THIS is my eighth time at the sharp end of a World Cup and I have loved every minute of it. Each tournament has its own unique feel and this is no exception.

Russia has been an adventure in a good way. The venues are beautifully appointed and the atmosphere inside has been tremendous and motivating, helped in no small measure by the many South Americans in attendance. For fans from Peru, Colombia and Uruguay, it has felt like a once in a life-time trip to be savoured.

The host nation’s surprising run in the competition has also contributed mightily to the ambience. I’ll never forget being inside the Luzhniki Stadium when Russia overcame Spain on penalties.

To anyone watching on television it might have looked like a typical park-the-bus job by a lesser team against a more talented side under performing. But to me the images that live on will be those of Russia’s underdogs conducting their own Luzhniki symphony orchestra, imploring the 12th man to hit a rousing crescendo, as limbs wearied and minds tired.

England’s bruising confrontation with Colombia at Moscow’s Spartak Stadium, described as one of the dirtiest games ever played, has perhaps been oversold. It was for sure a match on the edge of anarchy at times and American referee Mark Geiger has received plenty of critical reviews, but to bill Colombia as the ultimate purveyors of dark arts in football, seems over the top. I have seen plenty worse, starting with Uruguay in 1986.

I did enjoy the drama of both penalty shoot-outs in the capital this past week and adding words to the emotional scenes for the US audience on Fox Sports.

I’ve been sharing a commentary position for Fox with Aly Wagner, one of the finest players of her generation with the US women’s national team. Aly has prepared as thoroughly as any co-commentator I’ve teamed up with. In fact, as I’m writing this column, she’s gazing into a monitor, doing her meticulous homework on tactics and shape. I’ve enjoyed listening to her views and ideas about the game, on and off air. Her presence here in a high profile analytical role, serves as an inspiration to millions of young women across the USA.

Many of you will have heard Vicki Sparks broadcasting on the BBC from Russia. Claudia Neumann, who I have bumped into on my regular travels in Germany, has a similar role with ZDF, one of the public service broadcasters. Hanna Marklund was last night working in Samara for Swedish television. All are there because they do their job to a high standard.

It has been the World Cup of many things. Set-pieces absolutely, late goals come to mind too, and also own goals and strange deflections, always a challenge for a commentator to call accurately at first glance. It has also been the World Cup where video assistance took hold and there will be no going back.

I suspect there are still VAR sceptics around but I have a feeling many will have done a volte-face on this one. It has been far from the catastrophe initially predicted. I have been lucky enough to see it in Germany, week-in, week-out, all season. It is no panacea and not intended to be but it undoubtedly makes the game more just. Competitions which don’t have it VAR in future will seem somehow incomplete. Credit to Fifa for having the guts to implement it now despite the hue and cry from certain quarters about it being too soon for such a radical innovation.

It is tempting to leave comparisons with previous World Cups until it is all over. But I put this World Cup right up there with the best of the tournaments I’ve covered. There has been the odd snoozer (France v Denmark but not much else) but plenty of vibrant football to get pulses racing.

When walking through the streets of Moscow last week and admiring the varied team colours of Brazil, Mexico, Spain and of course Russia, I couldn’t help thinking about Scotland. A whole generation has missed out on what my generation almost took for granted in our youth. Let’s hope this world party is not lost to the country for much longer.

There is truly nothing like the World Cup.

WHEN the greatest sporting show on earth moves to Qatar in 2022, many aspects will be different. For one, the timing at the end of the calendar year as opposed to in the middle of it.

The other difference is the geography of it all. Whereas here in Russia, a trip from Moscow to one of the other venues involves a flight or at best, a four-hour train journey, there will be no such hassles in Qatar.

Fans will be able to pick a hotel in Doha or its surrounding areas and travel easily to every venue. In fact the longest journey anyone need undertake from one stadium to another is a mere 35 miles. A bit like staging a World Cup in the central belt, albeit with a bit more sunshine. It even opens the possibility of taking in two matches on the same day for the football obsessed.

Given the relative ease of getting to Qatar from Europe, and the short distances within the country, don’t be surprised if 2022 is a huge hit with those who attend.