JOHANNESBURG - Russia is done, dusted, consigned to the record books and joyous memory, France have lifted the cup, drank from the chalice of victory and suffered the morning-after. Fifa and world football’s attention now turns to Qatar and 2022.
The recently-concluded World Cup is going to be a tough act to follow for the tiny Gulf-nation - 2018 is already being hailed as the best World Cup ever. In all, 169 goals were scored - two less that Brazil 2014 and 24 more than South Africa 2010 - in the 64 matches played at an average of 2.6 goals per game. Twelve of the games ended in draws and only one of those was goalless - Denmark v France.
In the knockout stages, five matches went past regulation time and only three matches were decided by penalties. Astonishingly, 43 percent of all the goals scored in Russia came from set-pieces - the spectre of VAR made tangible - with England scoring nine of their 12 goals in such situations, the highest of the participating teams. There were 12 own-goals, a tournament record.
Mostly, teams attacked the final third, instead of sitting on the ball and those teams that played a possession-heavy brand of football, such as Spain, were knocked out of the competition early on. Discipline played a major role - only four red cards were sanctioned, the lowest number of such action since 1970.
Discussions surrounding the Greatest of All Time - the G.O.A.T - were heated during this World Cup, with arguments weighing up the credentials of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. Both failed. Their combined record of not scoring during the knockout phase of the tournament now stands at 21 hours, 10 minutes and ticking. Instead, new heroes arose, such as 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe, no doubt a G.O.A.T-argument-in-waiting.
Russia’s image, indeed the image of its president, Vladimir Putin and his government, were arguably the biggest winners of the entire endeavour. There were concerns about Russia’s right to freedom of speech and association, the alleged propensity of the state to use torture and murder against political-enemies of Putin and the ugly spectre of racism.
من اليوم ننطلق جميعا في قطر والفيفا والمجتمع الرياضي عبر العالم في مرحلة جديدة من التحضير والتعاون المشترك لكي يكون مونديال قطر ٢٠٢٢ حدثا رياضيا استثنائيا بإذن الله pic.twitter.com/PTcHb7p1Ph
The World Cup revealed none of that, with Putin, an able statesman that can seemingly bamboozle entire nations and their ignoramus leaders, using the showpiece to present a positive-only image of his country. His only embarrassment came during the second half of the final when members of Pussy Riot invaded the field. For their troubles, the group was sentenced to 15 days in jail - even that a measured response when compared to previous judgements handed down to the group.
Despite that minor agitation and valid international concerns, Russia emerged from the tournament with its international prestige amplified. Now for Qatar and a new set of international concerns. According to AFP, the nation is ahead of schedule, reportedly spending R6.7 billion a week on infrastructure.
The nation has built or is planning to construct new roads, metrorail systems and neighbourhoods. Lusail, the city which will host the final of the tournament, will be a newly constructed planned city that will support a population of 250 000 citizens, cost around R606bn and will be completed by the time the tournament kicks off.
It’s all very impressive, except when one considers that Qatar is a pariah in the Middle-East and the alleged mechanism of the wondrous labour that is building their World Cup. Since 2014, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and, more recently Egypt, have cut all ties with the nation, insisting that Qatar trains and aides Islamic terrorists, using groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign policy tool to undermine its neighbours.
There are major concerns that the construction work is being enabled by involuntary servitude, that includes beatings, restriction on the freedom of movement and sexual assault. Human trafficking of migrant-workers, especially women, is a major concern, and so too the apparent forced prostitution it entails. The Qatari government say they are rectifying these shortcomings and to be fair they have received praise from Human Rights Watch recently about positive developments in these areas of concern.
Do Fifa care, though? Do they have restless nights pondering these violations? Methinks not. And why should they after the glorious show of Russia 2018.