Lesson you’d take from Russia for any other tournament host: how well everything was organised. Best organised tournament I’ve been to.
One thing you got totally wrong about Russia: the food. Everyone said it would be bland bar Georgian cuisine. It was not. And they love sushi.
The trend from this tournament that you think might bleed into the club game: looking to game VAR.
The best thing about this World Cup: the huge number of storylines, which were matched by the fun of the football.
Do you feel like you’ve been part of a special sporting event or a propaganda show: both. Jack Pitt-Brooke – Football Correspondent
Best match you were at: For drama, Marcos Rojo rescuing Argentina with three minutes left against Nigeria. But for meaning, England 1-1 Colombia in Moscow. To see England come back from the agony of an added-time equaliser, then to win their first ever World Cup shoot-out, was a stirring sign of how far this team have come.
Best team performance you saw: Croatia v England. To be on the ropes like that at half-time, but not to panic, and keep playing their football in the second half, moving slowly up the pitch and creating chances when England started to panic: Croatia’s semi-final display was a testament to their experience, their character and their quality.
Best individual performance you saw: Ivan Perisic v England. He led the charge for Croatia in the second half of the semi-final, testing out England with his runs and eventually breaking through to stab Croatia’s equaliser. He could have won the game after that, but England never found a way to keep up with him.
Worst team performance you saw: Panama v England. Before this game there were days of earnest talk from the England camp about respecting Panama, but when it came to it they were an utter shambles, no real shape, no discipline, letting England through every time.
Worst individual performance you saw and why: Mascherano v Nigeria. A great player in his day but looked utterly finished this World Cup, his touch having deserted him and barely able to get across the pitch.
Best goal? It has to be Lionel Messi’s masterpiece against Nigeria in St Petersburg. On the run, he took Ever Banega’s pass on his thigh, touched it out in front of him and put it in the far corner. Just a shame his team were never anywhere near his level.
Best XI: Pickford; Trippier, Varane, Godin, Hernandez; Kante, Modric; Hazard, De Bruyne, Perisic; Mbappe
Player who most changed your opinion positively: Kieran Trippier. Started the season trying to prove he was better than Serge Aurier, ended it as the best right-back in the whole World Cup. Has taken his delivery onto another level.
Player who most changed your opinion negatively: Neymar: This was his big moment to deliver but he could not do it, especially in the quarter-final against Belgium when his team needed him the most.
Coach who most changed your opinion positively: Roberto Martinez: Gave Belgium a structure and way of playing they had lacked in the past, even if that semi-final defeat to France will stay with them forever.
Coach who most changed your opinion negatively: Jorge Sampaoli: Despite coming in with a good track record in club football, he was a man with no authority who sounded honoured just to be in the same room as Lionel Messi.
Best food eaten: The best food in Russia is Georgian food – khimkali, khachapuri and the rest.
Best stadium visited: St Petersburg Looks like a spaceship from the outside but with its steep sides inside it feels both futuristic and atmospheric. Worthy of a Champions League final.
Best city visited: St Petersburg. Some of it feels like Paris or Venice, some of it like science fiction, especially around the stadium. Full of fascinating art and history and at this time of year it never even gets dark. It’s always sunny in St Petersburg.
Lesson you’d take from Russia for any other tournament host:Having diverse host cities will certainly be missed in Qatar in four years time, just because of the difference between each of the venues here.
One thing you got totally wrong about Russia: I thought it would be cold a lot of the time in St Petersburg and ended up never needing the warmer clothes that I brought with me.
The trend from this tournament that you think might bleed into the club game: It will be interesting to see how the England players are received by fans of rival Premier League clubs this season. I hope Raheem Sterling is no longer booed around the grounds, but I’ll believe it when I see it.
The best thing about this World Cup: Seeing how much it means to fans and players, who do not go about as if the Champions League is still the pinnacle of their game. In an emotional sense, this is still the important as it gets.
Do you feel like you’ve been part of a special sporting event or a propaganda show: Not mutually exclusive. You can applaud the organisation and the show while not changing your mind about the reality of the Putin regime.
Jonathan Liew – Chief Sports Writer
Best match: France 4-3 Argentina. Me and Miguel had a bit of a ‘disagreement’ about the aesthetic merits of this game earlier in the tournament, which I suspect stems entirely from the fact that I was there and he wasn’t. He reckoned it was slightly overrated as the Argentinians were done after an hour, and the flow of goals didn’t really make sense. I responded thus: Mbappe’s electrifying run, Di Maria’s brilliant equaliser, Pavard’s incredible volley (in many ways the Sliding Doors moment of the whole tournament) and the liquid-nitrogen coldness of France’s counter-attacking. The birth of one star, and the waning of another. Also, I was there. And he wasn’t.
Best team performance: Belgium against Brazil. Fair enough, they didn’t create much in the second half, and were hanging on for a bit at the end. But history will record this Brazilian side as an ordinary team. They weren’t. They were probably the best Brazilian team we’ve seen since 2002, perhaps even their equal. And in the space of 35 first-half minutes, Belgium made them look like scared children. Hazard, De Bruyne and Lukaku all produced performances that will go into their personal top five all of all time. And then they clung on, despite one of the most feared attacking line-ups in world football throwing everything at them. Brazil ended that game wondering what on earth had hit them. They hadn’t even played that badly.
Best individual performance: Mbappe against Argentina. For reasons described above. And also, because he’s Kylian Mbappe.
Worst team performance: Not having attended any Germany games, I’d have to go for Spain against Russia. Never has a team seemed more absurdly in thrall to an idea that would so certainly lead to their destruction. In passing themselves to death, Spain mislaid the essence of what made them great: that if the opposition knows exactly what you’re going to do next, the battle’s half lost.
Worst individual performance: Javier Mascherano against Nigeria. Having seized the reins of the Argentinian team, Mascherano would presumably have been hoping for a statement performance in midfield to help his side out of the group. They got out of the group, but Mascherano came across less like a valiant leader and more like a surreptitious saboteur. If it wasn’t misplacing simple passes, losing 50-50s or getting nutmegged by Alex Iwobi, it was needlessly giving away a penalty that allowed Nigeria back into the game. Almost certainly his last World Cup at 34, and hard not to suspect it was one too many.
Best goal: So many great ones – De Bruyne against Brazil, Pavard against Argentina, Trippier against Croatia. But Lionel Messi’s goal against Nigeria was just breathtaking in terms of its technique and beauty. And that’s the real issue at stake here. The Leonardian curve of the ball, the haptic satisfaction of that cushioned touch on the laces, the immaculate physics of the finish. It’s a goal that the Ancient Greeks would have recognised as beautiful, and they wouldn’t even have had slow-motion replays in those days.
Best XI: (4-3-3): Courtois; Meunier, Varane, Umtiti, Marcelo; Kante, Pogba, Modric; Mbappe, Griezmann, De Bruyne.
Player who most changed your opinion positively: Raphael Varane. Needed to show he could marshal a defence without Sergio Ramos next to him, and did. A giant.
Player who most changed your opinion negatively: Deep down, I think we all knew that Robert Lewandowski didn’t quite have the sinew to drag Poland to the knockout stages on his own. So I’ll go for Koke, who I’ve always rated as a leader at Atletico Madrid but looked lost and indecisive for Spain here.
Coach who most changed your opinion positively: Didier Deschamps. Sorry, if you win the World Cup then you can’t be a bad coach. That’s just how it works.
Coach who most changed your opinion negatively: Jorge Sampaoli. It’s hard to think of a coach whose stock has dropped – or even could drop – so spectacularly. It’s one thing getting exposed tactically and temperamentally, but in a way he’s also been exposed as a person, which is the sort of blow few coaches ever truly recover from.
Best food eaten: Saturday night, actually: a traditional Russian meal consisting of calamari in lettuce leaves, pelmeni (meat-filled dumplings with spicy sauce) and golubtsi (cabbage stuffed with guinea fowl in a sauce so creamy and rich the spoon almost stood up in it).
Best stadium visited: The Nizhny Novgorod stadium, where England played Panama. Breathtaking design, a lovely walk to the ground and just about the perfect size (about 42,000). One of the new stadiums built for 2018, and a fitting new home for, um… *looks at card* …FC Nizhny Novgorod, who have just been promoted to the Russian Second Division. Ah, well. Nice little away day.
Best city visited: St Petersburg an utterly fascinating city that really throws you through a loop. Culture, language, food, everything: worlds apart from the West.
Lesson you’d take from Russia for any other tournament host: If you’re going to persecute minority groups, interfere in overseas elections, shoot down passenger planes, murder journalists, release nerve agent on foreign soil and dope your athletes on an industrial scale, then you’d better make your World Cup as good as this!!
One thing you got totally wrong about Russia: That it would be unwelcoming bordering on sinister, and its people would all wear pursed lips and suspicious frowns and look at you as if you were just about to spit in their borscht. That was totally wrong. Only a few people were like that.
The trend from this tournament that you think might bleed into the club game: Dejan Lovren being good.
The best thing about this World Cup: The fans, particularly the ones who came even though their team wasn’t in the tournament, or the ones who stayed after they went out. I don’t know what it is about seeing a load of Nigerians dancing with a load of Colombians dancing with a load of Russians on the streets of Moscow that warms your heart, but for a country that hasn’t always been celebrated for its… um, ‘embrace of diversity’, this month will have done them a world of good. I almost want to say the volunteers, who get paid nothing and have been unfailing cheerful and enthusiastic throughout, but I’m not sure I really see the point of them. About 95 per cent don’t really do anything except hold those foam fingers. Anyway, we digress.
Do you feel like you’ve been part of a special sporting event or a propaganda show? A special sporting event, of course. Nobody ever feels like they’re at a propaganda show. That’s what makes it such good propaganda. Ed Malyon – Sports Editor
Best match you were at: France beating Argentina. It just had everything; the occasion, the stars, the goals, the unpredictability, the atmosphere. It was a special game to be at.
Best team performance you saw: Probably Mexico’s defeat of Germany on that wild opening weekend. It was a plan six months in the making from Juan Carlos Osorio and it resulted in a brilliant display that picked at the weaknesses of the world champions and nullified their strengths, hinting at the Mannschaft’s eventual demise.
Best individual performance you saw: It would probably have been Philippe Coutinho against Serbia but then Kylian Mbappeexploded in Kazan against Argentina and the tournament might be remembered for him more than anything else if he goes on to become what he is capable of.
Worst team performance you saw: France vs Denmark. An aberration of a football match and, in the end, the tournament’s only 0-0. A disgracefully poor game.
Worst individual performance you saw and why: Any Saudi player in that opener. It was like they’d never played the sport before. Otherwise Willy Caballero in that Iceland game, a display which put the shakes into a defence that was not exactly stable to begin with – and a worrying hint at what was to come.
Best goal? Benjamin Pavard’s thunderclap strike against Argentina.
Best XI: Lloris; Varane, Stones, Godin; Trippier, Kante, Modric, De Bruyne, Perisic; Hazard, Mbappe. Alternative XI of lesser-known players – Ochoa; Granqvist, Sanchez, Koulibaly; Inui, Herrera, Cueva, Banega, Ansarifard; Lozano, Mandzukic.
Player who most changed your opinion positively: Kieran Trippier – a player I thought was good who was, in this tournament, by a distance the best right-back in a tournament of good right-backs.
Player who most changed your opinion negatively: Mats Hummels. What an absolute disaster he was, which considering he has long been considered one of the best in the world at his position was a huge surprise.
Coach who most changed your opinion positively: Didier Deschamps, I guess. Still the luckiest coach alive but he’s no longer holding France back – evidenced by the fact they won the actual World Cup.
Coach who most changed your opinion negatively: Jorge Sampaoli. If not for the manner of some of the defeats, it is for the way he completely folded on all the principles that made him into a success. I think he’ll bounce back but this was atrocious.
Best food eaten: Dr Zhivago Cafe looks out over Red Square and serves some of the best Russian food you will ever eat. Just don’t make the mistake of ordering wine – the import expenses mean that any vino will bankrupt you very quickly. Vodka or beer.
Best stadium visited: Spartak Stadium was fine but these are all just modern spaceships implanted into foreign lands these days. All a bit soulless and grim
Best city visited: Brilliant Kazan was the only place I visited outside of Moscow. The capital’s historic centre and vibing Arbat neighbourhood were genuinely outstanding, obviously, and there is a reason so many people based themselves in Russia’s only truly global city.
Lesson you’d take from Russia for any other tournament host: Give free transport out so people can see the country.
One thing you got totally wrong about Russia: The diversity. Russia had a far more Asian influence than I expected
The trend from this tournament that you think might bleed into the club game: well, assuming VAR takes hold it will be the increase in penalties and people looking to kick the ball at people’s hands
The best thing about this World Cup: I’m tempted to say coverage from all our guys. I couldn’t have dreamed it would be as good as it was, but the real answer is the fans who made the trip to Russia and particularly those who voyaged from Latin America to provide the noise and colour this tournament would have been a corpse without. Football is nothing without fans. Nothing. Those who administer this sport would do well to remember that in everything they do.
Do you feel like you’ve been part of a special sporting event or a propaganda show: Both in some ways. It is a worrying feeling that we may have in any way legitimised Putin’s regime but I believe that his government have faced more scrutiny because of this event than they would otherwise and ultimately nobody will be talking about how clean the streets were and how great the Moscow Metro system was in six months’ time. The awful things about Russia will still be news. Mark Critchley – Football Correspondent
Best match you were at: Germany vs Sweden. Toni Kroos’ late winner was spectacular but the persistent threat that a limited Sweden posed on the counter was what made this great. Shame it counted for little in the end.
Best team performance you saw: Mexico against Germany. Few coaches isolated and then exposed an opponent’s weakness quite like Juan Carlos Osario in Group E’s opening game.
Best individual performance you saw: Edison Cavani against Portugal, though his excellence that night owed much to his strike partner Luis Suarez and the rigid and dogmatic but effective structure set up by Uruguay head coach Oscar Tabarez.
Worst team performance you saw: Poland were much less than the sum of their parts in their opener against Senegal and worse still next time out against Colombia. Though slightly overrated coming into the tournament, they were still the most underwhelming team by some distance.
Worst individual performance you saw and why: There were a lot of bad performances and his was far from the worst of them, but I think Cristiano Ronaldo left the Uruguay defeat with more regrets than any other player I saw.
Best goal? Lionel Messi’s against Nigeria. The two touches to set himself are all the better because you know he meant them.
Best XI: Courtois; Trippier, Godin, Vida, Augustinsson; Kanté, Modric, De Bruyne; Perisic, Mbappé, Hazard.
Player who most changed your opinion positively: Jordan Pickford. I don’t think he has shown much more to his game than we already knew, but he was absolutely his best self in Russia – an excellent shot-stopper, able to take command of his area. His challenge now is to improve in the other areas of his game and cement his position in the national side. His much-vaunted distribution could still, in my opinion, do with much improvement.
Player who most changed your opinion negatively: Sami Khedira is most likely finished at this level.
Tite showed enough to suggest that Brazil should keep him on (Reuters)
Coach who most changed your opinion positively: Tite may ultimately have underachieved, but his side lost narrowly to a strong Belgium and his composed, measured demeanour in the aftermath showed he has enough to keep the ship steady. Brazil should keep him on.
Coach who most changed your opinion negatively: It’s hard not to think less of Jorge Sampaoli after the last month, but the overriding feeling must be that he is a better, more authoritative coach than Argentina’s campaign suggested and that – all things considered – this was not predominantly his fault.
Best stadium visited: The Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi, with its views of the sun setting over the Black Sea from the concourse.
Lesson you’d take from Russia for any other tournament host: Make a warm seaside resort one of the host cities.
The trend from this tournament that you think might bleed into the club game: Scoring from set pieces, especially once VAR is rolled out among more domestic leagues.