World Cup sees the right kind of drama

This Fifa World Cup has seen more surprises than perhaps any other in recent memory. As we approach the climactic game between France and Croatia, these are the highlights

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 July, 2018, 4:05am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 July, 2018, 3:02am

So much action and so many surprises have been packed into the Fifa World Cup finals that it hardly seems it has only been a month since hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia kicked off the tournament. On Sunday night millions around the world will tune in for the final match between France and Croatia.

Neither was among the top favourites, although France – the 1998 winner – was ranked highly. But the shock elimination of glamour teams such as Brazil, Belgium, Argentina and defending World Cup holders Germany cleared the way for less fancied teams to stake out a place in history.

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Although Russia was eliminated in the quarter-final stage in a penalty shoot-out with Croatia, the host can hold its head high for having run a successful tournament on and off the field, free of serious incidents. There has been no repetition of violence such as the attack on England supporters by Russian hooligans at the 2016 Euro finals in France, or new reports of racist chanting at black players. For that, fans of the “beautiful game” will be thankful, for this was the sport’s chance to redeem a battered reputation.

Off the field, world controlling body Fifa is still rebuilding trust after a corruption scandal that forced out several senior figures, including president Sepp Blatter, now serving a six-year ban from participating in Fifa activities.

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On the field, this was a chance to erase the stain of bad sportsmanship that marred the last World Cup in Brazil, such as the suspension of a player for biting an opponent, abuse of referees and theatrical feigning of injury. Thankfully most players rose above it. An exception was Brazil’s star player Neymar, whose rolling around on the pitch has been doing the rounds on social media.

What has really set this World Cup apart, however, is the controversial introduction of video replay technology to help referees reach decisions.

Perception is everything, and the video assistant referee system, known as VAR, helps counter damaging feelings of bias or injustice over human decisions.

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Having been generally well received, it may open the door to a future in which even artificial intelligence plays a part.