The 2018 World Cup draws to a close with France taking the famous title and trophy in a cracking final against Croatia. It's fair to say this World Cup has been a bit of a rollercoaster, we witnessed the shock exit of defending champions Germany, England making it to a semi-final for the first time in 28 years and a stack of superb goals.
Furthermore, the introduction of VAR added an extra notch of tension into the tournament with certain decisions being reviewed by a team of officials in an office, who were also dressed up in full refereeing kit which was a bit odd. In my opinion, this tournament has been unconventional to say the very least- please enjoy a selection of my five personal highlights from Russia.
Before the World Cup began we all thought that Nigeria would take home the prize for snazziest fashion item with their very snazzy kit. However, nobody could have predicted that England manager, Gareth Southgate would have become a somewhat style icon. Kitted out in his M&S suit, he strutted down the touchline in his navy-blue waistcoat like it was his own personal catwalk.
In fact, Southgate's waistcoat caught the eye of the people of England leading to "Waistcoat Wednesday" on the day England played Croatia in their semi-final. "Waistcoat Wednesday" saw the country being encouraged to don a waistcoat to support Southgate and his England team. In a time of political turmoil and uncertainty, the country was united behind one man and his M&S waistcoat.
I'll be honest, this for me isn't a "highlight" as Germany's poor performance in the tournament completely scuppered my World Cup fantasy league team. However, it was disappointing to see such a previously strong and capable team struggle to make it out of their group with defeats against Mexico and South Korea and only just managing to beat Sweden with a fantastic free kick by Toni Kroos in injury time. Overall, Germany finished bottom of their group, with South Korea snatching third place from them on goal difference.
Germany's short World Cup run was attributed to a range of reasons including poor selection choices and a poor lead up to the tournament. For example, after a very successful season at Manchester City, youngster Leroy Sane was left out of the German squad. Furthermore, Germany's international friendlies at the start of June this year hardly stood out with a narrow win against Saudi Arabia and a loss against Austria.
Whatever was wrong with Germany this World Cup, it was certainly a shock to see them not only be knocked out of the tournament in the group stages, but actually finish bottom of the group too.
Picture this, it's the group stages of the World Cup, and your team need a result against Spain to help progress to the knockout stages. You get a throw-in, what do you do? Iran's Milad Mohammadi didn't just want to throw the ball back into play, this fella wanted to do it in style. As he slowly walks backwards from the touchline and kisses the ball, the players on the pitch brace themselves to receive a long throw in. Could this be Iran's big chance? Mohammadi runs, does a forward roll then realises he's made a mug of himself and pulls it back then decides to opt for a straightforward throw-in. At that moment in time, all the teams in the tournament erased "forward roll throw-ins" from their game plans. Probably for the best.
Arguably Russia 2018 presented one of the more interesting World Cup Finals in recent years. Under the eerie rumbles of thunder in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium, France and Croatia battled it out to see who would become world champions.
The game was a six-goal thriller, finishing 4-2 to France. Although Croatia had a very strong start to the game, they couldn't muster a win against France, who were just too a little bit too much for the plucky Croatian side. Throughout the game there was drama and tension, such as the first ever own goal being scored in a World Cup Final by Croatia's Mario Mandzukic to give France a 1-0 lead.
Of course, the 2018 World Cup Final wouldn't have been complete without a VAR controversy whereby Croatian Ivan Perisic was penalised for a handball in his own box to, however, the handball wasn't initially given by referee Nestor Pitana. The decision was placed under review by the VAR officials, and Pitana was encouraged to review his decision at the TV stationed on the touchline, which after a lengthy consultation, he awarded a penalty to France.
The VAR debate rekindled again as unfortunately, the handball in question was one of those decisions that completely splits opinion depending on how you interpret the rules of handball.
Following on from this, the second half saw more drama with a pitch invasion by a few individuals dressed in uniform which was later claimed by activist group Pussy Riot.
Although a horrific goalkeeping error by French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris leading to Croatia's second goal gave them a glimmer of hope in the second half, it wasn't to be with France's Paul Pogba and teenage wonderkid Kylian Mbappe cementing France's place in World Cup history books.
It's needless to say this World Cup Final was an embodiment of what has been a truly amazing World Cup in Russia.
"It's coming home" was the phrase of the summer in England, taken from the 1996 song "Three Lions" by Baddiel, Skinner and the Lightening Seeds. Although saying "it's coming home" repeatedly started out as a joke, as England progressed to the last-16, then to the quarter finals, and then to the semi-finals- the joke started to become a possible reality.
Nobody at all expected much from this England side, except from the usual vicious circle of every major sporting tournament whereby we reach the last 16 by the skin of our teeth then lose- if we're really lucky sometimes we get knocked out in the quarter finals.
England exceeded our expectations this World Cup. If we can take anything away from this World Cup it's that England look like a side who could actually pose a threat in football tournaments in years to come. This side is a relatively young side (with the average age being 26) who can only get better from here.
Furthermore, the world has seen lesser known players such as Jordan Pickford, Harry Maguire and Kieran Trippier explode onto the international stage to make a name for themselves and cement themselves into Gareth Southgate's future England plans. Already this young side have experienced playing a range of diverse teams in a tournament, beaten a team on penalties and reached a semi-final in a World Cup.
We may have come fourth overall in the World Cup this year but under Gareth Southgate's calm and relaxed management, this team can go far in the next few years.