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.)
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 Wolkenworries
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."
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.