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France 4 – 2 Croatia

And so here we are. At the end. All done. Nothing more to see. Move along now. Anyone else feeling a profound sense of loss? Apart from Croatia, obviously, that sort of goes without saying, I'd have thought.

France will think of themselves as worthy winners while Croatia will, no doubt, feel hard done by. The truth, as ever, is to be found somewhere inbetween.

Certainly, Croatia will look back at a soft free kick and a dubious penalty and wonder what might have been. The penalty, in particular, has caused much consternation here at 64 Beautiful Games. I (Barney) have watched the incident five times now, and I genuinely think there was no intent. Simon, on the other hand, is wrong. There can be no such disagreement about Griezmann’s dive however, he was already in freefall by the time contact was made. From that moment on, I was torn. As a neutral with French friends and a passionate dislike of Dejan Lovren, I was keen to see France do well. This, however, skewed things slightly. Griezmann doesn’t quite make it onto my list of World Cup colossal ballbags (Barrios, Neymar, Pepe, Lovren), but a player as good as he is should be better than this.

In many ways, this game was a microcosm of the World Cup in a wider context, which is just as well as it gives me a useful device to talk about both in a concise way that makes me sound cleverer than I am. There were great strikes (how Perisic found the angle to hoof Croatia’s equalizer home I’ll never know) some awful mistakes (if only Mandzukic could have headed home at the other end rather than into his own net) and it was a game about teams rather than individuals. Even Mbappe started slowly, growing as the game progressed.

There were lots of goals and the game certainly seemed to embody the breakneck speed and chaos that has defined this tournament. However, Russia 2018 has been about the unexpected rise of the little guys; about some teams playing above themselves and stopping others hitting the highs they’ve previously reached. There has been, at this World Cup, a leveling of the playing field, and there’s a certain poetry about Russia providing the backdrop to the unfolding of this egalitarian drama.  

Ultimately, and despite the fact that they looked fucking woeful in the group stages, it’s probably right that France were crowned champions. I certainly have no problem with Mbappe’s award for young player of the tournament – that is richly deserved, if only for the Argentina game and THAT back-heel against Belgium. Meanwhile, Modric receiving player of the tournament was, on balance, a good call. Kane gets the Golden Boot and, before anyone starts bleating on about penalties and that one that came off the back of his boot, they were superbly taken penalties, and he’s the second English player ever to do it. Let him enjoy it.

At the end of the game, as the trophies were handed out, there was hardly a dry eye in the house, although that’s mainly because it was pissing down and Putin seemed to have nicked the only umbrella. Russia has come out of this tournament extremely well, it has been well-organised, fans well-received and that speaks volumes about the Russian people, but let us not forget that this one individual, with his face like a perpetually shitting dog, is a weapons-grade bell-end.

But that’s not the note I want to end this on. This is a celebratory ending to a celebratory tournament. It’s been a great World Cup – at times extraordinary even. It’s the first my son will remember and I’ve learnt that the convenient shortcut to conversation with my brother and father that football provided when I was a kid now exists for him. To be fair, he never shuts up anyway, it’s like showing a cabbie another route to a destination he’s already got 500 ways of getting to. 

Sixty four beautiful games, sixty four beautiful images, sixty four variable match reports. It’s been quite the ride. Thank you to all those who hopped on board, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading and looking as much as we have creating. Huge thanks to our designer, Simon Wiltshire, without whom etc… and lastly, of course, none of this would have been possible without my brother, Simon Harsent, whose fucking ludicrous idea this was in the first place.

When we were kids, many years ago in a small, Buckinghamshire market town, he convinced me that after you were brutally brought down by a SIGNIFICANTLY older sibling, the resulting penalty should be taken into your own goal. I know, right? Forty years on, the workrate that this project has demanded has, at times, left me feeling almost exactly like that kid again – constantly kicking a ball into my own goal.

But you know what? I’ve never been so happy to concede.

Love you mate.

Barnaby Harsent, 16th July 2018.