>> Prompted by Mbappe becoming the first teenager since him to score in a World Cup final, 77-year-old Pele tweeted: “If Kylian keeps equaling my records like this, I may have to dust my boots off again.”
>> Football is not coming home, but it did take a few big waistcoat-adorned steps toward England before reversing course and crossing the channel to its deserving home.
>> The past two champions went home early. Spain ditched its Real Madrid-bound coach on the eve of the tournament, never found a rhythm and, to this moment, is still passing the ball side to side thinking it will unlock Russia’s 11-man resistance. Germany failed to advance past the first round for the first time in 80 years.
>> Operating under a cloud of suspicion in the wake of an Olympic doping scandal, Russia used smart tactics and rode a wave of nationalism to compensate for limited ability and advance to the quarterfinals. During a news conference after the 5-0 opening victory over Saudi Arabia, Coach Stanislav Cherchesov stepped away to take a call. Upon returning, he explained that “it was the head of state.”
>> Belgium’s end-to-end dash on the final sequence of a 3-2 comeback victory over Japan in the round of 16 was the all-encompassing goal of the tournament. The third-place Belgians also provided a near-perfect half of soccer in eliminating Brazil.
>> The stunning volley by France’s Benjamin Pavard against Argentina was the best single strike of the event, though there were several in the running, such as Toni Kroos’s late blast against Sweden that temporarily rescued Germany.
>> A former homeless shepherd from Iran thwarted Ronaldo’s penalty kick. An aspiring filmmaker from Iceland blocked Messi’s penalty bid. Egypt’s Essem Al Hadary, age 45, stopped a Saudi penalty kick.
>> Croatia inspired small countries everywhere by advancing to the final, but this was no ragtag team with unknown players. The roster included starters from Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Liverpool, Juventus and two from Inter Milan.
>> Nigeria’s uniforms and South Korea’s warm-up shirts were flashy, but nothing is as distinct as the Croatian checkerboard.
>> Senegalese fans cleaned up in the dance competition, then stayed around to clean their seating areas. Japanese supporters also gathered their garbage. And despite a gutting defeat to Belgium, the Japanese team left a spotless dressing room and a thank-you note.
>> The first World Cup with Video Assistant Referee was a success. Mostly. It corrected missed or mistaken calls and gave warning to players that cheap shots would not go undetected. That said, there were complaints about the time it took in some cases to reach a verdict; about when it was utilized; and, such as the penalty kick ruling in the final, whether the video was properly interpreted.
>> Singer Robbie Williams gave the middle finger to the TV audience at the opening ceremonies, degenerate Diego Maradona did the same to Nigerian fans, and Russian punk rockers Pussy Riot did so figuratively to President Vladimir Putin by orchestrating a pitch invasion during the final.
>> Panama did not win a game but won our hearts with proud, tearful, full-throated singing of the national anthem and unbridled celebration after scoring its first World Cup goal during a blowout loss to England.
>> Belgium’s Michy Batshuayi had the most painful goal celebration of the tournament, collecting the ball out of the net and inadvertently bashing it off the goal post and off his head.
>> While that head blow drew laughs, FIFA still doesn’t seem to grasp the seriousness of concussions. Multiple teams sent players back into action without proper evaluation.
>> Best celebration: French players crashing Coach Didier Deschamps’s news conference after the championship match, singing in his honor, dancing on the tabletop and spraying the boss as well as the media masses with various beverages.
>> Senegal failed to advance to the knockout stage because, after all normal tiebreakers were exhausted, Japan had a superior disciplinary record.
>> The U.S. team wasn’t here, but a U.S. presence was. Almost 100,000 tickets – the most of any foreign country – were purchased by American households, most presumably by fans backing Latin American teams. And before the tournament began, a North American coalition won the right to host the 2026 World Cup. Sixty of 80 matches will take place in the United States, 32 years after the U.S.-hosted competition smashed attendance records.
>> Speaking of Latin American countries, none made the semifinals, but the largest fan masses came from Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Brazil and Argentina – not the nearby European nations. Some late-stage matches were witnessed by more neutral Brazilians and Argentines than those supporting the participating European sides.
>> For its national team’s World Cup debut against Argentina, Iceland registered a 99.6 TV share, which means almost every set in operation was tuned to RUV’s coverage of the 1-1 draw. (This year’s Super Bowl garnered a 68 share.) So who was watching something else? We’re guessing a few Russian-bound fans had dashed out of their homes before turning off TVs tuned to other channels.
>> Artificial and natural light figured prominently into the fan experience. For those in Moscow, twinkling overhead displays turned Nikolskaya Street and other pedestrian boulevards into enchanting corridors. In St. Petersburg, which sits at about the same latitude as Juneau, Alaska, the summer solstice brought almost endless days and White Nights celebrations. Blackout curtains were as important as match tickets.
>> Visitors discovered the wonders of Georgian food, and we’re not talking about ripe peaches and Chick-fil-A. Khinkali (dumplings) and khachapuri (cheese bread) changed lives forever. Honorable mention: Russian borscht and vodka.
>> Good times were had by almost all and Russians in general left a very positive impression on their guests, yet it remains difficult to reconcile those experiences with the government’s interference in U.S. affairs, annexation of Crimea and human-rights issues. Putin’s VIP suite for the final included several scoundrels, including Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. The relationship between sports and politics will remain complicated.
>> Politics surfaced on the field as two Swiss goal-scorers with family ties to Kosovo made double-eagle gestures with their arms during a victory over Serbia. A Croatian defender paid tribute to Ukraine after helping eliminate Russia.
>> Next stop: Qatar. Bring extra sunscreen.