The recently concluded 2018 FIFA World Cup was perhaps the first in a while where there wasn’t much optimism for the hosts before the tournament began. Supposed off-field issues aside, Russia were the lowest-ranked team ahead of the World Cup, had injuries to key players, and had fans that were bound to turn on them should things go south, recipe for calamity.
It didn’t quite turn out that way. Russia began the tournament by steamrollering Saudi Arabia on the opening day, an emphatic 5-0 win setting the tone for their run to the quarter-finals.
The hosts were just about the epitome of this World Cup, a tournament where a sense of collectivism thrived over individuality. Russia, where they were lacking in star players, compensated with collective spirit, fostering a team ethic, embodied by Artem Dzyuba’s speech in the quarter-final against Croatia.
And that was simply the World Cup in a nutshell, the sense of team unity standing out. France were seen as favourites going into this tournament, mainly due to the star players in their possession. But Les Bleus functioned as a team in this tournament, rather than a mash-up of individuals. People pointed fingers at coach Didier Deschamps for such a cautious setup, but it was clear and concise, defensive sturdiness, coupled with a burst on the counter. Everyone knew their role in the side, and in the end, it paid off as they lifted the trophy.
Not that the champions were the only ones with an impressive set of team displays. Uruguay’s organisation is bound to leave long in the memory, Sweden, in their first tournament without star man Zlatan Ibrahimovic since 2002, prospered because of the team ethic they garnered, while Iran’s collectivism may not have been enough to prevent a first round exit, it generated a fair amount of praise from neutrals. Even Belgium showed there was more to their game than a compilation of star individuals, their understanding more apparent in their quarter-final win over Brazil, and the reason for their devastating counter-attacks.
But the biggest epitome of a team ethic, surely had to be beaten finalists Croatia. In skipper Luka Modric, they had just about the best midfielder in the world, but their strength also lied in their collective spirit. While the likes of Argentina and Portugal just about relied on their star men to solely drag them forward, Modric and Croatia was a case of pulling everyone along. The departure of striker Nikola Kalinic early on didn’t deter, and it was only a collective understanding and a sense of togetherness that would enable a team win three knockout games despite conceding first in all of them.
Individuality still lies in the game, and it’s still loved in the game, even in this World Cup, Modric was part of a collective power but still stood out, while Kylian Mbappe was a star attraction almost on his own, same goes for Eden Hazard. But the sense of collectivism is thriving, particularly on the international front, and also serving as a form of inspiration to the less-fancied sides, that putting together a team greater than the sum of its parts can take one a long way.