1) Unpredictability and late drama
A defining feature of this World Cup has been how unpredictable every game has been. There haven’t been too many matches that you can put your finger on and say that the team expected to win it has done so comfortably.
We have already seen 22 goals in injury-time, a number that is more than each of the last three World Cups combined. Memorable late twists include Toni Kroos’ last minute free-kick for Germany over Sweden, Salem Al-Dawsari’s last minute strike to give Saudi Arabia victory over Egypt, Xherdan Shaqiri’s last minute winner for Switzerland against Serbia and of course, the quickfire double by South Korea to eliminate Germany. This trend has continued into the round of 16, with Nacer Chadli sealing a come-from-behind 3-2 victory for Belgium over Japan with almost the last kick of the ball, and Yerry Mina heading in a 93rd minute equalizer over England to take the game into extra-time.
Every minute of action has been simply unmissable, and we have been kept on the edges of our seats right until the very end. No game has been a foregone conclusion, and there will be no octopuses trying their luck at predicting the outcome of this incredible topsy-turvy journey. Simply put, it has felt like a blockbuster movie with the scriptwriter on drugs.
2) New stars emerge as big guns falter
Germany were big favourites to defend their World Cup win from 2014, and were expected to finish top of a relatively straightforward-looking group consisting of Mexico, Sweden and South Korea. With two defeats out of three, however, the defending champions were dumped out in the group stages itself.
Moreover, Spain lost in the round of 16 in dramatic fashion to hosts Russia, after failing to impress in their group games either. France and Brazil are still there, but neither have been as impressive as expected.
Instead, teams like Belgium, Croatia and Uruguay have caught everyone’s eye. These three sides were the only ones to win all three of their group games, and have made it through to the quarter-finals as well. Now, Belgium and Uruguay face real tests against Brazil and France, respectively, and it will be incredible if they are able to defy the odds once again.
The way this tournament has gone so far, it won’t at all be surprising if we have a new winner. From the teams that remain, only France, Brazil and England have won a World Cup before.
3) The success of VAR
There was a lot of debate surrounding the usage of the video-assisted referee, or VAR, at the World Cup this year. The referee on the pitch uses this system to consult with his colleagues sitting in the building and watching video replays of contentious incidents. The man in the middle then has the option to take another look at the proceedings in a television monitor at pitchside and change his decisions.
It would be safe to say that VAR has been a resounding success. Even though it still has a couple of drawbacks, the transparency and accountability of the game has vastly improved. A total of 28 penalties have been awarded at the tournament so far, more than ever before. Referees have used VAR not only to award penalties earlier denied, but also to rescind spot-kicks earlier given. There have still been a couple of wrong decisions, but at the end of the day, the overall outcome of the World Cup has been left largely unaffected.
The World Cup has been a consummate exhibition of both talent and drama, and has shown us everything that we love about this beautiful game. It has exceeded all expectations and has been, at least in recent memory, the best edition of the tournament.
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