World Cup from the Darke Side: Ian Darke's hits and misses from Russia
The 2018 World Cup had some great moments, but which are Ian Darke's favourites? And what did he not like about Russia 2018?
Best player: Kylian Mbappe's Olympian speed and four goals for France made him the poster boy of the World Cup, but Luka Modric was a good choice for the Golden Ball. The Croatia captain produced inspired craft and excellence in his team's run to the final.
Best coach: France's Didier Deschamps silenced his critics, but Belgium were the best team to watch. This World Cup was a personal comeback concert for Roberto Martinez after his undignified exit at Everton.
World Cup 2018 must-reads
- World Cup fixtures, results and coverage
- Marcotti: France won fitting finale to the World Cup
- Ogden: Mbappe showed why he is football's future king
- Ames: Croatia must make this World Cup a beginning
- Project Russia: Allez les Bleus!
- Ogden: Hazard's reputation, value has never been higher
- ESPN FC TV: Scary how ambiguous handball rule is
Best goal: Benjamin Pavard's swerving volley, hit with the outside of the right boot, for France against Argentina was a sensational way to open his international account.
Biggest shock: Defending champions Germany finishing bottom of their group in a calamitous campaign that reeked of complacency.
Best goalkeeper: Brave, commanding and agile, England's Jordan Pickford gets my vote, especially as he had never played a competitive international match before this tournament.
Best match: Belgium's three-goal comeback to beat a luckless Japan was dripping with drama just ahead of the 4-3 France vs. Argentina classic.
Best fans: Peru were great, but the Colombians travelled in vast numbers, a smiling, vibrant bunch in those attractive yellow shirts. A shame their team betrayed them with an ugly snarling approach against England.
Best outsiders: Hosts Russia, ranked lowest of all 32 teams at the start, knocked out Spain and went all the way to the quarterfinals, adding greatly to the football fever.
Best newcomers: French full-backs Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard, Russia's four-goal Denis Cheryshev, and England's Harry Maguire.
Most disappointing player: That surely has to be Bayern Munich star Robert Lewandowski, who was almost invisible in Poland's lacklustre campaign.
Unluckiest losers: Japan, who played beautifully in defeat against Belgium; Iran; Morocco; and poor old Senegal, who went out on the "fair play" tiebreak (are you sure about that one, FIFA?)
Best venue: Kazan, an attractive city once conquered by Ivan The Terrible, but not by Germany, Brazil and Argentina, who were all eliminated there.
VAR: Despite the daft penalty decision in the final, VAR mostly delivered justice, worked efficiently and is here to stay.
Final thought: Thank you, Russia, for hosting perhaps the greatest World Cup of the modern era. FIFA have to be very careful not to dilute the drama with their plans for a 48-team event.