Greatest World Cup ever? Not so fast

Following Croatia's shootout win over Russia, Fox Sports soccer analyst Alexi Lalas suggested that Russia 2018 was the greatest World Cup ever.

Defining "greatest" is, of course, subjective. In terms of a World Cup, its greatness can be defined many ways, by its teams, its players, its goals, its games. Only after the final will we know if the champion and its star or stars match up to the greats of the past.

Scoring has increased since the start of the World Cup, putting the average at 2.62 goals per match, slightly below the 2014 average of 2.71. But the 2018 World Cup has seen a record number of goals off set pieces (68), a record number of penalties awarded (28) and a record number of own goals (11).

What this all suggests it that is harder and harder to score from open play, making the degree of difficulty that much higher. And on that basis, the golazos so far at the 2018 World Cup are certainly up there with those at any previous tournament.

World Cup games can be defined by the quality of the play, the drama or what is at stake. The 2018 World Cup was fortunate to be served up on the second night by the Iberico Clasico -- a 3-3 tie between Spain and Portugal, featuring a hat trick by Cristiano Ronaldo. Even though that game proved to be the high point of the tournament for the two teams -- they finished with only two wins between them and exited in the round of 16 -- it set a high bar for the tournament.

Spain-Portugal has already been matched or surpassed by at least two games: France-Argentina and Belgium-Japan in the round of 16. The France-Argentina game featured two lead changes, two golazos from Angel di Maria and Benjamin Pavard and a brilliant individual performance from Kylian Mbappe. Belgium became the first team since West Germany in 1970 to come back from two goals down to win a game in the knockout stage -- and the Red Devils won on a thrilling counterattack in the dying seconds of regulation to break the hearts of a fantastic Japanese team.

France-Argentina and Belgium-Japan are two of five knockout games in which the winner came from behind to advance. You have to go all the way back to the 1934 World Cup to find a tournament in which more knockout games -- and that tournament was played entirely as a knockout competition -- were won by a team that had trailed.

Russia's shootout victory over Spain has been defined as the biggest upset of the modern era -- the largest gap in the FIFA rankings between the winner and loser -- and the 2018 tournament has featured other surprises, but they don't compare to some of the upsets of the past: Cameroon over Argentina to open the 1990 World Cup, Algeria over West Germany in 1982 or, of course, the USA over England in 1950.

When you throw in the Belgium-Brazil quarterfinal match, the 2018 World Cup certainly has produced the most special games since the 1982 World Cup in Spain, which featured the classic West Germany-France semifinal, but also Italy's wins over Argentina with Diego Maradona and the great Brazil team in the mini-group, and the Algeria upset win in Gijon. (Forgotten is host Spain's opening game: a 1-1 tie with Honduras, the greatest result in Catracho history.)

But when you talk about great World Cups, none will likely surpass the 1970 tournament in Mexico when four of the seven knockout games featured comeback wins -- including West Germany-England in the quarterfinals and Italy-West Germany in the semifinals -- and the tournament was won by Brazil, the greatest of all World Cup champions.

4 comments about "Greatest World Cup ever? Not so fast".
  1. beautiful game, July 8, 2018 at 3:57 p.m.

    Lalas has been conning soccer viewers since he became the TV"voice" of American soccer. He echoes his MLS comments with "great". once it was about a "great goal scorer"; who had 6 goals in two MLS seasons.

  2. Karl Schreiber, July 8, 2018 at 8:42 p.m.

    Thanks, Paul, for starting an evaluation of the World Cup Russia 2018 experience. I am looking forward to comprehensive analyzes, including the performance of the highest bidder for the exclusive US broadcast rights (the corporation that also hosts the Jerry Springer Show and introduced ultimate cage fighting to our culture, that exposes millions of soccer fans and newcomers to incorrect soccer terminology  as in “byline”…). I would like to read things about logistics support for teams and for travelling fans, cultural exchanges, all aspects of officiating, absence of hooliganism…things the Fox TV broadcasts don’t show.

    As for Fox’ performance: I am not a fan of loud-mouth anything including commentaries in difficult-to-understand dialects. Fox should have saved the $$ for that pretentious box near Saint Basil’s on Red Square and instead should have flown all match commentators to Russia – for the game ambience. Speaking about those: Send Strong and Holden back to the U.S. for the remainder (too much blah blah). Send Rae and Wagner to Russia instead, for one semifinal and the third-place game. Let Dellacamera and Meola do the other semifinal and the final. All of those on-site of course. -- It is great to be able to watch all games. Next time with U.S. of A.!

  3. R2 Dad replied, July 10, 2018 at 12:55 a.m.

    Karl, soccer/football is an international game, that didn't begin in the US. There are lots of words used by lots of countries, none of which are "incorrect terminology". Here is the link to a related article on the wonderful breadth of vocabulary and idoms used:
    Lastly, most kids under 40 who play FIFA listen to british terms and use them interchangably. That useage makes the game more international, more interesting. Less parochial.

  4. Karl Schreiber, July 10, 2018 at 4:41 p.m.

    Thanks for reading my comment, R2 Dad, and for re-commenting. Point is, there’s a difference between conversations at a sports bar and announcing a game on a national network in a sport that is still attracting new viewers. I am quite familiar with the international game, its history [yeah, I have actually met Jimmy Niotis, USSF historian!] and slangs including British association football slang that is still in the proverbial mixer. I’ve also spent considerable time promoting the sport in the U.S. and strongly believed then and am believing now in using the “official” terminology per the Laws of the Game, English Edition. What is so difficult accepting this concept, John Strong, especially when your side kick can do it? – Yea, listening to the international slang expressions is great fun and is a good reason for watching games at a sports bar.  "US A!  US A!"

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