A wonderful World Cup is over, and to help us get over our sadness we’re looking back on some of the most stunning moments from Russia 2018.
These aren’t necessarily the best goals, best players or best matches, but the jaw-dropping moments we’ll be talking about for years to come.
From potentially Lionel Messi’s last World Cup hurrah to Paul Pogba’s trophy-winning turn, here are FourFourTwo Arabia’s 11 most stunning moments of the 2018 World Cup…
11. Messi’s moment of genius (against Nigeria)
Lionel Messi, like Argentina, had a World Cup to forget.
Nothing less than winning the World Cup would be enough for the doubters.
Ultimately, thanks to an embarrassingly dysfunctional Argentina squad, the ridiculousness of such a notion was there for all to see.
Not even Messi could inspire a World Cup triumph on his own.
What he did do was score a goal of such astounding genius to remind us why for so many he remains the greatest football to ever play the game.
When Ever Banega played an excellent ball beyond the Nigerian defence in the final group match defence, Messi still had plenty to do to even control the ball. A stunning take on his thigh, an equally brilliant second touch and a finish with his (weaker?) right foot later and the best goal of Russia 2018 had been scored.
Sadly, it was almost certainly Messi’s last ever World Cup goal.
10. Pickford’s save(s) (against Colombia)
From relative international unknown to one of the World Cup’s best goalkeepers.
Though football did not go home in the end, Russia 2018 produced many England heroes, with Pickford the pick of them.
In the round of 16 clash with Colombia, the young Everton keeper produced a remarkable save, in which he changed direction in mid-air, to deny Colombia last-minute equaliser at the expense of a corner.
From the corner, however, Yerry Mina scored a towering header. Previous England teams would have crumbled, but not Gareth Southgate’s men.
They stood firm to take the match into penalties, where Pickford’s brilliant save from Carlos Bacca allowed Eric Dier to score the winning penalty.
England had nabbed a first ever World Cup win on penalties. And a world class goalkeeper for years to come.
9. Neymar’s roll (against Serbia, Mexico etc)
Brazil’s golden boy came into the World Cup with designs on establishing himself as the world’s best player. He left with his reputation in tatters, the butt of a million memes for his exaggerated play-acting in Brazil’s five matches.
Neymar did not play poorly, and scored twice, in Russia. But his absurd roll after being tackled against Serbia, followed by a similar reaction against Mexico, ensured he’ll be remembered for anything but his football at the 2018 World Cup.
Does Neymar know the cheese rolling festival was last month?
— Sarah (@goobervision) 28 June 2018
8. Taremi’s miss (against Portugal)
If only, if only.
Iran’s late win against Morocco in their group opener gave them a wonderful opportunity to go on and qualify to the knock out stages of the World Cup.
Though Carlos Queiroz’s team lost 1-0 to Spain, a win over European champions Portugal would still see them through.
Ricardo Quaresma scored trademark Trivela goal in the first half and when Portugal were awarded a penalty in the 53rd minute, the dream looked over for Iran.
But then Alireza Beiranvand saved and Iran embarked on a superb comeback. As the clock struck 92 minutes, they were, with the help of VAR, awarded a penalty which substitute Karim Ansarifard converted.
Then with seconds remaining in stoppage time, Mehdi Taremi was presented with a golden chance to cause one of the World Cup’s greatest upsets. With history one swing of his left boot away, he instead hit the side netting.
If anyone tells you football is just a game, show them this! ??
Iran’s Taremi after the game (he missed Iran’s chance in the 94th minute which could take Iran to the knockout stage for the first time)
80 million, one nation, one heartbeat! ? pic.twitter.com/5qpOXUZ70g
— Abolfazl M (@Abolfazl77) 25 June 2018
A dejected Iran were out, a relived Portugal through.
7. Russia’s glory (against Spain)
The hosts set the tone for the rest of what would turn out to be a wonderful World Cup with an opening day 5-0 thrashing of Saudi Arabia.
But it’s their penalty shoot-out win over mighty Spain that will live long in the memory. Russia barely threatened Spain after equalising with the penalty in the first half, but defensive heroics ensured extra time ended in a 1-1 draw.
Igor Akinfeev’s penalty save from Iago Aspas secured an unexpected quarter-final berth for Russia and sparked wild celebrations across the country.
6. Ronaldo’s hat-trick (against Spain)
Was there ever any doubt?
Prior to the Cristiano Ronaldo’s brilliant free-kick against Spain in the Group B opener, the Portuguese captain had, famously, not scored in 45 previous attempts at major international competitions.
But in the 87th minute? While on a hat-trick? With Portugal trailing 3-2?
There was only ever going to be one outcome.
Not for the first, and almost certainly not the last, time, Ronaldo showed that few players in world football have his sense of occasion.
5. Lozano’s seismic finish (against Germany)
The moment the world champions began to unravel. Mexico had already ripped the German defence apart several time with some brilliant counterattacking football.
But poor finishing kept the match scoreless until Hirving Lozano’s finish on 35 minutes gave Mexico a deserved, priceless lead. The celebrations in Mexico City triggered an “artificial earthquake”.
— WIRED (@WIRED) 12 July 2018
Astonishingly, Germany continued to leave their defenders exposed and Mexico could easily have scored again. In the end they were grateful for a still jaw-dropping 1-0 win, arguably the greatest result in the history of the El Tri.
As for Germany, things would get much, much worse.
4. Belgium’s last gasp win (against Japan)
In a different cosmic timeline we’d be talking about Takashi Inui’s stunning goal for Japan against Belgium in the round of 16 match at Rostov Arena.
For 15 glorious minutes, the Samurai Blue were dreaming of a first ever World Cup quarter-final spot.
As it was, Belgium came back from 2-0 down to score through Jan Vertonghen and Maroune Fellaini headers, before we were left to marvel at an exquisite injury-time counter attack that ended with Nacer Chadli breaking Japanese hearts with one of the best goals of the 2018 World Cup.
Japan went home, Belgium went on to finish third.
3. Croatia’s masterclass (against Argentina)
The day Croatia graduated from gifted dark horses to genuine contenders.
After Argentina’s tame 1-1 draw with Iceland in the group opener, the world awaited Lionel Messi’s response.
What followed was one of the great stories in World Cup history.
Jorge Sampaoli’s shambolic Argentina had no answer to Zlatko Dalic’s men, who, thanks to goals by Ante Rebic, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, claimed a famous 3-0 win in one of the standout matches of Russia 2018.
Croatia went on to become the smallest nation to reach a World Cup final, where they gallantly lost 4-2 to France.
The returned home as heroes, having performed superbly throughout. And never better than when they brought mighty Argentina to their knees.
2. Mbappe’s sprint to fame (against Argentina)
Kylian Mbappe was hardly unknown before the World Cup.
A leading role in Monaco’s champions League heroics in 2016-17, a Ligue 1 title with PSG last season, and soon to be the second most expensive transfer of all time had marked the 19-year-old as one of the modern football’s rising talents.
And yet there was something refreshingly novel about his astonishing run in the early stages of the round of 16 clash with Argentina, which resulted in a penalty and a 1-0 lead.
It felt like a throw back to the World Cups of the 1980s and 90s when new talent would announce themselves on the biggest stage to an unsuspecting public.
Mbappe’s annihilation of the Argentine defence, and a brilliant second half goal, helped France to a 4-3 win, and set them on the road to the ultimate triumph.
Are we seeing the emergence of the next best player in the world?
Pogba’s final redemption (against Croatia)
How he proved the doubters wrong.
Few players in world football receive the scrutiny Paul Pogba does. In Russia, he would answer his critics in some style. Without France hitting the heights, Pogba was one of their better performers in the group stages, scoring the winner against Australia.
In the final, he was one of France’s driving forces against a brilliant Croatia midfield, scoring the goal that effectively won the World Cup and celebrating in emotional style (Antoine Griezmann, take note).
In Moscow’s torrential downpour, with World Cup in hand, Pogba then celebrated his nation’s triumph with his mother and dabbed with French president Emmanuel Macron.
Take that, haters.