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World Cup: Hosts Russia have put on the greatest show

France players celebrate after France's Kylian Mbappe scores their side's fourth goal of the game.
France players celebrate after France's Kylian Mbappe scores their side's fourth goal of the game.
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If journalism really is the first draft of history, later editions of the story of Russia 2018 will be starting from the premise that this was the “best ever” World Cup.

It must be. That is what FIFA president Gianni Infantino thinks, it is what the Russians think and it is what numerous coaches, players and pundits have said over the last few days.

And if there were any waverers, well, how do you like a final that finishes 4-2, has a video-replay nasty, a pitch invasion by a Russian feminist protest punk group dressed as bus drivers and sees Kylian Mbappe become the first teenager to score on this stage since Pele in 1958?

Oh, we also had Ronaldinho on bongos before the match, the World Cup trophy arriving in a Louis Vuitton travel case and the winners receiving their medals under umbrellas as the heavens opened.

But it has been a bit like this – bewildering, exciting, surprising – since the start, when Robbie Williams gave a massive global audience the finger and the worst-ranked hosts in history put five past Saudi Arabia, in front of a purring Vladimir Putin and fuming Crown Prince.

Since then, we have seen Germany forget how to score, England win a penalty shootout, Neymar launch a million memes and a nation swoon for Gareth Southgate. We have also seen a different side to Russia. It has, of course, always been there, hiding in plain sight and in hundreds of travel books. But it has not been in our breakfast newspapers or television news at tea time.

The how and the why of that is probably best left to the second drafts of this history as it is very hard to make an objective assessment of how much a sports event matters when you are watching France’s worthy winners do belly slides on the greasy Luzhniki Stadium turf and generally look really, really happy.

And what of England? Well, they did both considerably better than we expected but also not quite as well as they made us dream.

Yes, they are young and they will get better. But France are young, too, and their generations overlap. To put this in school terms, the likes of Lucas Hernandez, Kylian Mbappe and Benjamin Pavard have been playing a year up and they are still winning. And do we really think Brazil, Germany and Spain will make the same mistakes they made here again? What about the teams that did not even make it?

Cameroon, Chile, Italy and Holland all look like the type of last-16 opponents that would send an expectant England into a crisis of national confidence in Qatar.