The French Crowned Kings in Russia

As always, the World Cup was a display of the very pinnacle of global sport.

Reading Time: 10 minutes

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By Rebecca Collins

After four weeks and 64 days, the 2018 World Cup has finally drawn to a close. As always, the World Cup was a display of the very pinnacle of the global sport. This summer, 32 teams of 23 players each staked their claim at lifting the prestigious trophy, providing us with memorable moments both on and off the field in the process.



France won this World Cup and rightly so. France was looking to win the World Cup after a disappointing defeat to Portugal in the 2016 UEFA European Championship. A squad containing elite players in every position and headlined by attackers Antoine Griezmann and breakout star Kylian Mbappe was touted to win it all this time around. They took a few games to click, narrowly beating Peru and Australia before playing out a boring draw against Denmark. Manager Didier Deschamps’s pragmatic, defensive style of football seemed to clash with the youthful exuberance and playing styles of many of his players.

True to form, Kylian Mbappe began to show his pace and flair when Deschamps gave him more freedom. He ran riot around defenses, becoming a nightmare in the process. Deschamps’s ability to adapt his tactics to every team he faced helped France beat Argentina, Uruguay, Belgium, and Croatia as it lifted the World Cup for the second time. Having overcome such great teams to make it this far, the squad showed their incredible ability to adapt to any curve ball thrown at them. More importantly, though, players no one expected to do well stepped up. Players like Benjamin Pavard and Olivier Giroud played with heart for their team rather than for themselves. Pavard, France’s right back, was very solid defensively, and his ability to read the game was crucial for France’s defense.

To the untrained eye, Giroud may have had a disappointing World Cup for a striker, scoring zero goals. However, his hold up play was crucial to France’s transition into attack because he gave his teammates enough time to support him by making runs forward. Giroud is definitely not fazed by critics of his goalless tournament. “No, no, no, because I have been criticised a little bit in France as well. Because I didn’t score in the World Cup. I have received a lot of messages from people who know football well, lots of French supporters. They saw the work I do for the team, and a lot of people wanted me to score in the final. I said, ‘Yes I hope so but even if I don’t score and we are world champions it will be the best thing that has happened in my life,’” said Giroud in an interview with The Telegraph.

With this selfless core of players who will do anything for their country, it’s no wonder France is the best team in the world. The future looks even brighter for France. As one of the youngest teams at the tournament (the average age is 26), France will be looking to defend its crown in 2022. With another four years of experience under their belts, this team will be even more formidable.

Russia: Russia was undoubtedly the World Cup’s fairytale. After coming up empty-handed after seven exhibition games leading up to the tournament, expectations were low, with most tipping the hosts for a group stage exit. However, relying on a defense led by the 38-year-old Sergei Ignashevich, Russia thrashed Saudi Arabia 5-0 with Denis Cheryshev scoring two goals that the Saudi Arabian defenders are still blushing about. For his first, the skillful winger lifted the ball above the tackle of two defenders before dispatching it past a helpless goalkeeper. His second was equally as impressive with an outside of the foot shot from outside the box that curled right into the top corner.

They followed it up with a comfortable 3-1 win over Egypt before losing 3-0 to Uruguay. Few gave Russia much hope against Spain in the round of 16, but in the biggest upset in tournament history (by FIFA rankings), Russia won a game in which it only managed 22 percent possession on penalties. After taking Croatia to penalties in the quarterfinals, Russia’s luck ran out as it lost 4-3 in the shootout. Nonetheless, Russia greatly exceeded expectations, capturing the heart of a nation (and world) in the process.

Croatia: Croatia was the most entertaining team in this competition, dishing out thriller after thriller for their fans and coming out on top in all but one game. The Croats did not lose or draw a single game until losing to France in the final. In the group stage, they scored seven and conceded just one to earn the top spot more than comfortably, five points ahead of second place Argentina.

With one of the most technically gifted midfield lines to ever grace the World Cup, including Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Milan Badelj, Marcelo Brozovic, and Mateo Kovacic, the Croats could play their way out of all types of pressure and play the ball to their experienced forwards in Ivan Perisic, Mario Mandzukic, and Ante Rebic. When they couldn’t break down the opposition, their defenders, Domagoj Vida and Sime Vrsaljko, were extremely reliable. Playing against France was a different story, though, as the French knew how to beat the Croats at their own game.

The game was very close, but some questionable refereeing decisions in France’s favor as well as an own goal may have left the Croatians feeling hard done. Despite the disappointing ending, Croatia are winners in our book.


Egypt: Egyptian fans came into this tournament praying that their prolific winger Mohamed Salah would feature in the World Cup. Still nursing an injury sustained in the Champions League final one month earlier after a tangle of arms with Sergio Ramos, Salah’s full fitness was in question for the Egypt’s World Cup opener against Uruguay. Relief filled Egyptian hearts when Salah trained with the team a few days before the first game. Despite training, Salah was benched in a questionable decision by Cooper. Egypt defended well and created some chances that they could have taken, but the score remained level until very late in the match.

In the last 10 minutes, the game went back and forth, and both teams were creating chances. Egypt needed someone to finish their chances, and fans held their breath for Salah’s arrival for the last few minutes. His substitution would have attracted defenders toward him and created space for his teammates. Hector Cooper thought otherwise and left Salah on the bench, seemingly looking toward the future. Egypt conceded later on to a header by Jose Maria Gimenez and were defeated in a heartbreaking game.

Next came Russia, who were not short of confidence. Despite Salah starting, he was obviously not himself, scoring a consolation penalty after Egypt’s defense conceded three shambolic goals. Egypt were all but knocked out at this point and were playing for pride against Saudi Arabia. Fans came in droves, expecting Egypt to win their first world Cup match. Essam El-Hadary started, marking his name in the history books as the oldest to ever play in the World Cup at 45.

As was the trend throughout the competition, Egypt missed chance after chance before conceding a late goal that saw them defeated in a game they expected to win; This was a disappointment from any viewpoint, especially for Hector Cooper whose job search now commences.

Spain: One of the pre-tournament favorites, a star-studded Spain squad was expected to go far in the tournament. However, rocked by the sacking of manager Julen Lopetegui a day before the tournament, Spain struggled to get going under Fernando Hierro. An unlucky but thrilling 3-3 draw against Portugal was followed by a narrow 1-0 win against Iran and a disappointing 2-2 draw against Morocco.

Still topping the group, Spain were expected to find their rhythm in the round of 16 against hosts Russia. Despite dominating possession and completion of over a thousand passes, Spain struggled to break down the Russian backline, losing a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw in extra time. This Word Cup was undoubtedly a devastating tournament for Spain, as they only won one game.

Germany: Undoubtedly, the Germans had to be the biggest disappointment of the 2018 World Cup. They came into Russia along with Brazil as the overwhelming favorites. The Germans were the defending champions, who arguably came into this year’s tournament with a better team with more depth than they had in 2014 when they won it all in Brazil. But in Russia, the Germans came out looking sluggish and uncoordinated.

A shocking 1-0 loss to Mexico put a German team and fan base so used to success and consistency in panic. It didn’t help when they went 1-0 down in their second game against Sweden due to a careless pass in the midfield and sloppy defending. But a desperate Marco Reus goal in the early second half gave the Germans a pulse, and a dramatic last minute, curling, free-kick beauty from midfield maestro Toni Kroos calmed their nerves. Now, all they had to do was beat South Korea, a team that up to that point had underperformed.

But they made the same mistake they did against Mexico; they went there expecting an easy win against a team that was confident. They arguably looked worse against South Korea than against Mexico, and it finally caught up to them when South Korea scored two late goals to put the final nail in the German coffin. It’s the curse of the champions, as Germany, like Spain (defending champions in 2014), had gone from top of the world to bottom of the pack in a matter of four years, finishing last in their group. This was expected, though. History has shown us time and time again that the Germans never win in Russia.[a]

Argentina: Argentina has always produced attacking talent with Lionel Messi, Diego Maradona, Sergio Aguero, and Angel Di Maria all perfecting their craft in the streets of Argentina. They have struggled, however, to find solid defensive players to field, and their defensive woes have cost them repeatedly. But, like always, they were expected to go far relying on their deadly attack. This World Cup was different, though, with something obviously off. The Argentinians couldn’t seem to string together three passes.

An explanation soon arose in the form of manager Jorge Sampaoli with many players speaking out against his tactics and losing respect for him. Argentina drew to Iceland before losing to Croatia in a 3-0 drubbing. With one game remaining, Argentina needed to beat Nigeria and hope Iceland did not beat Croatia. So Argentina needed a hero, and naturally, Lionel Messi stepped up, leading Argentina to a 2-1 win with Marcos Rojo scoring late to seal the deal for Argentina.

In the knockout stages, Argentina hoped to show they were still one of the world’s best by beating France. Mbappe’s pace and Pavard’s Goal of the Tournament proved too much for Argentina, however, with the game ending 4-3. Losing to the eventual World Champions is no shame, but the Argentines were a disappointing team for most of the tournament.

Honorable Mentions:

Uruguay: Coming in as the tournament’s “dark horse,” the world class Uruguay squad headlined by a strike partnership of Barcelona’s Luis Suarez and PSG’s Edinson Cavani looked to make waves. A defense consisting of the experienced Diego Godin, his club teammate Jose Gimenez, and a number of others was arguably the best in the tournament. This combination worked as Uruguay topped their group without conceding a single goal—a remarkable feat.

Drawn against Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo in the round of 16, Uruguay’s defense again carried the day as it survived a Portuguese onslaught to secure a 2-1 win. Ultimately, Uruguay’s overreliance on defense was exposed by eventual champions France in the quarterfinals, as it was undone by a set piece and a goalkeeping error. Uruguay will be disappointed that its golden generation failed to take its best chance at a deep World Cup run.

Belgium: Belgium came into the tournament with great expectations, as they were in the midst of their golden age with players like De Bruyne, Hazard, Lukaku, Mertens, and Courtois. They used this talent in the group stages, finishing at the top of their group easily. In their first game, they comfortably defeated Panama by a 3-0 margin with Lukaku making an early bid for the golden boot with two goals. In their next match, they showed off an even greater display of offensive versatility and explosiveness, tallying up five goals against Tunisia and winning in the end, 5-2. Lukaku added two more to his tournament tally, while Eden Hazard scored two of his own, putting in an early bid for the golden ball with his prowess on the ball, precision passing, and ice-cold finishing ability.

Their next game against England was hyped to be one of the best fixtures of the group stages, with both teams in good form and having world class talent over the pitch. Having already qualified for the round of 16, Belgium sent out their “B-team” against England, and it was still enough to beat the three lions 1-0. That last win solidified their position on top of the group, and showed the world that they had now truly emerged as an international footballing powerhouse.

Their next real challenge came in the quarter-finals against Brazil, where they upset the favorites with a blistering counterattack spearheaded by Hazard and De Bruyne. But in a scrappy encounter against the French in the semi-finals, the Belgians were eliminated via a 1-0 scoreline, finishing third after going out to the eventual champions and beating England in the third place match.

England: English fans were both optimistic and pessimistic as ever, both excited about the new young talent spread across their starting lineup and worried that this team would be like every other English team in the past two decades—full of potential but embarrassingly disappointing whenever it mattered the most.

But in their first two games, this English team, like the Belgians, showed their class. England played an attractive offensive style of play against Tunisia that we hadn’t seen from previous English teams in recent history, with Harry Kane scoring a brace to lead England as captain to a 2-1 victory. His good form continued and so did England’s, as Kane scored a hat-trick in England’s route of Panama in a 6-1 victory for the Three Lions, which was the greatest margin of victory in the tournament. And Harry Kane, like Lukaku, had his eye on the golden boot. Though they lost their final game to Belgium, the second place finish gave England a more favorable seeding in the knockout rounds where they ironically played weaker teams than Belgium, who finished first.

After getting by Columbia in a tight game, which ended in England, finally breaking their penalty shootout curse, they comfortably beat Sweden in the quarterfinals. But football’s coming-home party was spoiled by Luka Modric and Croatia, who stole the final spot in the finals with an extra-time winner. But this tournament reinvigorated a sense of hope in the English national team that had been lost for the better part of two decades.

It did not come home, but it was a hell of a try by the Three Lions.