defensive by some of the Belgian players after their 1-0 defeat.

I thought it was a fascinating game; two tactically intelligent sides testing each other to the limits and separated by the narrowest of margins, with the best team on the night winning.

And that set up the final act of the tournament: Kylian Mbappe tearing down the wing: Antoine Griezmann and French celebrations 24 hours after Bastille Day and Deschamps looking skywards as the fireworks went off and the rain came down.


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