Not long before league football starts; just 18 days left. In the meantime let’s take retrospective look at one of the most incredible, unpredictable World Cups I have watched. These are my top 5 matches of the tournament excluding the final.
Croatia vs Argentina
This match is one that has been overlooked. Had it been Spain or Brazil to have out classed Argentina the way Croatia did, it would have been a major headliner. Going into the group stages, Croatia were not favorites to make the last 16, yet they beat all the odds. Their display against the Argentinians showed that they were to be feared. Both sides had chances to break the deadlock before half time with Perez’ miss on an open goal and Mario Mandzukic’s wide header, but the score remained 0-0 at the break. Coming into the second half, you would think the favourites Argentina would step up their game however they were left chasing the Croatians. The G.O.A.T Lionel Messi could not make an impact for his home nation, in fact the only Argentine to make an impact was Willy Cabellero. Two mistakes from the keeper landed Rebic and Rakitic their names on the score board. Honestly Willy, what were you thinking ? Who. Let. This. Guy. In. Goal? He made some woeful blunders. His first half performance produced some important saves which caused him to download the spirit of Neuer 2013. A shame that he failed to download Neuer’s talent too. Modric’s 80th minute screamer was sure to seal their fate followed by Ivan Rakitic’s last minute goal. By defeating the group favourites, they had claimed their place in the last 16. Argentina were completely outclassed in 45 minutes. Their defence became undone and their tactics lead them to a shameful 3-0 defeat. Could Icardi have saved the day rather than Dybala? We will never know.
Belgium vs Japan
Who would have thought Japan would have given us such a remarkable game. On paper, this game would be an easy win for the red devils. Many predicted in favour of a 3-0 Belgian win. Boy was we all wrong. After Japan’s second goal I alongside many others believed there was no coming back. Inui’s sensational strike, giving Japan a 2-0 lead caused Martinez to react accordingly. His 3-4-3 formation had been unlocked by the Japanese tactics, forcing him to bring on Fellaini and Chadli converting to more of a 4-3-3. As we all know, the super-subs made the difference. What was a sloppy performance from Belgium turned into a magnificent come back. Vertonghen managed to break through in the most peculiar way. His fluke of a goal opened the gateway for the substitute king, Marouane Fellaini to put his height to good use and secure a header too to put the red devils level. Now with both teams battling till the last minute, this match was sure to go into extra time. 93rd minute, you are given a corner after Courtois denies your fellow team mate from scoring, do you:
A) Run down the clock by playing it in the corner or
B) plunge the ball into the 6 yard box where the world class goal keeper has proven not to be an idiot?
Credit to Japan for not submitting to expectations of the majority who would have run down the clock; however, they gifted Courtois with the opportunity to set De Bryne to lead this World Cup’s most viscous counter attack making it a dramatic 3-2 end. Poor Japan. I guess their inexperience got the better of them.
Brazil vs Belgium
The Brazilian renaissance came to an abrupt end when Belgium put on a Hazardous display to see them out of the competition. The 2014 hosts hoped to revive their World Cup history after their humiliating 7-1 defeat to Germany on their home turf, instead they graced the tournament with nothing but mediocrity. Belgium was their first real test of which they failed. To be fair to Brazil, the loss of Casemiro contributed heavily to their defeat. The Manchester City midfielder Fernandinho was used as his replacement to hold the midfield and keep the Belgian front 3 under control. He managed to be the first to appear on the score board during the match, but for the wrong team. To add to his disaster class, he was completely outplayed in the midfield. The 4-3-3- formation chosen by Martinez favoured the red devils as Lukaku won the ball from Mr Fernandinho, unleashing another one of the best counters of the tournament. Kevin De Bryne was there to net their second goal by the 31st minute as Fernandinho was aimlessly attempting to catch up. Although the last 10 minutes of the match consisted of Brazil’s efforts to find an equalizer, Belgium’s defence proved solid. Courtois’ save from Neymar’s wonder strike in the last moments of the match sealed the win for Belgium seeing them through to the Semi Finals. A well deserved loss for the Brazilians.
France vs Argentina
Very close second. A fraction behind 1st place. This game was extremely exhilarating. The French men had an easy ride during their group stage matches. They didn’t seem to excite me as much as I expected them to before this match. The match was encompassed with the some of the biggest names in football today; Messi, Aguero, Griezmann, Mbappe, Pogba e.t.c. Argentina having had a difficult route to the last 16 pushed the best out of France and it all kicked off with a Griezy penalty. Rojo known for his reckless decision making was at it again. After 10 minutes of seeing the back of Mbappe’s shirt, Rojo thought enough is enough and bought him down in the 18 yard box. Who else but the Griezemann to open up the scoreboard with a cool penalty. Of course the Argentinian’s were not going to give up so early on. They pushed and pushed with Lionel Messi as their talisman forcing saves from Hugo Lloris but it took a world class strike from Angel Di Maria to break even before half time. What. A. Goal. The picturesque left footed strike from 30 yards out was soon to be forgotten due to Pavard’s wonder strike to make it 2-2 after Mercado’s goal. His right foot attacked the ball as it came across unleashing a bullet from his feet to put France back on level terms. A goal any striker would be proud to claim never mind a center back. Okay let’s take a look back at this again (click here). Just incredible.
Of course the kid with the rapid feet was to seal the match with two extra goals for France, simply due to the fact that he is just too quick. We often speak of the greatness of Messi but Mbappe took the headlines that night. Messi was silenced by the greatest holding midfielder of today, Ngolo Kante. Though Kante is basically two people, on a good day Messi is the trinity so credit to Pogba and Matuidi for assisting in holding him ransom. With two goals to his name whilst Messi almost scrapped a shot on target, it’s safe to say that Mbappe is the future. And this match had proved it.
Spain vs Portugal
I am very sure that not many people would dispute this. This match had everything. Goal line technology, VAR, Ronaldo Hatrick, Costa brace, intensity and most importantly goals. The players were pressured to live up to the high expectations and they executed it perfectly. Though the opening match with Russia vs Saudi Arabia gave the world an unexpected array of goals, the tournament came to life the second this match aired. The 7 pm kick off was not one to be missed. The rush from work was absolutely worth it. Both teams had much to prove, with Portugal having to prove worthy of European Champions and Spain having to play to their redemption after their premature exit 4 years ago. It all began from the penalty spot just 4 minutes in. We did not need VAR to know that Bartra bought down the 33 year old Ronaldo who in turn scored from the spot. It wasn’t too long until Costa leveled the scores. The Athletico Madrid forward showed us why Chelsea were foolish to have ever let him go. Under severe pressure from not 1, but 3 defenders, he kept his cool and slotted the ball past David De Gea. It took a minute to allow the goal as VAR was called in to decide whether there was a foul on Pepe. Of course, Pepe was just doing Pepe things. What was questioned as a foul was just Pepe over reacting, holding his face, doing the usual tumble roll. What a way to use VAR for the first time ever in the World Cup. Embarrasing.
It wasn’t long before Isco’s volley hit the cross bar and came back down on the line. Whether or not it went in was decided by goal line technology. Wow. Technology is really taking over football. Andreas Iniesta followed up with a promising strike which just hit wide of the post. Spain looked in control for the majority of the half. They were a shoo-in to score the next goal, however your WCW’s best goal keeper in the world made an absolute blunder as Cristiano Ronaldo shot to make it 2-1. It’s me by the way. I’m your WCW. De Gea had the ball. Literally had the ball as it came in, but he managed to let it slide past his hands. Surprisingly not the worst blunder by a goal keeper in the tournament *cough* Willy Cabellero.
After the break, the Spaniards came out fighting. Costa scoring from a well worked David Silva set piece to make it 2-2 10 minutes into the half. 3 minutes later came a spectacular goal from Nacho similar to Pavard’s goal, just not as great but credit to him. It came from absolutely nowhere to put Spain 3-2 up. The rest of the half was filled with mind blowing intensity. Though Spain maintained the majority of possession and looked the more threatening side, Portugal did not go down without a fight. With their disciplined defending, Portugal managed to hold Spain to just 3 goals in order for their GOAT to bail them out one last time. 88th minute and who else but Ronaldo secures a hat trick and a point for his country. That ball was going in the second the free kick was given. The moment he rolled up his shorts and proceeded to showcase his Action Man stance, De Gea knew there was nothing he could do.
Well, that’s all folks. Feel free to comment on what you think the order should be or hit me up via the contact me section. I’ll leave you with this clip of Iran’s Milad Mohammadi’s last minute throw in to “save” Iran’s World Cup. Let’s end this with a laugh shall we :).