5 Takeaways From World Cup 2018
France emerged as victors. Paul Pogba played a magnificent tournament. Kylian Mbappe shined bright as a budding star.
If you watched any of the World Cup (and even if you didn't), you know these things to be true. But by digging a little deeper, what else should we make note of as the world soccer stage sets its sights on 2020 and beyond?
Get Used To France Winning Things
Stop me if youâ€™ve heard this before, but Didier Deschampsâ€™ championship-winning squad was the second-youngest in Russia, with an average age of just over 26 years old.
When the next FIFA World Cup rolls around in November 2022 (thanks to the decision to host the tournament in a desert nation), over half of Franceâ€™s starting XI from Sundayâ€™s final against Croatia will still be 29 years old or younger, while Kylian Mbappe will still be nearing his prime at 23.
As for the rest of the starters, this is likely the last dance for 31-year-olds Olivier Giround and Blaise Matuidi, but Antoine Griezmann and Nâ€™Golo Kante will still only be 31 in 4 yearsâ€™ time, while youâ€™d expect keeper and Les Bleus captain Hugo Lloris -- still just 31 himself -- to be around for another World Cup cycle.
The moment âï¸ became âï¸âï¸!@FrenchTeam // @equipedefrance // #WorldCup
ðŸ“º Highlights ðŸ‘‰ https://t.co/LOdKDXkdnV pic.twitter.com/tumuVXrJk6
â€” FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) July 15, 2018
Corentin Tolisso, Thomas Lemar, Ousmane Dembele and Nabil Fekir -- all budding stars who were bit players for this tournament -- will be in their prime in 2022, as will a host of other French talents left off the 23-man roster.
With youth, prodigious ability, experience and continuity all at their disposal, it would shock no one if this French side find themselves on top of world football on another occasion or two in years ahead.
â€¦Or Maybe Not?
Then again, this World Cup served as a stark reminder that itâ€™s hard to defend a title at a major international tournament.
2014 champs Germany entered the summer as one of the clear-cut favorites and were considered by many a safe bet to at least reach the semifinals in typical German fashion.
But whether it was complacency, factions in the squad, poor management or some combination of the lot, Jochim Loewâ€™s group could never get into gear in Russia and finished dead-last in their group, a humbling exit theyâ€™d not suffered at a World Cup in 80 years.
Watching Germany tumble out of World Cup in Group Stage is something I never expected to see in my lifetime. Makes Red Wedding seem like run of mill nuptial ceremony in comparison. Totally, totally GobsmackedðŸ˜¶ ðŸ‡©ðŸ‡ª
â€” roger bennett (@rogbennett) June 27, 2018
Perhaps the Germansâ€™ misfortune -- just like that of previous winners Spain, Italy and France in the ensuing tournament following a title -- will serve as a cautionary tale to the latest world champions in four yearsâ€™ time.
History, however, would seem to indicate otherwise.
If Youâ€™re Good Enough, Youâ€™re Experienced Enough
Experience at the senior international level is counting for less and less in soccerâ€™s modern era, and managers have taken notice.
Franceâ€™s World Cup-winning backline featured two fullbacks that had been capped all of five times apiece prior to the opener against Australia.
Kylian MbappÃ© joins PelÃ© as the only teenagers to score in a #WorldCup Final. pic.twitter.com/j5TjvsZqCN
â€” ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 15, 2018
Uruguay reached the quarterfinals while relying on a midfield four -- primarily Nahitan Nandez, Lucas Torreira, Matias Vecino and Rodrigo Betancour -- that had an average of eleven caps each entering Russia 2018.
Gareth Southgate -- and by proxy, English pub owners everywhere -- was rewarded for choosing Jordan Pickford as his No. 1, even though the Everton stopper didnâ€™t feature once in qualifying and had been capped all of three times prior to the Three Lionsâ€™ first group stage match against Tunisia.
Similarly untested defenders Kieran Trippier (seven pre-World Cup caps) and Harry Maguire (six caps) played a huge part in Englandâ€™s run to the semis, with each scoring along the way and Trippier earning plaudits as a Team of the Tournament candidate at right back.
Of course, not all successful teams in Russia went for inexperience -- see Croatia, for which nearly every member of their starting unit (other than Ante Rebic) finished the tournament with over 40 senior caps, but rarely have so many managers been unafraid to experiment with unproven talent at a major tournament.
Time will tell if the rewards many reaped for taking that risk emboldens others to do the same in the near future.
Work On Set Pieces
World Cup sides are typically forged and battle-tested over the course of a two-to-three year qualifying cycle, but as evidenced by the previous trend, the final 23-man roster can look significantly different than the one trotted out in the months leading up to the tournament.
Because of this, along with a variety of club and other commitments, thereâ€™s not much time to train together as a national team, and that unfamiliarity can lead to disjointed displays in both attack and defense. But the one area in the game that seems easiest to put together -- the veritable microwave oven of soccer tactics -- is the set piece.
Easy to master. Difficult to defend. Deadly in this World Cup.
England's Corner Routines are as if Drawn Up by the greatest NBA minds. Erik Spoelstra-esque pic.twitter.com/G5cutNrDZO
â€” Men in Blazers (@MenInBlazers) July 7, 2018
In 64 matches in Russia, 28 goals (43.8%) were scored on corners or free kicks. An additional eight own goals came off set pieces, a crazy stat considering the previous World Cup record was six OGs of any kind.
To further the point, several penalties were awarded for infractions on set plays, and there couldâ€™ve been many, many more and likely will be in the future with further VAR involvement.
Only 3 of England's 11 goals have come via open play at this World Cup. They have 4 goals off corner kicks, 3 goals from penalties and another off a free kick set piece.
â€” ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 7, 2018
Southgateâ€™s England were meticulous at practicing set plays prior to and during the tournament, and were criticized by some for being too reliant on them, but as 75% of their goals in Russia came about from a corner, free kick or penalty -- and as the Three Lions reached the semis on the back of their set-play prowess -- itâ€™s likely those barbs donâ€™t penetrate very deep in the former Aston Villa manâ€™s waistcoat.
Up Next: The Unknown
Finally, as odd as this sounds, Russia 2018 will be the last normal major international men's tournament for the foreseeable future.
Euro 2020 -- the 60th anniversary edition of the championship -- will take place across the continent in 12 different countries.
The next World Cup -- Qatar 2022 -- will take place in a country with no soccer history and will be the first winter edition of the tournament -- running from November 21 to December 18 -- to avoid the intense summer heat of the region.
The host for Euro 2024 is yet to be determined -- a winning bid from Germany or Turkey will be determined in September -- and while that likely will be a normal-ish major championship, the summer of 2026 brings the World Cup to North America, with an expanded 48-team field playing across 3 countries.
Russia 2018 was special for a number of reasons, but it might stand out most for being the last major tournament of its kind.
Thankfully, the old model went out with a bang.