The 2018 FIFA World Cup comes to a close on Sunday as France take on Croatia in the final. This tournament has had it all. There have been moments of controversy, late heroics, drama, amazing goals, surprises and breakout performances. This World Cup has surpassed expectations.
Here is a look back at some of these moments before the tournament’s finale on Sunday.
The first match of the tournament saw Russia play Saudi Arabia. Not necessarily the most glamorous matchup on paper, but the first game of the World Cup creates so much excitement. It’s the beginning of an entire month dedicated to soccer. Russia won with ease with a score line of 5-0 and set themselves up for a surprising run.
Arguably the best match of the tournament came on Matchday #2. Portugal played Spain; two European giants and rivals. Star players all over the pitch promised some brilliance during the game. The match was a thriller and ended 3-3 thanks to a late Ronaldo trademark free kick. Nacho’s 58-minute volley to take the lead for Spain will also go down as one of the goals of the tournament. A terrific match ignited the fire for the rest of the group stage.
This tournament cannot be discussed without mentioning VAR. The controversial Video Assistant Referee did not take long to leave its mark on the World Cup. In fact, it contributed to this year’s World Cup having the most penalty calls ever. In many ways, VAR has helped correct calls that officials missed or simply got wrong. However, there have been instances where a player seemed to be fouled in the box, but VAR was not even consulted. Either way, the new system has changed the course of matches and added even more drama to the tournament.
Something that makes sports in general so special is when underdogs prevail and the unexpected happens. There was plenty of that in this World Cup. Germany lost their opening match to Mexico which was a huge shock. However, in their second match a last minute wonder goal free kick by Toni Kroos gave them the win against Sweden and kept them in the tournament. The fact that Germany struggled so much to start the tournament was very out of character for the World Champions. These struggles continued and they lost their last match to South Korea and ultimately finished last in their group. Who could’ve predicted that?
England made it all the way to the semifinal. Sure, they didn’t have the hardest path, but this tournament gave a country hope. England have failed and underperformed so often in international tournaments and making it this far was thought to be unfeasible. Rather than scrutinize underperforming English players, the English media and England fans supported their team and beamed with pride.
The team that beat England in the semifinal, Croatia, has had even more of an unexpected road to potential World Cup glory. The nation of just over 4 million in population is the smallest footballing country to ever reach the final. Yet, the side captained by Luka Modric emerged out of the group stages as a force to be reckoned with. If anything, Croatia proved that perhaps they should’ve been taken more seriously. Luka Modric is arguably the best midfielder in the world and Ivan Rakitic, Ivan Perisic, and Mario Mandzukic are all word class players. Croatia won every group stage match, including a 3-0 thrashing of Lionel Messi and Argentina, then went on to win their next two matches in penalties and beat England in extra time. What a ride it has been for Croatia and they will be looking to cap it off with a victory on Sunday.
Russia had home field advantage being the host nation, but not many would have predicted them to reach the quarter finals. Russia even beat one of the favorites to win the tournament, Spain, in the round of 16 in a penalty shootout. Penalties would eliminate them eventually as Croatia beat them in the quarterfinals.
Underdogs performed exceptionally well this tournament which has twisted expected plot lines and given sports bookies headaches. Favorites like Germany, Brazil, Argentina and Spain underperformed. Ruthless penalty shootouts ended dreams for some and brought hope for others. This World Cup seemed to have it all and has been one of the best.
Hopefully the final on Sunday will have some drama and suspense of its own. France have always been favorites to potentially make it this far, but 19-year-old Kylian Mbappé has emerged from this World Cup as the future of world soccer. At only 19 years of age he has lead this France team to a World Cup final. Croatia want to prove the doubters wrong and prevail against a traditional powerhouse. The winning side will be enshrined in soccer history forever and return to their country as heroes.