10 July 2018



By Trymore Muhlanga




The 2018 FIFA World Cup has thus far been so full of twists and turns, surprises, and several records being broken. Not exactly your conventional World Cup.


Messi Out, Mbappe In?


The sight of Lionel Messi, head bowed down in agony, exiting Russia 2018 in the Second Round, was heart-wrenching. Ironically, it was at the hands of a Kylian Mbappe-inspired France. Whereas Messi struggled to stamp his authority in the match, the slippery and talented 19 year old Mbappe dazzled, scoring a brace and assisting one, to ensure Argentina were eliminated. As the teenage Mbappe announced his majestic entrance onto the grand stage, Messi was exiting: it was as if he passed the superstar baton to the teenager!


CR7, Messi: Last and Lost Chances


Two of arguably world football's best ever football players, Cristiano Ronaldo (33) and Lionel Messi (31) are highly unlikely to have another chance to compete in a World Cup tournament. If that happens, then both would've retired without having won the biggest international trophy in world football. They have won almost everything else, sharing the last 10 Ballons d'Or amongst themselves, multiple UCL trophies, BPL and La Liga Doubles and Trebles, a European Cup gold medal (for CR7)....But unlike past greats with whom they are often compared (Pele, Maradona, Zidane, et al), these two greats of our generation would've failed at the grandest stage of them all.


Where Are The Traditional Giants?


For the first time since 1938, one of the most successful World Cup campaigners, 4 time winners and defending champions Germany, was eliminated in the group stages of the World Cup, having previously reached at least the quarter-finals in 16 consecutive campaigns. Add to that the fact that 2010 winners Spain also exited in the Second Round, and 2006 and 3-time winners Italy never made it to Russia, neither did 3-time finalists Netherlands, and you have an unusual sight at a World Cup!


African Hopes Dashed: the French Connection Lol


For the first time since 1982, all of Africa's representatives were eliminated in the first round. And painfully, for the first-time in World Cup history, a team was eliminated on Fair Play (or lack thereof maybe? Lol), and as fate would have it, that team was none other than Africa's only remaining hope: Senegal. What a painful way to exit, beaten 6-4, not in a penalty shoot-out, but on the basis of number of yellow cards accumulated, by Japan.


In order to give a shred of hope and fulfillment to the football-mad African continent, the fans have turned to an unlikely source for solace: 1998 champions France. Why, one may ask? France is a European giant! Of course, the fans will reply, European giants they are, but more than half their team is black, most of the players having been either born in Africa, or represented African teams at youth level, or simply decided to play for France by virtue of having been borne in France, of African parents. So, Africa, we are still in it!


A World Cup of Firsts and Broken Records?


There are too many firsts, some of which have been previously discussed, add to the list:


When Mbappe scored twice in France’s 4-3 win over Argentina, he became the first teenager to score a brace in a World Cup match since Pele in 1958;

Russia 2018 became the first World Cup to be officiated by video assistant referee (VAR). The technology is without its controversies either: Senegal were initially awarded a penalty against Colombia, only for the referee to change his mind after consulting VAR. One wonders what would have happened in previous World Cup campaigns if VAR had been in use? Would El Diego’s “Hand of GOD” in ’86 have stood?

For the first time in a World Cup campaign, England finally won a penalty shoot-out!

Egyptian goalkeeper, Essam El-Hadary, at 45 years and 161 days old, became the oldest player to ever play in a World Cup match when he was named in the first 11 against Saudi Arabia, breaking the previous record which had hitherto been held by Colombia’s Faryd Mondragon (43 years and 3 days)

Likely Unlikely Winners


It is getting more and more likely that we'll have unlikely winners in this World Cup tournament. Surprise packages Croatia look likely to have a big say in the destiny of the trophy: if they can get past England tomorrow in the semis, they have the arsenal to stand their ground. With the way this World Cup has been full of surprises, it is not far-fetched to expect Croatia to make it to the final. England too, can afford to hope for a repeat of 1966 glory, but their lack of consistency may yet be their greatest undoing. From the other end, France look likely to use their experience to get past a star-studded Belgium, and wait for the winner between Croatia/England in the final. We may yet end up with a France vs Croatia Final! Maybe….



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