Curtains came down at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia on Sunday, with France clinching a memorable 4-2 victory over Croatia. This World Cup had it all from own goals, use of video technology in key game decisions, goal-line technology, and even the naughty pitch invaders.
The best part of a good football tournament is the goals. This tournament presented that on various fronts. At least each of the 32 teams scored two goals to their credit. In all 64 matches, there was only one goal-less match. This was a dead rubber group match between France and Denmark. A total of 169 goals were scored, and this three goals would leave any player licking his lips at the prospect of scoring them.
#3 Nacer Chadli v Japan
Belgium finished top of Group G, ahead of England, to set up a last 16 clash against minnows Japan. On July 2, 2018, the two teams squared off at the Rostov Arena, Russia with Japan being the only Asian team left in the competition. The Red Devils were expected to cruise past Japan.
However, their dominance in the match counted for nothing, as it was Japan that took an unexpected lead in the 48th minute through Genki Haraguchi. Japan stunned Belgium further barely four minutes later when Takashi Inui received the ball from outside the box and unleashed a piledriver to double their lead. Belgium responded in quick succession through Jan Vertonghen and substitute Marouane Fellaini.
With the match destined for extra time, there was room for one more plot twist. In the 94th minute, towering goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois caught Keisuke Honda's corner from the left wing and threw the ball to Kevin De Bruyne. The Manchester City playmaker drove to the heart of the Japanese midfield and fed Thomas Meunier on the right wing.
Meunier then squared the ball across the face of the goal that Romelu Lukaku let roll under his feet for Chadli to plunge the final dagger. The beauty of the goal was that it was in the dying seconds of the match and Belgium had to dig deep to survive against inferior opposition. This completed the Red Devils comeback as they won 3-2 on the night.
#2 Pavard screamer v Argentina
World champions France faced their first real test of the competition against Argentina, which was coincidentally the 50th match of the World Cup. France had topped their group ahead of Denmark. Argentina on the other hand, barely made it out of the group, with Marcos Rojo sealing a late 2-1 comeback win over Nigeria.
Antoine Griemann had given France a 13th minute lead from the penalty spot before Angel Di Maria scored a thunderbolt from almost 30 yards out to equalize just before halftime. The South Americans took a surprise lead in the 48th minute when Lionel Messi's miscue was deflected into the net by Gabriel Mercado.
This lead only lasted ten minutes as French right back Benjamin Pavard produced a moment of magic. Blaise Matuidi set up the advancing Lucas Hernandez on the left wing. Hernandez cross was missed by the Argentine defense, allowing Pavard to unleash a rocket of a shot off the bounce as it flew into the top right corner. This sent the French supporters into ecstasy. Les Blues went on to dramatically win 4-3 and progressed into the quarter-final.
#1 Cheryshev opener v Croatia
Denis Cheryshev was introduced to the world during Russia's 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia. He scored two sumptuous goals on that occasion to give his coach Stanislav Cherchesov something to think about. He was meant to be a reserve player with Alan Dzagoev's injury opening up the door for him.
The hosts had made it into the last 16 after huge wins over Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which enabled them to finish second behind Uruguay. They went on to upset favorites Spain in the first knockout matches.
What awaited them was quarter-final clash against Croatia. The Sochi Fisht Stadium burst to life in the 31st minute when Russia found the opening goal from nothing. Cheryshev and Artem Dzyuba were the only Russian players near the ball with five hawk-eyed Croatian markers around them.
Cheryshev played the ball to Dzyuba and made an advancing run forward. Luka Modric slipped and missed Dzyuba's return ball, which allowed Cheryshev to rifle home a 25 yard left-footed shot in the top left corner. Croatian goalkeeper Subasic was motionless as he watched the ball fly past him. Russia lost this match on penalties but had already surpassed expectations by reaching the last eight.