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A to Z of the World Cup

As the 2018 World Cup in Russia draws to a close, Lounge looks at the players, moments, themes and numbers that defined the tournament

Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

A Alireza Beiranvand, the 25-year-old Iranian goalkeeper, shot to fame when he saved a penalty from Cristiano Ronaldo.

Photo: AFP

It was just days after his World Cup debut, the culmination of a journey that began at age 12, when he ran away from home. Beiranvand, keen to pursue football despite his father’s opposition, worked at a dressmaking factory, a car wash, a pizza shop, and as a street cleaner, to make ends meet and follow his dream.

Telstar 18. Photo: AFP

B Balls. It has been a mixed cup for the Telstar 18, the official match ball. It was designed to be predictable in flight but has ended up embarrassing top goalkeepers in Russia, including Spain’s David de Gea. There have even been incidents of balls bursting in group stage matches. For the knock-out stages, adidas has come out with a different version of the ball.

Gareth Southgate. Photo: Reuters

C Coaches and strategies were in the spotlight even before the World Cup began. Spain fired their coach one day earlier, replacing him with Fernando Hierro, who resigned soon after the team was knocked out. Jorge Sampaoli’s Argentina and Joachim Löw’s Germany had painful campaigns. But Russia also witnessed a resurgent Brazil under Tite and the roaring three lions under Gareth Southgate.

Photo: Getty Images

D Defence. Brazilian flair football was complemented by an almost Italian defence this time. The Seleção conceded only one goal till they went out in the quarter-final. Neighbours Uruguay conceded no goals at all in the group stage. Strategically, there was greater focus on tighter defence than on swifter attacks.

Essam El Hadary. Photo: AFP

E Essam El Hadary, Egyptian goalkeeper and captain, became the oldest player ever to play in a World Cup. In an international career that spans 22 years, El Hadary, 45, has earned more than 150 caps for Egypt. He made his international debut 10 months before his youngest teammate at the World Cup was born.

Photo: AFP

F Flops. It’s been that kind of a World Cup. It’s official: Tiki-taka is dead. Defending champions Germany finished last in their group. Argentina and Spain could not go beyond the round of 16. Five-time champions Brazil lost in the quarter-finals. Four-time champions Italy couldn’t even qualify. The old world order changed.

Photo: Reuters

G GOAT that wasn’t to be. The two contenders for the title going into the World Cup, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo—with over 1,200 career goals between them—failed to inspire rather poor teams. The 30 June Argentina vs France match, however, could become a landmark in the GOAT debate if teen sensation Kylian Mbappé can fulfil the potential he showed that day.

Harry Kane. Photo: AFP

H Harry Kane. The inspirational English captain is the front-runner for the Golden Boot in Russia with six goals, including a hat-trick—and possibly the ugliest ever—against debutants Panama.

I Iceland, the 2018 debutants, became the smallest country to participate in a World Cup. The country has a population of just around 350,000 and stays covered in snow for almost half the year, making outdoor practice impossible. Yet they have a fascinating footballing culture and are punching way above their weight in international football.

Photo: AP

J Japanese fans. Their team almost had Belgium by the throat before losing the match with the last kick. Japanese fans, despite their shock and dejection, picked up their litter and cleaned up the stadium after them. The team left the dressing room spotless, with a thank-you note in Russian. Some fans stayed behind to support Brazil. And after Brazil’s loss in the quarter-final, those fans were seen cleaning up the stadium before leaving again, according to reports.

Photo: AFP

K Kazan. The Kazan Arena has a capacity of 45,000 and hosted six matches during the tournament. It became the graveyard of champions, with three of the most decorated football teams—Germany, Argentina and Brazil (with 11 titles between them)—bowing out of the tournament there.

Luzhniki Stadium. Photo: Reuters

L Luzhniki, the picturesque stadium on the banks of the Moskva river in Moscow, is hosting seven matches, including the final on Sunday. The Luzhniki’s capacity swelled to 80,000 after a four-year renovation period.

Diego Maradone. Photo: Reuters

M Maradona is still making news for reasons good and bad. He was visibly angry at Argentina’s performance in the tournament and offered to coach the national team for free after their exit. But the lasting image from Russia, where Diego Maradona came as a Fifa ambassador, would be his giving the finger to fans from his private box during Argentina’s match against Nigeria.

Photo: Getty Images

N Numbers. So far in Russia, 62 matches have been played and 161 goals scored. Belgium, with 14 goals, and Brazil, with 292 attacks, were the best teams in attack, while Croatia, with 272 tackles, saves and clearances, have been the best in defence. A staggering 47,902 passes were completed at an average of 772 per match; Spain completed the most—3,120 passes. Eighty-one of 92 players on semi-final rosters were with clubs in England (40), Spain (12), France (12), Germany (nine) and Italy (eight).

O Own goals. In a record, players found themselves putting the ball in the wrong net 11 times in the 60 matches before the semi- finals. The previous record was six own goals in France, in 1998.

Artem Dzyuba (right). Photo: AFP

P Penalties. Twenty-one of them have been converted in 62 games. In comparison, the figures for Brazil 2014 and South Africa 2010 were 12 and nine, respectively.

Photo: AFP

Q Quaresma. The Portugal winger, 34, finally made his World Cup debut in Russia after making his international debut 15 years ago. Despite having 78 international caps, he had to sit out the first two games. When he finally started against Iran in the final league game, Quaresma scored Portugal’s only goal before being benched again in the round of 16 match. He may be too old to play the next World Cup but his strike with the outside of the foot (called trivela in Portuguese) was one for the ages.

Photo: AP

R Russia. It has been one of the best Cups in terms of organization and administration. With a Fifa ranking of 70, the lowest among participants, there were fears that Russia might not advance to the knockout stage. But Stanislav Cherchesov and his men had other plans. The last time Russia (then the Soviet Union) reached the last eight was in 1970.

Photo: Reuters

S Set pieces. With Kieran Trippier’s goal against Croatia in the semi-final, England set a record for the most goals from set pieces in a World Cup since 1966. England scored nine of their 12 goals from set pieces, including three penalties. Overall, 68 of the 161 goals so far have been scored of set pieces in Russia. That is 42% of the total goals. The previous record was 36%, in 1998.

Neymar. Photo: AFP

T Theatrics. It’s been a Cup of theatrics and histrionics. Neymar’s consistent rolling on the pitch, clutching his shins in pain, has been such a common sight that a series of memes have flooded the internet. The day is not far when they will include it in football coaching manuals.

U Underdogs. Never has the World Cup been dominated by dark horses the way it has been in Russia. Uruguay, Japan, Mexico and Russia have impressed. Meanwhile, Belgium (despite the talk of a golden generation), Croatia (with possibly the best midfielders), England (the best exponents of set pieces) and France (with Mbappé’s lightning speed) made for the most improbable final four in the tournament’s history.

V Video-assistant referee was the biggest bone of contention before the tournament. In its World Cup debut, VAR resulted in more penalties given, and scored, than in any other World Cup. A VAR review also overturned a penalty decision at the World Cup for the first time during the Brazil vs Costa Rica match. The perfect tech solution might still be some modifications away, but VAR is a promising start.

Photo: Reuters

W Wanda and other Chinese companies account for four of the 14 key sponsors and partners at the World Cup. China accounts for one-third of the global advertising spend of $2.4 billion driven by the tournament, according to research firm Zenith’s estimates.

X Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka. Their celebration after scoring against Serbia, with the Swiss duo making hand gestures of a two-headed eagle (the Albanian national symbol), was the most politically charged moment of the World Cup. The two players are of Albanian origin, with links to Kosovo, once a Serbian province.

Y Yuri Gazinsky. Russia’s defensive midfielder, 28, averages about one goal a season for his club Krasnodar. But he was unmarked at the back post in the opening game against Saudi Arabia, when the cross from Aleksandr Golovin came in the 12th minute. Gazinsky headed it into the net—the first goal of the tournament.

Photo: AFP

Z Zabivaka the wolf, the official mascot of Russia 2018. It was designed by Ekaterina Bocharova, a student, and named the official mascot after a public poll on in 2016 that saw more than a million votes cast. The wolf received 53% of the votes, beating a tiger (27%) and a cat (20%).

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