DARK HORSES The story of the tournament, however, was the spectacular and consistent run of Croatia and the run of England to the semi-finals before Croatia defeated England for a place in the final. England were not considered genuine contenders at the start, but a combination of a good draw, good fortune, and what appeared good team spirit carried them into the semi-finals. When England got there, I wanted them to win, not only because I normally support them, behind Argentina, but because their squad was made up of players who all played in the Premier League. Deep down, however, I figured that England could not win the cup. They, like Tottenham Hotspurs, my beloved English team for over 60 years now who had 12 players in the tournament, lacked the mettle necessary to win a competition of such quality, especially at this time. England lacked a player who could hold up the ball when necessary. They get into a defensive mood too quickly thus keeping the pressure on themselves, and that means that every time they look up, the opposition is coming at them with the ball at their feet. The pressure, therefore, was always on them, and their defensive play was also not that good. England and Spurs play alike, and this time, England had too many Spurs players in their squad, and important players at that, players like captain Harry Kane, Kieran Trippier, Dele Ali, Eric Dyer, and Danny Rose, plus an ex Spurs man for only a season, Kyle Walker. A mistake was always waiting to happen, as it did, on two occasions, after England led Croatia 1-0 in the semis. STORY OF THE TOURNAMENT Croatia, dark horses going into the tournament at odds of 33-1, got by Denmark in the last 16 on penalty kicks; got by Russia in the quarterfinals on penalty kicks, and got by England in the second half of extra-time, and with France looking the better team throughout the tournament, the final was simply one match too many for Croatia. Credit to Croatia, however, it was a fitting climax to a wonderful tournament. The final was a lovely, free-flowing match, and while the French goals included a header and a penalty, even though one of Croatia’s goals was a fumbling mistake by goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, another Spurs man, the goals by Pogba and Mbappe were out of the top drawer. They were among the best goals of the World Cup and numbered alongside, for example, the ‘corker’ from mid-fielder Modric, a former Spurs player, against Argentina, and the last-minute blast of pinpoint accuracy by defender Marcos Rojo of Argentina against Nigeria. To champions France went US$38 million, to Croatia went US$28 million, to Belgium went US$24 million, and to England went US$22 million, while the 16 teams that went home early each received US$8 million. It was not only probably the best and most enjoyable football tournament ever. It was also the richest World Cup of them all. The 2018 World Cup of football, probably the best ever, certainly in terms of competitiveness, has come and gone. The action from start to finish was entertaining, riveting, and of a high standard, and congratulations to France, not only for outlasting all the other contenders, but for doing so in style. From day one when Russia surprised by not only winning the first match of the tournament, but by whipping Saudi Arabia 5-0, and from the first round when goals were at a premium as the goalkeepers dazzled and the hope of defending champions Germany was snuffed out, it was football at its best. The exciting action continued in the second round when a number of top teams dropped like nine pins; into the third round going into the semi-finals when all the low-scoring matches, it seemed, went into extra-time, with a number of them decided on penalty kicks; and to the last match when France easily disposed of a stubborn Croatia by a score of four goals to two, including two memorable ones. The World Cup, however, also left behind a tale of woe following some surprising results, including the Argentina-Iceland match, which ended in a 1-1 draw; the early departure of defending champions Germany in round one, knocked out by South Korea 2-0; the narrow defeat of Colombia by Japan; and the exit of Spain, on penalty kicks, courtesy of the unheralded but, in the end, celebrated Russia. The fall of Germany was followed, one by one, by the early departure of Portugal and by former champions Argentina, Spain, Brazil, and Uruguay. Russia, the real surprise of the tournament, did well, as did Iceland, Korea Republic, and, of course, Japan. While the ‘big’ teams went out one by one, the “star” players failed to shine, also one by one, and Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, and Mohammed Salah left the tournament earlier than expected, leaving behind somewhat tarnished reputations. Stepping up, however, and leaving their mark on the tournament, were a number of players from ‘smaller’ teams and a number of highly rated players who chose the right time to really deliver, including Luka Modric of Croatia and Paul Pogba and Samuel Umititi of France. For me, however, the star of the World Cup, or the find of the World Cup, was 19-year-old Frenchman Kylian Mbappe. He was a refreshing young talent. He was fast and skilful, and his devastating run, especially through the Argentina defence, was something to see. That run was what really destroyed Argentina. He is a prospect and one to follow.