Great for Lionel Messi - winning with Argentina - an incredible player and this victory tops a wondrous career. In what was, except for the final, a lower quality competition in playing terms than previous tournaments, Messi was a stand out performer with goals and assists. Playing in bursts these days - quiet for whole periods then launching into action, often with devastating skill and impact - he was the edge in most games for the new champions, just as Mbappe was for France. Without these players these countries would not have been the force they were ahead of a bunch of nations in a second tier, including Croatia, Brazil, Spain and England.
England went out in the quarter finals against France exactly as many, like me, had predicted. France were always likely to have the edge in class and so it proved, even without Mbappe playing very well, indeed, even with France not playing that well in the second half. Under Southgate, England have improved, they no longer are World Cup/Euros whipping boys, flattering to deceive, and we have organisation, strength in depth and some resilience. What we don’t have is a manager who can take all this one step further. Southgate is at heart a deeply cautious coach with set in ways tactics. Very little in terms of a Plan B or C outside of chucking on a creative player or two deep into second half if things are not going right - Italy in the Euro’s final and Croatia in the World Cup last time as examples. World Cups are not won by caution. In the Qatar semi-finals Morocco took the fight to France early and could have won save for their basic lack of class in the end. In the final, Argentina did not let France breathe in the first half and only late a French comeback saved them until the final penalties. And that comeback was due to their manager, Didier Deschamps, making early changes and taking big players off when the game needed to be changed. Southgate would not have echoed Deschamps decisiveness. He might have thrown a Grealish on half-way through the second half in relative desperation and that’s the difference. Southgate is staying on as manager and England will go into the next tournaments once more with the usual, over-hyped hope. It won’t win us anything.
Harry Kane? Apart from the Hubble Telescope still searching for his missed penalty, he is a prime example of where England are at. A very good player indeed, but not world class. World Cup winners have world class players - Charlton, Moore and Banks in 1966. What exactly is Kane’s position? If he is a goal-scorer then why doesn’t isn’t he used as a goal-scorer instead of a deep laying creator? France’s Girou is a goal-scorer who stayed up front to score goals - like he did for the winner against England.
The World Cup saw its full measure of player acting in every match. Players falling over at the slightest touch, howling in feigned agony at any tackle, holding their faces as if slashed by a bowie knife at the gentlest of brushes on their cheeks… Why is football the only sport outside of WWF wrestling in which acting is now an established part of the game? How has this pathetic state of affairs come to be? It’s got to the level where instant feigning for any physical clash is now so universal and expert it surely has to be coached. Training must include whole chunks of players being marked Strictly-style for injury interpretation. Where are the actors in tennis? Have you ever seen a Wimbledon Champion dive at match point? Would Usain Bolt have got anywhere by writhing in agony on the track? Ever noticed a netballer, a golfer, a swimmer, a triathlete or a rower take a dive? OK, the swimmer might but that’s allowed. And don’t even mention rugby. How would these Oscar-winning footballers ever get on there? Football is wracked with acting because the game’s administrators - refs, FIFA, the FA etc - have for years let players and managers get away with it all. It’s Emperor’s New Clothes stuff. Supporters know they are acting, the refs do, the other players do, FIFA the FA and all the rest know too… and no-one says a thing. The TV pundits are part of the problem. How many times do you hear a commentator wonder how a player ‘is doing’ when he or she is clearly not hurt? How many times will a Shearer or any of the other ‘experts’ say how a player has ‘gone down a little too easily’ and not call out the 99.9% of stoppages as ‘injury’ for the total charade they are. How about not stopping the game at all for any injury (unless the ref blows) and see how long the feigning lasts. Neymar can roll on the floor for the entire length of the match if he wants but if the game isn’t stopped even his manager might ask him to get up and start playing after a while.
What a shot in the arm for the world game with several ‘minor’ countries beating some of the international giants. Germany, Spain, Belgium, Brazil, Uruguay all took early Qatar baths as the likes of Japan, South Korea and especially the tournament’s darlings, Morocco, saw them off. Even Argentina, the eventual World Cup winners, were humbled in their first match by Saudi Arabia - one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. Many of the so-called ‘lesser nations’
are now catching up fast and Morocco’s great achievement of reaching the semi-finals will hopefully be the start of lasting change in football’s world domination by the usual suspects.
The last word should go to Qatar. Yes, the competition went well in terms of organisation, there were no major incidents in the State involving foreign visitors and fans from all over the world enjoyed their experience. But the original sin cannot be overlooked. Qatar won the staging of the tournament as a result of FIFA’s utterly corrupt process. The football wasn’t so bad in the World Cup - the final was exceptional - but the game across the world is tainted by corruption and money.