20 Jul The Five most memorable moments of the 2018 World Cup
The 2018 World Cup hosted in Russia will live long in the memory as being arguably the best edition of the tournament since Italia 90, and with the competition now behind us, it’s worth looking back at some of the most memorable moments.
Stories unfolded like never before throughout the month-long footballing spectacle, while the action on the pitch was fantastic to watch as a neutral.
Russia’s infrastructure made such a compelling tournament possible with the standard of the stadium facilities and pitches as good as anything a club side could offer.
France eventually lifted the famous trophy aloft in Moscow on June 15th, bringing to an end a 20-year wait for another world championship. Kylian Mbappe was the star of the tournament and will now enjoy a new period of his career where he’s expected to take over from Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Political uncertainty remains prevalent in Europe, but for one month people were given a welcome rest in the form of a sporting showpiece that nobody can fail to notice.
Everyone’s highlights of the tournaments will be slightly different, but we’ve taken a look at five of the most memorable moments of the 2018 World Cup:
1. Spain’s chaotic pre-tournament preparations
Few thought there would ever be a pre-World Cup blow-up to rival Saipan in 2002, yet Spain managed to conjure up their very own chaotic moment which put their entire campaign in jeopardy. With Julen Lopetegui having steered La Roja to the World Cup with a flawless record in qualifying, news broke on the eve of their opening match with Portugal that he would take the Real Madrid job after the tournament.
It was quickly confirmed to be a legitimate story, and the Spanish Football Federation was in a state of panic, especially when it emerged that they hadn’t been kept informed of the negotiations. Newly elected president, Luis Rubiales, was furious and determined to show that no club/individual was more significant than the national team and he made the bold call to dismiss Lopetegui just before the World Cup began.
Spain had gone from a comfortable position as one of the favourites to win the competition to having to parachute Fernando Hierro in as an emergency interim coach just two days before facing Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal.
The 3-3 draw with Portugal was arguably La Roja’s best performance; they never quite hit the heights the team were capable of and exited the competition after losing a penalty shoot-out to Russia in the Round of 16.
2. Argentina’s implosion against Croatia
To say there was pressure on Lionel Messi heading into the 2018 World Cup would be quite the understatement. Never before has one individual carried the hopes of a nation on his shoulders quite like this, and after being the sole reason why the Albiceleste qualified in the first place, Messi was expected to deliver once the tournament began.
He missed a penalty in the opening match against Iceland which the team drew, and only a positive result against Croatia on Matchday two could rectify the situation. One of the lasting images of the competition was Messi’s putting his head in his hands as the national anthem played, such was the pressure he was under. His performance was that of a man frozen by expectations.
Argentina were a shambles against Croatia and lost 3-0, and the reality is that it could have been a lot more. When Luka Modric unleashed a wondrous long-range strike to end the match, nobody could quite believe what they were watching. The supporters were stunned, and Argentina were all but out of the tournament after two games.
Despite talk of a player mutiny against Jorge Sampaoli, Messi found his magic touch and steered the team to victory over Nigeria which saw them progress to the knockout stage, where they fell to a phenomenal French team.
3. Germany falling foul of the holders’ curse
Joachim Lowe cut a calm figure before Germany’s journey to Russia, and why wouldn’t he be? The defending champions had swept all before them in Brazil back in 2014, and it was expected they would do so yet again.
A German reserve team had eased to Confederations Cup glory in 2017, and there was no way anything could go wrong for such a well-drilled unit. That was until Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan were caught up in an ill-timed photo-op with Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
To blame the two individuals for this would be unfair, they were merely fulfilling an obligation after being put in an unenviable situation, but the manner in which the German public responded set the entire team on edge.
Ozil and Gundogan were booed and jeered in the warm-up matches, and all of a sudden there became a debate about whether the Arsenal playmaker should even play. This uncertainty permeated to the players and a 1-0 defeat to a vibrant Mexico side on the opening day was the worst possible start.
A poor performance against Sweden was rescued by Toni Kroos’ ingenious injury-time free kick, only for the team to let themselves down against South Korea. Germany just needed to avoid defeat, and they would be into the Round of 16. However, they never found top gear and an ailing defence was punished by the Asian side.
As far as iconic images go, few will match Manuel Neuer playing as an 11th outfielder as Germany desperately looked for an equaliser, only for him to lose possession in a Rene Higuita esque manner and South Korea scoring in an empty net. It was at that moment Germany became the fourth of the last five winners to not even progress out of the group stage of the next tournament.
4. Kylian Mbappe’s flawless performance against Argentina
Often individual performances at a World Cup can see a player’s reputation rise, yet Kylian Mbappe sent his own into the stratosphere in Russia. After a productive group stage, the 19-year-old then exploded, almost literally, against Argentina in Kazan.
A blistering run through Argentina’s defence after just 13 minutes put Marcos Rojo on the back foot, and the Manchester United defender could do nothing but bring the French forward down inside the penalty area.
He was a constant threat to a rickety defensive line, and with Les Bleus facing a 2-1 deficit, up stepped the nation’s new hero.
With the ball bouncing inside the box, Mbappe produced a cushioned touch from the heavens to find space inside the area to shoot under the goalkeeper. He then added a second when put through by Olivier Giroud, converting the chance with the power and precision of a young Ronaldo Nazario.
This performance gave Mbappe confidence, and he became the great hope for Les Bleus as the tournament progressed and his fine low strike in the final was a fitting end.
5. England’s run to the semi-final
This is more a series of experiences rather than one specific moment, but England’s run to the semi-final in Moscow will live long in the memory of everyone in the country. At a time when interest in the national team had waned so much, Gareth Southgate and his personable squad have managed to reconnect with the public entirely.
Not since 1990 has an England team been able to capture the imagination of the country, but the spirit of the class of 2018 was different to what fans have seen since the turn of the millennium.
The group stage was kind to England, yet Harry Kane’s injury-time winning goal against Tunisia set the tone for their campaign. A comfortable 6-1 victory over Panama followed before the farce that was Belgium B vs England B.
Southgate’s charges won the lottery of finishing second in the group and a Round of 16 clash with Colombia followed. England dominated and held onto a 1-0 lead until the 93rd minute when Yerry Mina scored a header to equalise. Already those in England were ready to feel the pain they have become so accustomed to following their national team, and a penalty shoot-out beckoned.
Telling members of the public that England would score four out of five penalties in a successful shoot-out would have been met with derision, yet that’s precisely what happened as England booked their place in the quarterfinals.
Momentum was on their side, and they progressed past Sweden with ease to set up their first World Cup semi-final in 28 years.
Ultimately they were unsuccessful, a disappointment that is made even more harrowing by the fact Kieran Trippier gave the team an early lead. Missed chances cost the team against Croatia, but the overall performance in Russia has done wonders for the English game.
Fans are back on board, and the feel-good factor will carry them into Euro 2020, and the 2018 World Cup has given a younger generation in England a tournament for them to claim as memorable.
* Disclaimer: The opinions within this article are those of the author and not necessarily representative of SportPesa