OTB World Cup Diary: France World Champions, Russia Memorable Hosts...
So this is the last diary! Thank heavens says you.
The World Cup Final which I was lucky to attend yesterday lived up to the billing, as an occasion and as a game.
I was impressed by the re-branding of the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow to reflect that it was a Final, the 21st of all time, if you include the 1950 Group game between Uruguay and Brazil, an effective decider. The atmosphere was powerful, on par with the magnitude of the greatest day in world sport. Thunder and lightning in the Moscow air lended a mystery and the fireworks at the end were a fitting finale.
Mother Russia can afford itself a pat on the back after a month of superb organisation and an overwhelming welcome to fans from around the globe. As it should be. I hope the supporters of every nation enjoyed this country and have interesting stories to tell and I hope this will leave a permanent legacy for the Russian people about the art of the possible, beyond their borders.
As for the match, France deserved to win the tournament. They were the best team over the course of the competition and never went to extra time. Croatia will feel somewhat unfortunate that they didn't get the bounce of the ball in the first half yesterday, when they were superior. It was dramatic to witness the first own goal in a Final and the first ever VAR decision. Like it or not, VAR is here to stay and it's a good thing in my view. It's still up to the referee to make the final call and I believe this World Cup as a whole has been officiated well, with an allowance for free flowing football and common sense when it comes to the branding of yellow and red cards. We saw the fewest amount of red cards issued in 40 years.
I never felt Croatia could recover from a 2-1 deficit entering the second half, as it proved when the outstanding Paul Pogba and teenager Kylian Mbappe sealed the second ever World Cup for Les Bleus in a 4-2 win. France can take huge confidence now and with their squad strength and age profile, they are going to be formidable world players for years to come. Didier Deschamps becomes only the third man to win the World Cup as a player and manager and he deserves huge credit for fostering unity and sticking by his principles.
Croatia won our hearts, and their lesson is that even for a country with a small population, it can be done. The Republic of Ireland missed out on a special journey and I am hoping the fortunes of the national team can take an upward swing for 2022.
My team of the tournament was:
Thibaut Courtois, Kieran Tripper, Raphael Varane, Diego Godin, Lucas Hernandez, Ivan Rakitic, Paul Pogba, Luka Modric, Eden Hazard, Philippe Coutinho and Kylian Mbappe.
My player of the tournament was Luka Modric, my goal of the tournament was Lionel Messi's for Argentina against France.
Unquestionably, my moment of the World Cup was Russia beating Spain in the last 16 and the spontaneous outpouring of emotion and joy I observed on the streets of Moscow that night.
Covering the World Cup as a journalist and a storyteller is something I feel very fortunate to have experienced and I will always cherish it. I am grateful for being assigned to do so and I would like to thank my employer Communicorp and the management and staff of Off the Ball, Today FM, Newstalk FM, 98FM and Spin South West for the platform. I would also like to thank those who sent in kind comments on social media. I was hoping my belief that the World Cup is the greatest show on earth would be fulfilled, and it was.
Sunday best. ⚽️🇫🇷🇭🇷🙏🏻 pic.twitter.com/yy6DV9YK9v— John Duggan (@JohnDugganSport) July 15, 2018