2018 in review: All hail France but VAR cruelled Socceroos
THE World Cup in Russia and video referees took centre stage in another year of high drama in the beautiful game, writes PHIL DILLON.
Here's his top 10 football moments for 2018.
10 Bolt from the blue
MULTI-Olympic champion Usain Bolt got a 32nd birthday present when he began training with the Central Coast Mariners on August 21 in an attempt to win a contract with the A-League club - and there was worldwide interest in the Jamaican as he pushed his case for a deal.
He did his cause no harm when he scored a double against amateur club Macarthur South West United.
Plenty of people had their say about Bolt, including Perth Glory striker Andy Keogh. He described the Jamaican's first touch as "like a trampoline".
"It's nice to have the attention on the A-League but him playing in the A-League, that's not for me," said Keogh, who made 30 appearances for Ireland."He's shown a bit (of potential), but it's a little bit of a kick in the teeth to the professionals that are in the league.
"If there's someone who genuinely thinks he'd be a good football addition, I don't think they should be in a position to make those calls."
Coach Mike Mulvey also seemed reluctant to praise Bolt, who turned down an offer to join Maltese club Valletta on a two-year contract.
The Bolt experiment eventually came to nothing and he left the Mariners in early November after eight weeks with the club.
9 Twerking furore
IT WAS supposed to be a celebration for women's football, but Ada Hegerberg's moment was spoiled by French DJ Martin Solveig, who asked the Olympique Lyonnaise striker to twerk after she became the winner of the first women's Ballon d'Or.
The 23-year-old - a three-time Champions League winner - responded to the inappropriate request with a curt "no". Later she said she "didn't really consider it as sexual harassment or anything in the moment", but several people took exception to the DJ's comments, including former Wimbledon champion Andy Murray.
"Why do women have to put up with that s---?" Murray said.
"What questions did they ask Mbappe and Modric? I'd imagine something to do with football."
Solveig eventually issued a belated apology.
8 EPL records
MANCHESTER City had to wait until the final minute of the last game of the season to win their first English Premier League title in 2012. This year's success was more clear-cut with the Sky Blues breaking several records under manager Pep Guardiola.
They won the campaign with the most points (100), most wins (32), most away wins (16), most goals (106), most consecutive league wins (18), highest goal difference (+79), most passes in a game (903), fewest minutes behind in matches (153) and biggest winning points margin (19).
There was also a record at the other end of the table as all three promoted clubs - Huddersfield, Brighton and Newcastle - avoided relegation for the first time since the 2011-12 campaign, and for only the third time in Premier League history.
Guardiola won titles in Germany and Spain but said the EPL crown was the toughest to secure.
On the other side of Manchester, things were not as rosy, with the self-acclaimed "Special One" Jose Mourinho getting the sack after United's worst start to an English Premier League season in the club's history.
Ole Gunnar Soslkjaer was given the caretaker role until the end of the season after Mourinho was sent packing, effective immediately, following a limp 3-1 loss to rivals Liverpool.
"I have been immensely proud to wear the badge of Manchester United since the first day I arrived, and I believe all United fans recognise this," Mourinho said in a statement.
"Each time a chapter is closed, I show my deepest respect by not making any comments about my former colleagues."
7 Socceroos' World Cup
AFTER Ange Postecoglou left his post in November 2017, it was left to interim coach Bert van Marwijk to steer the Socceroos at the World Cup finals in Russia.
The Dutchman upset pundits and fans alike with his reluctance to give veteran Tim Cahill much game time against France, Denmark and Peru.
The Aussies were unlucky against eventual champions France and got a deserved draw against Denmark.
But it was their lack of firepower that ultimately cost them as they lost their final match against the South Americans, going down 2-0 and failing to once again get out of the group stages.
Van Marwijk's failure to use Cahill off the bench was a bone of contention for Australian fans but the Dutchman did give rising star Daniel Arzani his chance and he was one of the positives in what turned out to be a disappointing tournament for the Socceroos.
6 Arnold gets dream job
ALMOST 12 years after being acting coach of the Socceroos, Graham Arnold finally got the job he always wanted when he was named as Bert van Marwijk's successor.
The former Sydney FC mentor had a great start to his spell in charge, winning a friendly in Kuwait 4-0 before a 1-1 draw with South Korea at Suncorp Stadium.
He completed the year with a 3-0 success over Lebanon but bigger tests loom in the new year when the Socceroos defend their Asian Cup crown.
"I've been heavily involved with the Socceroos for a long, long time," Arnold said in March when it was announced he would become the national coach after the World Cup.
"I know what the job's about. I know it's not an easy job. It's a tough job, but I know I'll do a great job this time.
"It's a job that makes me so excited and I can't wait.
"You learn from mistakes as a coach. Obviously I've made plenty, but I am a person that learns. My strengths are man management and teaching the details. When you have great support around you, everything's possible.
"I want to carry on Ange's (Postecoglou) legacy of being proud Australians and that every time you put on the Australian shirt, you're playing for the nation."
5 Modric on top of the world
LUKA Modric had a year to remember, winning the Golden Ball as the best player at the World Cup in Russia and taking out the best men's player gong at FIFA's Best awards before topping it off with a first Ballon d'Or success.
Cristiano Ronaldo finished second in the Ballon d'Or and France star Antoine Griezmann third.
Lionel Messi was fifth, with this year being the first in 10 seasons that he or Ronaldo did not win the world's best player award.
Modric was the key man as Croatia reached their first World Cup final.
"In my career I've realised that hard work and persistence in difficult moments sets the foundation to show your talent," Modric said on accepting the award.
"One phrase I like to say: 'The best things never come easy.' For me to achieve all this, nothing was easy."
4 Aloisi quits
AFTER a tough start to the new season John Aloisi called it quits at Brisbane Roar at the end of December.
The former Socceroo had promised a better season in the 2018-19 campaign but when he announced his resignation, the team had won just one of their opening nine matches and were second from bottom on the Hyundai A-League ladder, six points outside the top six.
"For the past three and a half years, I have given every minute of my life to make the Brisbane Roar a success," Aloisi said in a statement released by the club.
"Upon reflection of the current situation, I have made the difficult decision to stand down effective immediately as I believe this is in the best interest of the playing group and football club."
Darren Davies took over as interim coach.
3 Cahill calls it a day
HE MIGHT still be having a run in the Indian Super League, but Australia's greatest goalscorer called it quits from international and top-level football in July.
Cahill did make a return for the Socceroos in a one-off game against Lebanon, as new Socceroos coach Graham Arnold gave the man who scored 50 goals for his country a final chance to say farewell to Australian fans. Cahill finished with 108 caps for Australia, one behind record holder Mark Schwarzer.
"No words can describe what it has meant to represent my country," Cahill said on his retirement.
"Massive thank you to everyone for the support throughout all my years wearing the Australian badge."
2 VAR goes too far
THE Video Assistant Referee system was used for the first time at the World Cup finals in Russia and split the audience with several contentious decisions during the tournament.
The trial was continued in the A-League and caused consternation in the new season as pundits and fans alike slammed more decisions.
Former goalkeeper Mark Bosnich, normally a fan of the concept, said the system should be scrapped after Melbourne Victory fell foul to VAR when rival Melbourne City was awarded a penalty in their opening round fixture.
"I've come to the conclusion that serious discussion needs to take place right now about an exit strategy or about suspending it," Bosnich said. "The bottom line is, and I say this as a great supporter of VAR, this cannot continue."
1 Allez Les Bleus
ONE of the pre-tournament favourites, France under Didier Deschamps started nervously with a 2-1 win over the Socceroos thanks to a contentious VAR penalty decision.
After easing through the group stages without too much fanfare, the French got better and better.
Star performances from Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe helped the team defeat Argentina and Uruguay in the knockout stages before France edged past neighbours Bel-gium 1-0 in their semi-final.
Griezmann, Pogba and Mbappe were to the fore in the final, all scoring goals as France overcame a stubborn Croatia 4-2 to win their second World Cup.
Deschamps, who became just the third man to win a World Cup as a player and as a coach, said after the final: "I had the immense pleasure and privilege to live through this as a player 20 years ago, in France, which of course is marked in my memory forever. What the players did today is just as beautiful, just as strong."