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The highs and lows of a memorable World Cup - and Luka Modric's classic put-down to England's TV pundits...

Croatia's Luka Modric scores against Argentina in the group stages of the World Cup. The Real Madrid star is on course to be voted the best player of these finals and he also had a few wise words for some of England's TV pundits

Best pundit…

KEVIN Kilbane had a fine tournament even though he didn’t get a lot of couch time on the BBC, but delivered excellent analysis every time, while Slaven Bilic held your attention on ITV.

Chris Waddle spoke a lot of sense on BBC Five Live, opting for insight rather than patriotic fervour. Maybe it’s time to promote the former England winger onto our television screens.

 

Worst pundit…

IT should always be the passionless Ryan Giggs – on ITV - but Alan Shearer was particularly annoying on the BBC the way in which he wrapped himself in the flag – metaphorically speaking – at every given opportunity, forgetting that his primary role was to actually analyse the game objectively as possible. His karaoke gig posted on social media with an audience of two - Rio Ferdinand and Gary Lineker - was a low point.

Best punditry moment…

ROY Keane admonishing Ian Wright for getting ahead of himself and talking about organising “parades” for England’s victorious homecoming, moments after Croatia knocked them out of the semi-finals. Wright gave as good as he got and threw in a decent Cork accent towards the end of their lighthearted exchange. Priceless.

 

Most tension in the studio…

FOR whatever reason, Martin O’Neill could only manage to take Slaven Bilic in small doses. Perhaps it was the Croat’s expressive style and dominating the room, and taking up more airtime than others. Whatever it was the Republic of Ireland manager wasn’t amused.

 

Most rehearsed punditry comment…

HE mightn’t provide a lot of tactical insight before, during or after games, but Roy Keane remains Box Office for ITV. The Cork man never misses an opportunity to play up to his hard man image. So, speaking ahead of one of Iran’s group games, he revealed to viewers that he didn’t have much time for their manager Carlos Queiroz, formerly a coach at Manchester United, as they both fell out towards the end of the midfielder’s time at Old Trafford.

“I told him where to go,” said ‘Keano’, “But one of my big regrets was I should have ripped his head off.”

Social media went into over-drive – as only it can when Keane’s in the house.

 

Most annoying song…

“Football’s Coming Home” – England’s unofficial anthem. It gathered ridiculous momentum after the side beat World Cup heavyweights Tunisia with a late, scuffed finish by Harry Kane in their opener.

 

Quote of the tournament…

“Especially the English journalists and pundits from television, they underestimated Croatia. That was a huge mistake. All their words, we took, we were reading and we said: ‘Ok, we will see who will be tired.’ They should be more humble and respect the opponents. We dominated the game physically and mentally, in all aspects. We should have killed the game before extra-time.” - Croatia’s Luka Modric takes a swipe at a few English TV pundits after they knocked Gareth Southgate’s men out of the World Cup. Wonder was Shearer one of the offending pundits…

 

Best goal…

LIONEL Messi’s work of art against Nigeria. Great pass from Ever Banega and with no margin for error, Messi’s first two touches were as good as you’ll ever see. His finish with his weaker left foot was sublime. It was the one and only Messi moment at the World Cup – but what a moment.

 

Second & third best goals…

BENJAMIN Pavard’s strike for France against Argentina was a thing of beauty, cutting across the ball and finding the inside of the post. Christen Eriksen’s brilliant execution to find the net against Australia was another wonder strike.

 

Greatest adrenaline rush…

IT has to be Marcos Rojo’s thumping finish to knock out Nigeria and seal Argentina’s place in the knock-out stages. Just when the South Americans were in dire need of inspiration, it came from the most unlikeliest of sources.

Staying one World Cup too long…

AT 39, Rafael Marquez played in his fifth World Cup finals with Mexico. The former Barcelona ace, though, looked really off the pace against South Korea and somehow earned a starting berth against Brazil in the knock-out stages before being replaced at half-time. Marquez, now playing for Atlas, had everything as a central defender/defensive midfielder but in Russia the legs were well and truly gone.

 

Best World Cup XI…

Hugo Lloris (France), Thomas Meuiner (Belgium), Benjamin Pavard (France), Raphael Varane (France), Yerry Mina (Colombia), Luka Modric (Croatia), Hector Herrera (Mexico), Isco (Spain), Ivan Perisic (Croatia), Eden Hazard (Belgium), Kylian Mbappe (France).

 

World Cup XI flops…

Willy Cabellero (Argentina), Gabriel Mercado (Argentina), Jerome Boateng (Germany), Kyle Walker (England), Raphael Guerreiro (Portugal), Toni Kroos (Germany), Koke (Spain), Maximilano Meza (Argentina), Raheem Sterling (England), Marco Arsensio (Spain), Gonzalo Higuain (Argentina).

 

When an ex-player lashes out…

“I’ll be quite happy to go without Toni Kroos’s 1,500 passes.” - Former Germany international Paul Brietner appears to level the blame of Germany’s early demise at the door of the Real Madrid star for his lateral passes.

 

Worst team…

THAT would be, erm, Saudi Arabia.

 

Worst tactics…

SPAIN had the quality to win the World Cup but proved masters of their own downfall against hosts Russia. They kept the ball for the sake of keeping it for 120 soul-sapping minutes as Russia parked the most ignorant of buses possible along their 18-yard box. Cesc Fabregas, the former Spain midfielder, said: “Spain are keeping the ball to defend – not to attack.”

Midfielder Koke had a thousand touches of the ball but sorely lacked ambition, continually passing backwards and sidewards to his centre backs. And then, of course, he missed the decisive penalty in the shoot-out. You had to feel for lone striker Diego Costa who kept running into space but rarely received a forward pass.

Worst decision...

KEEPING Andres Iniesta on the bench for Spain's second round game against Russia.

 

Best pass…

ISCO’S reverse pass to Iniesta against Portugal. The ball appeared glued to the Real Madrid’s star’s boot before off-loading it to Iniesta on his blind side. Untouchable.

 

Second best pass…

EVER Banega’s clipped pass for Lionel Messi’s goal against Nigeria in the group stages.

A word on England...

A CLASS manager with average players - and a team that relied almost exclusively on set pieces to reach the final.

The trouble with Mbappe…

TOO keen to feign injury. The French teenage superstar has been guilty of going down too easily on a few occasions in these finals, particularly against Uruguay when an opponent made the slightest of touches on him, which caused uproar. Obviously, Neymar has taught him everything he knows at PSG.

 

Best save…

ENGLAND ‘keeper Jordan Pickford dealt unbelievably well with Mateus Uribe’s late extra-time effort from a ridiculous distance out. It was like a meteorite coming out of the night skies over Moscow.

 

Second best save…

HUGO Lloris’s wonderful stop to deny Uruguay’s Martin Caceres with a well directed header in their quarter-final game in the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, preserving France’s 1-0 lead at the time.

 

Biggest goalkeeping howler…

TAKE your pick from Willy Cabellero’s woeful attempt to find an Argentine team-mate with a lobbed pass only for Ante Rebic of Croatia to capitalise with a volleyed finish, or Fernando Muslera of Uruguay allowing Antoine Griezmann’s harmless effort to slip through his hands that effectively ended the South Americans interest in the competition. Ironically, up until that moment, Muslera was in the running for the best goalkeeper at these finals.

 

Best player…

IT’S still in the balance ahead of Sunday’s final between France and Croatia. Luka Modric gets the tentative vote here ahead of Kylian Mbappe and Raphael Varane.

 

The best & worst of VAR…

OVERALL, the Video Assistant Referee [VAR] was a big success but it had a few bad days during the World Cup. Iran’s successful penalty claim against Portugal - and Australia’s penalty award against Denmark were two howlers for VAR.

Vincent Kompany’s wild lunge on Brazil’s Jesus in the quarter-final and no penalty award was another woeful decision. But for every bad call, there were 10 good ones.

VAR also keeps defenders – and attackers – more honest at set pieces.

Human error has been significantly reduced by its introduction but, as some decisions at this World Cup proved, it can never be eliminated completely.

 

Unluckiest team…

MOROCCO’S enterprising play deserved more than they got in Russia. They outplayed Portugal and still lost 1-0 and were more than Spain’s equal in a 2-2 draw.

But their injury-time defeat to Iran in their opener proved costly.

Peru, making their first appearance at the World Cup finals since 1982, were also desperately unlucky to go out at the group stages.

The South American minnows played with typical panache and should really have got something out of their opening game with Denmark before France bored their way to a 1-0 win, even though Peru made all the running.

Best kit...

PERU.

Worst game…

THANKFULLY, there weren’t too many snooze fests in Russia – apart from when Sweden or Switzerland played. But taking the honours here was France and Denmark’s snore fest in Moscow that finished scoreless. It was the only scoreless draw in the group stages, and was a major improvement from the three previous World Cups where there were five, six and five scoreless draws in the group stages.

 

Where does Russia 2018 rank…

THESE finals have been the best since Mexico ’86. The vast majority of games were never short on drama and there was a decent sprinkling of shocks along the way. There were great goals, moments of genius from the dwindling numbers of game-changers in the modern game and the match officials applied common sense rather than flashing yellow and red cards in games. However, there mightn’t have been great variation in tactics while too many teams relied on set pieces to win games. Some tournaments have started off well but tailed off in the knock-out stages, but these finals were compelling right the whole way through. Overall, there were countless memorable games and moments in Russia that will live long in the memory.

Most revealing social media footage…

DIEGO Costa questioning Fernando Hierro’s decision to allow Koke to take a spot-kick in Spain’s penalty shoot-out with Russia. Costa is a team-mate of Koke’s at Atletico Madrid and obviously knows his strengths and weaknesses. Costa didn’t think converting penalties was one of Koke’s strengths.

As it happened, Koke missed his spot-kick that sent Spain home and Costa had that ‘Told-You-So’ look on his face when he walked off the pitch beside the stand-in manager.

Best game...

Belgium's dramatic 3-2 win over Japan in the second round.

Biggest off-field drama…

SPAIN sacking their manager Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the finals after it emerged he had signed for Real Madrid, without the Spanish FA receiving prior notice. Fernando Hierro stepped into the breach, but Lopetegui’s absence could only have had a destabilising impact on Spain’s chances of winning the World Cup.

 

Best free-kick…

IT seemed impossible for Cristiano Ronaldo to get his free-kick against Spain up and down over the wall. But he managed the feat with aplomb, reducing David De Gea to a helpless spectator. A wonderful finish in an unforgettable game that finished 3-3 and lit the fuse for these finals.

 

Worst dive…

HARRY Maguire’s dive against Colombia trying to win a penalty was hilarious. Old ‘Slab Head’, as he was christened in these finals, knew his attempt to con the referee was really bad.

So he got up and waved to the referee not to award England a penalty. He was never getting one anyway. Weirdly, Maguire was praised by ITV co-commentator Glenn Hoddle for being so “honest”. Yes, honest.

 

Best individual display…

HECTOR Herrera’s all-action midfield display for Mexico as they shocked Germany in their opening group game.

 

Losing their early tournament fizz…

MEXICO looked as though they could finally get beyond the second round phase in Russia after racing out of the blocks by beating the dishevelled Germans in their opening group game. With Hector Herrera running midfield and Hirving Lozano announcing his arrival on the world stage with the winning goal, Juan Carlos Osorio’s men looked up for the challenge. Sadly, though, it was downhill after beating the defending world champions. They still qualified for the second round but were easily dismissed by a dominant Brazil side.

 

Best hair gel…

OLIVIER Giroud’s perfectly combed hair never moved in Russia for an entire month. Impressive.

 

Best description of World Cup favourites France…

“France: a cold-blooded, armour-plated reptile of a team, bristling with terrifying fangs and spines. They will kill you but at least they’ll destroy your will to live first.” Irish Times journalist Ken Early.

 

Worst penalty…

RUSSIA’S Fedor Smolov tried to execute a Paneka-style penalty but failed miserably as his effort was easily saved by Danijel Sabasic and gave Croatia an advantage in their quarter-final shoot-out against the hosts.

 

Most dramatic finish…

JUST when Germany’s chances of beating Sweden in the group stages were slipping away, up popped Toni Kroos with a perfectly measured free-kick deep into stoppage-time. The late 2-1 win was meant to kick-start their World Cup campaign, but they suffered a humiliating loss to South Korea and the defending champions were out.

 

Worst coach…

COLOMBIA coach Jose Pekerman retains this unwanted title he first won in 2006 with Argentina. His conservative instincts came to the surface again in Colombia’s second round game with England. Colombia never attacked England until the latter stages of the second half when Pekerman introduced attack-minded duo Luis Muriel and Mateus Uribe – two players he should have started with.

Biggest joke…

WATCHING a world-class player like Neymar try to cheat his way through the finals.

 

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