World Cup diary: the good‚ the bad and the drug-free in 2018

13 July 2018 - 15:53 By Nick Said
Croatia players celebrate after winning the penalty shootout.
Croatia players celebrate after winning the penalty shootout.
Image: REUTERS/Henry Romero

The World Cup final will be decided on Sunday when favourites France take on unlikely heroes Croatia for the great prize in football.

It is also then a time to reflect back on a tournament that has been lauded for its entertainment‚ on and off the pitch‚ and hailed as the best ever by Fifa president Gianni Infantino.

UNITY

Coach Zlatko Dalic had again been talking up the unity and teamwork within Croatia ahead of Sunday’s final against France in Moscow.

Croatia are considered surprise finalists and have had to dig deep at times in the tournament‚ with all of their knockout fixtures going to extra time‚ and two to penalties.

"For me‚ [Lionel] Messi is the best player in the world and Neymar is very close‚" Dalic said.

"But at this World Cup‚ the star-studded teams relying on the big names are already on the beach. It's the compact‚ united teams fighting for something that are still around.

"It's been the strangest World Cup. Football has advanced so much so any team can have well-organised defence‚ so there are no huge winning margins and the team is everything.

"This was our problem for 10 years‚ we had great individuals but no unity and that's why I had to build that unity of purpose in the team."

Dalic has also backed his midfielder‚ Luka Modric‚ to win the Player of the Tournament prize.

"Modric has had a brilliant season with Real Madrid and here‚ he's still sprinting about the pitch in the 115th minute‚" he said. "I think he has been the player of the tournament regardless of the result on Sunday."

VAR WORKS A TREAT

Fifa president Gianni Infantino‚ who declared the tournament in Russia as the "best World Cup ever"‚ has confidently stated that video assistant referees (VARs) will make offside goals a thing of past – though implementation of the expensive technology will take time in certain parts of the world.

Infantino said that in 16 of the 19 VAR incidents that Fifa had reviewed it was found that an incorrect decision had been corrected.

"This is progress‚ this is better than the past‚" he told reporters. "VAR is not changing football‚ it is cleaning football‚ making it more honest and transparent and helping referees to make the right decisions.

"It is difficult to think of the World Cup without VAR‚ it has been certainly a more just competition and this is what we wanted to achieve.

"The goal scored from an offside position is finished in football‚ at least in football with VAR. You will never see any more a goal scored in an offside position. It's finished because either you are or are not offside."

ARGENTINE REFEREE FOR FINAL

Argentine referee Nestor Pitana has been handed the whistle for Sunday’s World Cup final‚ a sign that he is considered the leading match official in the world.

The 43-year-old also took charge of the opening match of the tournament between hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia‚ and also the quarterfinal between France and Uruguay among five matches he has been involved in so far.

He will be assisted by compatriots Hernan Maidana and Juan Pablo Belatti‚ while Italian Massimiliano Irrati will be the Video Assistant Referee.

MAALOUL MOVES ON

Tunisia coach Nabil Maaloul has become the latest casualty of the World Cup after he stepped down to take up the reins at Qatar side Al Duhail.

Tunisia were ousted in the first round in Russia after defeats to England and Belgium‚ though they did defeat Panama in their final pool match.

"The club's management contracted with the Tunisian coach Nabil Maaloul to be the new technical manager of the first football team‚" Al Duhail said on their website.

"Coach Nabil Maaloul will arrive to Austria in the upcoming hours to join the team's camp‚ which is held in Austria these days."

It is not the first time he has coached in Qatar having previously led El Jaish‚ while his predecessor at Al Duhail‚ Djamel Belmadi‚ is expected to become the new coach of Algeria.

DRUG-FREE

There has been good news for organisers with no positive drugs test so far at the World Cup‚ with over 3‚000 tests already run before and during the competition.

"The regular tests were complemented by Fifa's use of the athlete biological passport programme in Wada's "ADAMS" system‚ under which all test results‚ including those from confederations and NADOs collected at the main international football events as well as national competitions‚ are gathered in the athlete's passport in ADAMS‚ which features a haematological module (through blood) and a steroidal module [through urine]‚" Fifa said in a statement.

"Fifa's Athlete Passport Management Unit‚ composed of independent experts‚ reviews the data of players to detect potential deviations that may indicate an abuse of performance-enhancing drugs. This applied to all participating players at the Fifa World Cup."

On average‚ every player from the four remaining teams has been tested 4.41 times since January‚ with some of them tested eight times.

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