Five things we would like to see at the 2018 World Cup in Russia
1: As little VAR as possible
Geoff Hurst in 1966, Frank Lampard in 2010, Luis Suárez in the same tournament… there are times when a video replay would be “handy” but the whole system is a shambles and with any luck it will be such a disaster that football will review its review and bin the whole thing. And hopefully it will not be used excessively by overzealous referees in Russia.
2: Lots and lots of the Icelandic Viking Thunder Clap
Iceland’s run in the 2016 European Championship was accompanied by the now famous crescendo clap and we would love to see plenty more of that, especially to the last 16 stage as we’ve got a cheeky punt on Heimir Hallgrimsson’s boys to get out of the Group of Death. Let them clap all the way to the last 16, where they might get another pop at France.
3: An African team in the semi-finals
Getting back to Luis Suárez, the Uruguayan’s goal-line shenanigans in the last minute against Ghana cost the Black Stars a place in the last four – although Asamoah Gyan must shoulder a little of the responsibility after missing the resulting penalty. No African team have ever made the semi-finals at a World Cup and it would a wonderful occasion if someone finally made that breakthrough. Senegal are perhaps best-equipped to do so.
4: A bit of a run for the host nation
Nothing quite takes the buzz out of a World Cup as quickly as the hosts going out early and although Russia are far from a powerhouse – former Manchester United winger Andrei Kanchelskis described Stanislav Cherchesov’s side as “the worst I have ever seen” in a bit of a patriotic rallying cry – they do have a shot of getting out of the group. A likely meeting with Spain or Portugal in the last 16 would probably end Russia’s involvement but the tournament will be all the better for a surprise on the part of the hosts, even if that is only keeping their hopes alive until the final group game against Uruguay.
5: A big gun going out in the group stage
On the other side of the ruble, there is little more amusing for neutrals than watching a favourite crash out early. Think defending champions France in 2002 or holders Spain falling flat on their faces in 2014. Every football fan’s heart has enough space to accommodate a warming minnow taking on the world and a twinge of guilty pleasure as one of the traditional heavyweights trips over their own boots at the first hurdle. Our little hunch: defensively inept and Leo Messi-dependent Argentina might do just that.
Five things we don’t want to see
1: Overt Fifa opportunism during the winner’s celebrations
The world governing body may organize the World Cup but given the raft of scandals that have engulfed Fifa in recent years and their decision to shut down their anti-racism task force fully two years before the tournament stating its job was complete was an indicator of how seriously Fifa are taking the issue. With that in mind, Gianni Infantino would do well to avoid a Sepp Blatter moment as in 2010, when the then-Fifa honcho made very sure he was front and centre when Iker Casillas hoisted the trophy.
2: Unpleasantness of all kinds
The World Cup should be an occasion to bring people from across the globe together in a spirit of inclusion and diversity. Unfortunately, that is not the main object of small sections of so-called fans and the forecast in Russia is for turbulence. The scenes played out on the streets of Marseille between English and Russian hooligans are not something 99 percent of people want to see and fans travelling to Russia should not be forced to keep one eye over their shoulder due to the shirt they are wearing, the colour of their skin or their sexual preferences. It is up to the Russian security services to nip any bother in the bud but Fifa must also act swiftly and decisively against any discriminatory behaviour. Neither of those are a given - particularly Fifa daring to ruffle the feathers of the golden goose – so if it does have to happen, wouldn’t it be wonderful to see genuine fans stepping in to prevent any individual abuse by shouting down the perpetrators?
3: Much in the way of defending
A 0-0 can be just as enjoyable as a 3-3, but the World Cup is the grandest stage of them all and we all want to see the net ripple as often as possible. Not since 1958 in Sweden has the average goals-per-game ratio been above three and the last time that statistic was genuinely threatened was in Mexico in 1970. With the array of attacking talent on display in Russia and a few sides capable of turning it on or causing a surprise hopefully the highlights reel will be packed with keepers plucking the ball from their nets.
4: A cagey final
In 2014 Germany won the World Cup in extra time after a 0-0 draw in the 90. Four years earlier Spain did the same in South Africa. There were two goals in the 2006 final between Italy and France but both in the opening 20 minutes as that game also went to extra time. The last truly memorable final from a neutral point of view was France 1998, although the hosts’ 3-0 win was overshadowed by Ronaldo’s pre-match medical problems, otherwise it could have been a classic for the ages. Four years earlier, the 0-0 draw between Brazil and Italy in the USA was 120 minutes of mind-bending tedium. This year, let’s hope for an all-guns-blazing showpiece worthy of the occasion.
5: Sepp Blatter
He’s been “invited” by Vladimir Putin, or not as the case may be, but it seems that the former Fifa president plans to attend despite being banned from all football related activity for six years after a spot of financial jiggery-pokery involving Michel Platini and an ongoing investigation into alleged bribery and corruption over the award of the tournament to Russia in the first place. If he must attend, let him pay through the nose like everybody else.