Previous
England
Croatia
2
1
FT
Game Details
Northern Ireland
Austria
1
2
FT
Game Details
Moldova
Luxembourg
1
1
FT
Game Details
San Marino
Belarus
0
2
FT
Game Details
Switzerland
Belgium
5
2
FT
Game Details
Greece
Estonia
0
1
FT
Game Details
Hungary
Finland
2
0
FT
Game Details
Next

Salzburg finally win a 'Red Bull battle' vs. Leipzig

UEFA Europa League
Read

Inside France's World Cup ceremony

France
Read

Argentina rebuilding job begins with Scaloni and Aimar

Argentina
Read

Does it matter who manages Mexico next?

Mexico
Read

Giroud honours World Cup bet, shaves head

Blog - The Toe Poke
Read

Griezmann wants World Cup ring for France squad

The Toe Poke
Read

The blur that is Mbappe, Ronaldo's hang time and amazing fans

ESPN's Charlie Gibson puts a bow on Project Russia from a scintillating final, as France claimed World Cup glory.

Covering a multi-venue World Cup (I'm sure it's the same in cricket) means you don't get to see much of the sport outside of what you are seeing live - you're either travelling, or at a press conference, or writing, or researching, or stuck in a hotel where they don't have the channel that is broadcasting the matches. You exist in a bubble - albeit one with rarefied air. So, from my one-month bubble, here are my favourite memories. There are obvious exclusions and missed-outs, but I can only call it as I see it.

Kylian Mbappe at full speed

Kylian Mbappe's runs were a delight to watch.
Kylian Mbappe's runs were a delight to watch.

This didn't happen too often but there was one occasion in the semi-final, against Belgium, and a couple in the final. Including one to assist in Paul Pogba's goal, where he raced to meet a long cross-field pass. He is, literally, a blur, and when he sets off you know he's going to beat whichever defender he's up against. How long can he keep doing this? No worries, if and when he slows down, his Plan B -dribbling and ball control - will come in pretty handy.

Cristiano Ronaldo's hang

Ronaldo rises above the rest to score against Wales at Euro 2016.
Ronaldo rises above the rest to score against Wales at Euro 2016.

Example of Plan B as mentioned above. Now that he doesn't run as much or as fast as he once did, Ronaldo has perfected the art of the hang - suspending himself in mid-air long enough for the ball to reach him. I saw this in his match against Morocco and it was like a machine: poise, thrust, leap, hang, head, touch down. His Plan C could involve the Olympic high jump.

The amazing fans

Egypt fans hold a picture of Mo Salah.
Egypt fans hold a picture of Mo Salah.

Every match I've seen has involved amazing sets of fans. First, Egypt, celebrating their first World Cup in 28 years and the presence in their team of Mo Salah, a genuine star. Panama's fans, celebrating their debut; Chief Fan was their president Juan Carlos Varela, who flew to Sochi to attend that first match.


Also see: World Cup stories: Jayaditya Gupta in Russia


Brazil's fans - not necessarily Brazilian, because Brazil fans could be from any part of the world - with their bright yellow jerseys, their relentless optimism and their prodigious capacity to party. There was a party whenever they were in town. And Croatia, whose fans were the Argentina 2014 in Russia: raucous, relatively monochromatic but so proud, so passionate; they outnumbered and outsang the French in the final. No contest.

The Viking Thunderclap

Iceland fans show their support at the Volgograd Arena where they lost 2-0 to Nigeria.
Iceland fans show their support at the Volgograd Arena, where they lost 2-0 to Nigeria

Football's latest sensation not featuring winged heels and a No 10 jersey, it was everything it promised to be. The Iceland version (originally Scottish, apparently) debuted in Euro 2016 but I'm guessing two years of refining have brought this to an art form. Spoiler: Maybe Scotland will qualify for Qatar and take this right back.

Diego Godin's defending

Diego Godin gestures during Uruguay's World Cup group-stage win over Russia.
Diego Godin gestures during Uruguay's World Cup group-stage win over Russia.

Most of the attention in any major football tournament is on the creative geniuses - those who set those brilliant moves or score those memorable goals. And rightly so. But there is an art to defending, to the process of ensuring those goals are not scored, those moves are not completed. You won't hear them called "genius defenders" but watching them at work is often as fulfilling as watching the playmakers. Diego Godin is exactly the type of player you'd want in a crisis at the back: Commanding, unfussed, calm, with 360-degree vision. He sometimes leaves his deck and sails forth in an attacking burst but most of the time he's just in front of the 'keeper, master of all he surveys. He plies his trade in Spain but his craft is Made in Milan.

My player of the tournament

Hazard had no goals and no assists against Brazil but he led Belgium from the front.
Hazard had no goals and no assists against Brazil but he led Belgium from the front.

And so to Eden Hazard, my player of the tournament and the one I most enjoyed watching live. The player who took my breath away with his balance, his vision, and that right foot that is wedded to the ball till the final whistle do them part. I saw him four times and he just seemed to get better. He - and Belgium - were patchy against Panama, but turned it on against Tunisia, where he scored twice. Against Brazil he first attacked, to set up a 2-0 lead at half-time, and then turned his skill to defending - not by hacking and chopping, but by the simple expedient of ensuring Belgium kept the ball as Brazil fought back. Watching Hazard slalom through the Brazil defence was possibly the single best move I saw in the tournament.

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.