Was this the greatest World Cup ever? These moments shout yes
Does the World Cup really have to end?
Can this World Cup continue for the entire summer until the American version of “football” kicks off in September?
OK, that might seem a bit much, since there have been over 60 soccer games played in the last month heading into the final two of the tournament this weekend - Saturday’s third-place game between Belgium and England and Sunday’s final between France and Croatia - but the action has been too riveting to not wish for more.
Several pundits have already tabbed this as the greatest World Cup ever, with stunning upsets, terrific individual performances, longtime jinxes broken and incredible last-minute goals that have wowed fans around the world.
Here is a look at some of the best moments of a 2018 World Cup that will be hard to duplicate.
Belgium’s comeback over Japan
After seeing defending World Cup champion and No. 1-ranked Germany fail to advance out of the knockout stage and fellow European power Spain lose to Russia in the round of 16, Belgium appeared to be the next giant to fall when it fell behind 2-0 to Japan in the 52nd minute.
But a comeback for the ages ensued after that.
The Belgians scored two goals in a span of five minutes to tie the game at 2-2 with just over 15 minutes left until stoppage time.
Just when it seemed like overtime was imminent, Belgium’s Nacer Chadli scored off a counterattack in the final minute of stoppage time to give Belgium a historic 3-2 win.
It was the first time a team rallied from a two-goal deficit to win a match in the knockout stage since 1970.
Russia’s upset of Spain
The host country wasn't picked by a lot of pundits to advance to the knockout stage, but even after advancing to the round of 16, NOBODY thought it would knock off Spain, which entered the tournament on the short list of title contenders.
Spain took a 1-0 lead in the 12th minute on an own goal, but Russia took advantage of a Spain mistake, getting a penalty kick awarded in the 41st minute after a handball was called on a Spanish defender in Spain’s box.
Russia’s Artem Dzyuba converted the chance to tie the game at 1-1, and Russia defended well enough from there to force penalty kicks.
In the shootout, Russian goalie Igor Akinfeev made the deciding save to send the entire country of Russia into a wild celebration and to the quarterfinals.
England ends its penalty-kick jinx
Mutter the words “penalty kicks” around England, and you’ll hear more groans than when Parliament raises taxes.
England entered a round of 16 game against Colombia having gone 0 for 3 in the World Cup in games that went to penalty kicks.
The English also had lost five consecutive games that went to penalty kicks at major tournaments dating back three decades.
So when Colombia scored in stoppage time to tie England at 1-1 just as England was about to celebrate, and when the 30-minute overtime produced no goals, England fans were probably thinking “Here we go again.”
That sentiment became stronger when Colombia goalie David Ospina gave his team an advantage with a save in the third round of the shootout.
But this time, the ending wouldn’t be sad for England in a shootout.
Following a missed shot that hit the crossbar by Colombia, England goalie Jordan Pickford made a save to give the English a chance to win.
England’s fifth shooter, Eric Dier, then stepped up and drilled home his kick to give England the win and end its hex in penalty kicks.
Ronaldo’s hat trick
The June 16 game between Portugal and Spain was circled before the World Cup as the tournament’s first big matchup, and the two European powers didn’t disappoint by playing a 3-3 thriller in the first round of pool play.
Appearing in what will likely be his last World Cup, Cristiano Ronaldo, of Portugal, deemed by many as the world’s best player, turned in an epic individual performance by scoring all three of Portugal’s goals.
His last one was the stuff of legend, as he beautifully bent a ball around a wall and into the net in the 88th minute to tie the game.
At first, it looked like Russia was in control of this quarterfinal game. Then it was Croatia. Then Russia had the momentum again. Back and forth the teams went in this drama-filled contest that went down to the last round of penalty kicks.
The teams were tied 1-1 after regulation, but Croatia seemed to have won when Domagoj Vida scored in the first 10 minutes of overtime to give his team a 2-1 lead.
With time winding down and desperately attacking for an equalizing goal, Russia got it with just five minutes left on a goal by Brazilian-born Mario Fernandes, who headed in a free kick to send Russian fans in the stadium and all across the country into a state of euphoria.
But it wouldn’t last for the hosts.
Russia misfired on two penalty kicks, and in the fifth round of the shootout, Croatia’s Ivan Rakitic converted his penalty kick for the winning tally to send Croatia on to the semifinals and Russia out of the tournament.
Were there other moments at the World Cup that were your favorite? Let us know in the comments below.
Graham Media Group 2018