World Cup was a blast, even without United States

France's Paul Pogba celebrates with the World Cup trophy after beating Croatia on July 15, 2018. (Associated Press)
France's Paul Pogba celebrates with the World Cup trophy after beating Croatia on July 15, 2018. (Associated Press)
Published July 15 2018
Updated July 15 2018

Another World Cup has ended. They turned out the lights in Moscow on Sunday. Favored France winning its first Cup in 20 years by outlasting the comeback kids from Croatia in a virtual scoring orgy, 4-2. That's like 56-52 in American football.

I'm just disappointed France didn't cut down the nets.

It's the American in me, channeling my inner NCAA Tournament.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, the host with the most, hung medals around players' necks in a pouring rain before heading to Helsinki and today's summit with President Trump. I wonder if they'll play Seven Nation Army to kick off that one, too.

This Cup was a blast, even with us on the outside looking in. The whole thing will reconvene in four years, in winter, in Qatar, where I believe the entire country is being enclosed and air-conditioned. In 2026 the Cup will be co-hosted by the United States, provided we are still letting people in.

I wonder if French players get to spend a day with the Cup. Sorry again. Channeling my inner NHL.

And did you notice that no one took a knee during the national anthems?

I'm just saying.

Somehow, this World Cup pulled it off, even in Putin's Russia, though it be noted that some protesters briefly interrupted play by crashing the field during the final. By the way, they're going to try that next election, so watch out.

I love the World Cup. I've said that before. I rose and fell with Iceland, and then Belgium, before settling on Croatia, which at 4.1 million people, was the second-smallest nation to play in a Cup final, behind Uruguay. I don't know how you say "Do you believe in miracles?" in Croatian, but I bet they were saying that a lot, from Zagreb all the way to all those places not named Zagreb.

What a Cup. The home team, Russia, made a good run before justice prevailed. Defending champion Germany exited early. So did Lionel Messi and Argentina. Brazil got the boot, too. England teased but lost in the semifinals, leaving its fans to drown their sorrows in the pubs, which hadn't been that crowded in days. Would have loved a France-England final. Best thing since Napoleon and Wellington went to extra time at Waterloo.

But at least we got to see the next big thing, precocious French superstar Kylian Mbappe, 19, who on Sunday became the first teenager to score in a Cup final since 1958. Some kid named Pele.

U.S. soccer needs to get its act together, even if we have to grow players in laboratories. We can't miss out on this party anymore.

At the same time, I'd love to see some things tweaked in the Cup before it comes back around here. Look, I love a lot of sports, but they could all use some help.

Like for the World Cup:

• Sudden death. I am done with extra time. I am even more tired of deciding games on penalty kicks. Overtime. First goal wins. It's the best thing about the Stanley Cup playoffs, and it would be the best thing about the World Cup, those golden goals. Maybe the games could drag on forever. Well, then take one player from each side off the field every five minutes. Anything but let a game, drama or no, be decided by PKs.

• Neymar. When clowns like the Brazilian star keep rolling around on the ground, as he did for about two hours in one game, call them for embellishment and make them sit out a few minutes.

• Penalty kicks in games. Penalty kicks are far too punitive a penalty because guys usually score, and hardly anyone ever scores in soccer.

• Clock me. I hate not knowing how much time is left. Impatient American? I don't care. I hate that we all hang on that sideline official with the little electronic sandwich board. Is it really that hard, in this age of technological wizardry, to have a referee be able to push a button and stop his watch and the stadium clock and TV clock?

But the Cup is the best. There are no TV commercials (hello, NFL), and games begin with that adorable tradition of players hitting the pitch while holding the hands of young soccer players. Love it. The Bucs should do that. Only the kids should stay on the field and the Bucs should go back inside.

Neymar. Will someone tell him to get up already?

Contact Martin Fennelly or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.

Also In This Section