In an imperfect World Cup, France managed the imperfections best
MOSCOW — If one thing became obvious during the World Cup’s month-long run in Russia, it’s that Qatar is going to need a bigger country.
More than 1 million visitors flooded the country, packing Red Square, partying along Samara’s riverfront embankment and strolling the canals of historic St. Petersburg. But Russia is the largest country in the world. What happens when that many people show up four years from now in Qatar, which is smaller than Connecticut and has fewer people than Orange County?
“What we saw in Moscow, which has two stadiums, is that a city can be very quickly overwhelmed by big crowds,” senior Qatari official Nasser Al Khater said. “The fact you’re going to have the fans of 32 teams pretty much in a city, I think is going to be electrifying.”
Or 48 teams, FIFA apparently can’t make up its mind. Either way it’s going to overwhelm tiny Doha, Qatar’s pocket-sized capital.
But that’s not the only takeaway from Russia 2018, a World Cup that may have been the most exciting, most hospitable and best organized in recent memory. There were as many surprises are there were goals — and there were more of those than at all but one World Cup in the last 20 years.
Top-ranked Germany, the defending champion, bowed out in the group stage, while No. 70 Russia, the highest-ranked team in the tournament, made it to the quarterfinals.
Iceland became the smallest country to play in a World Cup and Croatia the second-smallest to make the final. Cristiano Ronaldo scored four goals in his first 94 minutes but didn’t get another as Portugal exited in the round of 16; Lionel Messi and Argentina went out that same day.
Mexico fell in the round of 16 for the seventh straight World Cup, extending its record for most losses in tournament history to 27, while Neymar and his Brazilian teammates, who knocked Mexico out, took a dive themselves one game later.
The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system made its debut in this World Cup and though it is clearly here to stay, it’s just as clear players, coaches, fans and even referees are going to have to make some adjustments to the system going forward.
Russia 2018 broke records for both penalty-kick attempts (29) and penalty-kicks goals (22). VAR wasn’t responsible for all of that it did catch penalties that previously would have gone unnoticed and led officials to award penalty kicks when previously they would have allowed play to continue.
In Sunday’s final, for example, Croatia’s Ivan Perisic was called for a penalty after a corner kick deflected off France’s Blaise Matuidi, stuck his hand and went out of bounds. Yes, the ball hit Perisic’s hand and caused it to change direction. But it didn’t significantly alter the play.
Argentine referee Nestor Pitana missed the handball and seemed ready to continue before a VAR official contacted him by handset and convinced him to consult a replay. Faced with video evidence, Pitana felt he had no choice but to award a penalty, which Antoine Griezmann converted. France never trailed again.
“In a World Cup final you do not give such a penalty,” Croatian coach Zlatko Dalic protested afterward.
He’s right. The contact between hand and ball was inconsequential and shouldn’t have been allowed to impact the biggest game in four years. To fix this, referees must be given much wider latitude to interpret the video rather than simply reviewing the pictures. They are tasked with interpreting plays all the time — foul or no foul? shove or no shove? offside or onside? This would just be an extension of that power.