Fifa World Cup hot-takes: VAR, England, ‘It’s coming home’ memes and everything else we learned from Russia 2018

Social media has changed the way we interact with the game but it is not only technology that has forced us to reconsider what we thought we knew

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 July, 2018, 3:10pm
UPDATED : Monday, 16 July, 2018, 4:38pm

A month of high anxiety, high drama and high spirits has come to an end but what have we learned from the Russia 2018 World Cup?

We asked our writers for their takeaways from the last 64 games and the hours waiting for another kick-off.

They did not disappoint, even if some aspects of the tournament did.

Michael Church - Key lesson learned: don’t start booking flights before the final whistle blows. Sitting in the press seats in Rostov-on-Don and Japan, remarkably, go 2-0 up against Belgium after 52 minutes. The race to Kazan for the quarter-finals begins. Head down, websites trawled, flight on hold, first Belgian goal missed, key substitution missed, look up, second Belgian goal goes in. Thanks, Marouane Fellaini.

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Oh, and Russia’s a magnificent country for a visit. Every World Cup host ensures their make-up is just right and they’re wearing their best frock ahead of their month-long Friday night out, but from west to east visiting this vast, diverse and fascinating country has been a real treat.

Andrew McNicol - VAR, in its current phase, is not compatible with football. The amount of time wasted on fans groaning, players making rectangle signs, officials loitering with their fingers pressed against their earpieces, managers complaining about double standards, referees waddling to the pitchside screen, video referees (and the two mannequin refs behind their shoulders) staring at 12 screens showing the same thing ... even France’s Olivier Giroud would have had a shot on target by the end.

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That’s not to mention the multiple retrospective bad calls we’ve seen despite VAR intervention – all the way up to the World Cup final. I still feel Perisic’s “handball” was harsh.

Jonathan White - Like death and taxes, the World Cup being a success is inevitable. Everyone was worried about Russia beforehand but it went off, as it always does, without incident. It was a similar story in Hong Kong where high prices had put off bar owners and all the talk was that the tournament would be a damp squib.

It was anything but.

Fifa World Cup unites Hong Kong refugees as charity screens games in Chungking Mansions following stoppage-time donation

The city’s diversity was highlighted as people got behind all sorts of teams, individual players and the World Cup in general, as fans braved late nights to get together and watch matches. Seeing a beer pong bar full of cool kids go from staring at their phones to hanging on every kick in England v Sweden was a pleasant surprise.

Here’s hoping the enthusiasm for the game can carry over to Hong Kong football, which could desperately do with some of that support. You never know, they might even like going to matches in person and at normal times.

Nicolas Atkin - If there is one thing I will take away from this World Cup, it is the timely reminder that I am now in my 30s and can no longer stay up drinking until 5am, especially on a school night. It’s been a mad, hazy blur making new friends and reconnecting with old ones; a month-long binge of big boozing, unhealthy eating and lack of sleep that would make the 20-year-old me blush. I’ve also learned a lot about other cultures – namely, how much more they can drink than me.

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Watching most games after work in the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, I managed to rack up a bill close to HK$15,000 over the tournament – but by the time of England’s semi-final demise to Croatia, the adult in me had taken over and swapped the Malbec and Gweilo IPA for a Diet Coke and some bangers and mash to close out one last late-night.

Chan Kin-wa - Hong Kong has never reached the finals, nor come close to making it, but ever since the first World Cup match was broadcast live here in 1974, fans have been obsessed with the tournament. Without a home team to watch, fans always support England, apparently for the long tradition of watching English soccer here in the city.

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But for the 2018 version in Russia, more people, especially among the younger generation, follow the tradition not only for sports reasons as England reached the last four but also the political aspect as they were looking for the fond memory of the British rule during the colonial days! Are you listening, Carrie Lam?

Mark Agnew - Being a Scot, my natural inclination is to actively not support the English, but as a Brit I’m always inclined to get behind the underdog. As England got unexpectedly close to the final, I found myself having to choose between my conflicting instincts.

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The Brit in me won out and I wanted to see England defy the odds and win.

Ultimately, I am neither British nor Scottish but a rugby player, so I was basically indifferent.

My favourite part of the tournament were the endless “It’s coming home” memes.

Unlike England teams, fans and media of old, with their belligerent expectations and arrogance, it all felt a bit tongue-in-cheek and was thus enjoyable and supportable. The ever growing library of videos from Ron Burgundy to Only Fools and Horses singing Three Lions all seemed good-natured, and my Facebook newsfeed was filling up with Scots saying, “I can’t believe I’m supporting England”.

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Perhaps this new-found, football-based meme-led affection is a sign of things to come, and although Kane and his men didn’t bring football home, they probably have secured the 1707 union for another 300 years.

Paul Ryding - Defending is dead, long live attacking. This edition of the World Cup will be remembered fondly for the quality and volume of its goals – and that’s a welcome development.

Rumours about the demise of defending have been circulating for years, as the game basically became a non-contact sport. Now, owing to a general dearth in quality defenders and the dawn of the VAR era, which essentially inhibits any defender from attempting anything inside the penalty area, rendering them as dainty as ballerinas in the box for fear they be pulled up on the slightest infringement from a video room miles away, the last nail is finally in the coffin.

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Defending at Russia 2018 has been nothing short of abysmal on the whole. France could have been generally regarded to be the side who defended most admirably throughout the month, and yet, last night during the final, they too defended like it was their first time. Such is the global standard of defending that Dejan Lovren, long-time Premier League figure of fun, was afforded the opportunity to declare himself one of the best defenders on the planet after the semi-final win over England. And only most people convulsed with laughter.