France won the World Cup, but that is far from the whole story. So many players and teams came out of the tournament on towering highs or devastating lows. Here are some of the winners and losers of the 2018 World Cup.
Croatia It’s odd to call a team that just lost the biggest game in its history a winner, but Croatia did everything but lift the Cup in a month to remember. Six straight wins over Nigeria, Argentina, Iceland, Denmark, host Russia, and England was one of the most impressive ever World Cup runs by any nation, much less one with only four million people. Luka Modric won the most valuable player award, but if one Croatia player came out with the biggest boost to his stock it was midfielder Ivan Perisic, despite his disputed handball in the final. A fine player for Inter Milan, he may now be in for a big money move to Manchester United, which has wanted him for some time.
Belgium Everyone expected Belgium to one day break through, and this was the tournament, with a run to the semifinals that including a signature quarterfinal win over Brazil. Some nations’ Golden Generations are busts; though it did not win the tournament, this one lived up to expectations.
Japan Drawn into a tough group, it beat Colombia and sneaked through on a tiebreaker, then went up 2-0 on Belgium before running out of gas. Still, it was the only Asian team to advance.
Kylian Mbappé He was certainly well known to soccer fans, but the World Cup was his coming out party. He had four goals, lifted the trophy at age 19 and is set to become the heir to the aging superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Transfermarkt rates him as the sixth most valuable player in the world at $140 million dollars; P.S.G. would certainly want significantly more than that to part with him.
Russia Ranked as one of the weakest teams in the tournament coming in, Russia parlayed home field advantage into a quarterfinal berth, its finest finish since the Soviet days. Despite some pretournament misgivings from some commentators, it won mostly positive reviews as a host nation, as well, as the Cup was peaceful, smoothly run and entertaining.
Denis Cheryshev A surprise late selection for Russia, he was barely expected to play until Alan Dzagoev was injured. He capitalized to score four goals in the tournament. The downside: His father, apparently misquoted, said Cheryshev had taken growth hormone.
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic Maybe you didn’t notice this guy in Serbia’s midfield, but a lot of Europe’s big clubs did. Manchester United and Chelsea are rumored to want to grab him from Lazio.
V.A.R. Not every decision was unanimously praised. But the system was fast, and righted a good number of wrongs. We’ll be seeing more of it to come.
Africa No one expected an African winner, but surely one or two of its five entrants would make the knockout round. Instead, the continent was 3-10-2. The bright spot was Senegal, which beat Poland and was eliminated on the sixth tiebreaker. The poor showing is a bad omen for the future: When the Cup expands to 48 teams in 2022 or 2026, there will be nine African teams. How will Burkina Faso (currently ranked ninth in Africa) fare?
Germany The team that demolished Brazil 7-1 and won the 2014 World Cup was a bust four years later. It dominated much of the play and got off more shots per game than any other team. The shots just didn’t go in; it scored two goals. Germany was 1-2, including an embarrassing loss to South Korea, which had lost its first two games.
Mexico Drawn into a tough group, Mexico played well to advance. And its knockout opponent was Brazil, so a loss hardly seemed like a disgrace. But it was the seventh straight round of 16 loss for Mexico, a streak its fans are desperate to break. Maybe in 2022.
Panama 0-3. 1-6. 1-2. Panama was delighted to qualify for its first World Cup, ahead of the United States. But its performances were uniformly poor, and it wound up 32nd of 32 teams.
Lionel Messi His legacy as an all-time great is secure, but there are plenty of people who say that to be considered the greatest ever he needs to win a World Cup. Argentina never looked like a threat, drawing Iceland, losing to Croatia, and finally being eliminated in a rollicking 4-3 game with France. Messi will be 35 in 2022.
Neymar No one’s crying for Neymar, one of the world’s most valuable (and richest) players. But Brazil underachieved in the World Cup, and Neymar’s two goals and one assist did not impress. Worse, he was frequently cited as one of the tournament’s most egregious divers, not something to polish a legacy.
Fox It’s a quadrennial ritual to bash the English language coverage of the Cup in the U.S. And yes, it happened again. In particular, fans complained that Fox sent only two of its announcing teams to Russia, calling the rest of the games off television from Los Angeles (they sent a third midway through the tournament). And the ratings were down, in part because the United States tea