Best World Cup ever? How about unique, in a slew of ways

Was the World Cup that concluded on Sunday the best ever? That's for all of us to make our own judgments about based on our own soccer values and our life with the sport.

It was not the highest-scoring by a long shot -- it ranks only 15 of the 21 tournaments in goals per game with an average of 2.64 -- but it was unique in so many ways that it will be remembered for a long time.

If you limit your analysis to the last six World Cups when the tournament consisted of 32 teams and 64 games, Russia 2018 broke a host of records.

Most own goals. France won the World Cup with a 4-2 victory over Croatia in the highest-scoring final since 1966. It opened the scoring on an own goal by Mario Mandzukic, the first own goal ever score in a final. It was the 12th own goal scored in the 2018 World Cup, double the next most own goals scored in the last six tournaments.

Most penalty kicks. France's second goal was a penalty kick converted by Antoine Griezmann after the first VAR decision handed down in a World Cup final. Historic and record-breaking. It was the 22nd goal scored from the penalty spot at the World Cup, five more than the previous high set in 1998. (Only 12 PKs were scored four years ago.)

Fewest scoreless draws. France was involved in another record. The 2018 World Cup featured the fewest 0-0 ties in the last six World Cups. The one and only scoreless draw involved Les Bleus in their final group match with Denmark. They had already clinched passage to the second round, and a draw served the interests of both teams. France won the group and Denmark finished second.

Only one scoreless draw makes it hard to imagine how we got through the last World Cup when seven games ended in 0-0 ties.

Now the disciplinary side ...

Fewest red cards. There were just four red cards, so few they are easy to count off:

-- Colombia's Carlos Sanchez (straight red) against Japan;
-- Germany's Jerome Boateng (two yellows) against Sweden;
-- Russia's Igor Smolnikov (two yellows) against Uruguay;
-- Switzerland's Michael Lang (two yellows) against Sweden.

Of the four, just one came after the group stage and none was for serious foul play or violent conduct.

Those four red cards continue a downward trend in ejections. Germans called the 2006 World Cup "Ein Sommermärchen" ("A Summer Fairy Tale") but it was a horror show by comparison with 27 red cards.

Since then, red cards have been on a downward trend: 17 in 2010 and 10 in 2014. But only four is astonishing, and probably an unintended consequence of VAR's introduction.

(Four is only one more than the infamous USA-Italy game in 2006 -- the game in which the USA tied the eventual champion Azzurri, 1-1, for their only point of the tournament but accomplished the mean feat of going from 11 vs. 10 to 9 vs. 10 thanks to red cards to Pablo Mastroeni and Eddie Pope that followed Italian Daniele De Rossi's early red for an elbow to the side of Brian McBride's head.)

Fewest fouls. Less noticed but quite significant has been the downward spiral in fouls:

-- 2,346 in 2006;
-- 2,003 in 2010;
-- 1,917 in 2014;
-- 1,732 in 2018.

That's a drop of 26 percent in 12 years. A 26 percent drop in stoppages that means that much more time the ball was in play.

Back to France: The most impressive stat of its run to the title was that it committed only six fouls in its most complete performance of the World Cup, its shutout of the highest-scoring team in the tournament, Belgium, in the semifinals.

Off the Post:
Tuesday: France's new champions, young, innocent and adored.

Relevant and hip? Soccer? Just not the MLB All-Star Game.

With attendance off 1,500 a game and batting averages at .247, the lowest since 1968, USA Today's Dan Wolken worries about the future baseball and wonders if soccer will have become more popular by 2026 when the World Cup arrives. He goes through all that soccer has going for it but admits there are probably still more baseball fans than soccer fans. He concludes:

"Maybe that won’t ever change, much less by 2026. But with another World Cup now behind us, it’s clearer than ever that soccer has become part of the mainstream. It’s relevant and hip, two words unlikely to be uttered about the baseball exhibition in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday night."

About that downtown Boston soccer stadium -->

Jorge Mas, one of the co-owners of the MLS team-to-be in Miami, turned heads when he told the Miami Herald that the New England Revolution, now the only original MLS team without a soccer stadium of its own, was in the process of building a new stadium in downtown Boston. That was news back in Beantown. Both the mayor's office and zoning board told Pro Soccer USA there's no proposal on the table.
11 comments about "Best World Cup ever? How about unique, in a slew of ways".
  1. beautiful game, July 18, 2018 at 7:51 a.m.

    IMHO, WC 2018 had too few contests of real excitement. Overall it was less than expected. Since watching WC from 1966 to present, this one probably ranks somewhere in the middle. 

  2. David Mont, July 18, 2018 at 7:53 a.m.

    Can we stop this nonsense.  I've been watching world cups since 1970, and this one is definitely one of the worst ever.  In the 70-'s and 80's, for example, you could always count on the semifinalists being the best four (or at least three) teams in the tournament.  And those were truly great teams.   Brazil, Italy, Germany in 1970.  Germany, Holland, Poland in '74.  Argentina, Holland, Italy in '78. 

    This time around, you could take, let's say, Brazil, Colombia, Spain, Portugal as the final four, or Mexico, Argentina, Russia, Denmark, or even Uruguay, Sweden, Korea, Japan, and no one would've noticed the difference.  No one would've said -- oh, it's such a shame that France or Croatia or Belgium didn't make it.  There were no great teams, hardly any good teams.  Mediocrity ruled.  You score from a set piece, park the bus, and wait for the final whistle.
    The top goal scorer was Harry Kane -- does anyone still remember any of the goals he scored (other than the ridiculous deflection against Tunisia)?


    Are we going to remember any of the players?  Maybe Modric, primarily for running a lot and his fighting spirit, and Mbappe, primarily because of all the hype and being able to run very fast on occasion.  Anyone else?

  3. Bob Ashpole replied, July 19, 2018 at 4:11 p.m.

    If I recall correctly Kane had 3 of his 6 goals from penalty kicks.

  4. David Mont, July 18, 2018 at 8 a.m.

    And are we going to remember any of the games?  Yeah, there were a few exciting ones that kept us on the edge of the seat, and there are such games in every WC, just through the nature of the competition... but any games that we will remember years later?  Like we still remember England-Germany or Germany-Italy or Brazil-Italy of '70?  I doubt it very much.  I can already barely remember any, and it's not just because I'm much older now and my memory is going.

  5. uffe gustafsson, July 18, 2018 at 5:28 p.m.

    This is about cheering on your own country.
    you don’t think Japanese think this was a great WC and what a fun team to watch.
    how about every game Croatia played nail biters.
    lots of great games to watch.
    just because Spain, Germany, Portugal etc. didn’t move on don’t mean it was boring.
    get used to it lots a smaller nations are now very competitive.
    same will be true for women’s WC next year.
    its all for the better to have no real dominant country.

  6. Kent James replied, July 19, 2018 at 12:52 a.m.

    Well said.

  7. Kent James, July 19, 2018 at 12:55 a.m.

    I've always believed that good teams don't need to foul (people would tell me I was unrealistic or naive).  Now the French have proven it.  Well done.  (Yeah, I know everyone does not have the talent of the French, but fouling is only a successful strategy if the referees don't enforce the laws...).

  8. Bob Ashpole replied, July 19, 2018 at 4:13 p.m.

    Now this I agree with completely. Well said.

  9. frank schoon, July 20, 2018 at 2:20 a.m.

    Agree with DM, definitely one of the worst, beating out even‘14 WC as the worst. That this WC had the fewest fouls is no consolation either, for it is more of a reflection of the uninspiring play of the teams involved. What do expect when teams play “Park the bus strategy”, run back into safe cubbyhole in front of their goal,and try to simply keep the ball away; instead going out agressively after the opponent with the ball.

  10. Bob Ashpole replied, July 21, 2018 at 5:10 p.m.

    I suspect fewer fouls had something to do with VAR too and video giving the referee the ability to see everything including fouls behind him away from the ball. In other words VAR is a deterrent. 

  11. frank schoon replied, July 22, 2018 at 2:09 a.m.

    True, that also ,although you can’t quantify it. I wonder how much of an overal effect it really has when you consider “in the heat of the moment” type of fouls.

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