Today will be the first part of our new series, where we take a look back at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, held for the first time in Russia. The 21st Edition of our beloved tournament provided us with a month-long football extravaganza. A thrilling conclusion to the tournament saw Didier Deschamps' France trump Croatia in an exhilarating 4-2 win. Deschamps became only the third player to win the World Cup – both as a player and a coach. A whopping 169 goals went in through the 64 matches, with many considering it the best world cup in recent times. Best or not, it surely was the most thrilling, with goal fests, sensational comebacks, shocking defeats, and plenty of controversies to top it with. Without further ado, let's talk about the 5 Best Matches of the 2018 World Cup:
We start off our list with what was an absolute shocker. At Number 5, we have the group stage encounter between reigning champions, Germany, and relative minnows, South Korea. Germany came into the final match of the group stage, desperately seeking a victory to put them through the tournament's knockout stages. A heroic performance from South Korean keeper, Jo Hyeon-woo helped the team from Asia keep a clean sheet. The Korean forwards struck twice in stoppage time, concluded by a 96th minute by Tottenham star, Son Heung-min. The Koreans sealed a 2-0 win, sending the defending champions home much earlier than they would have liked.
Coming in at Number 4, we have the Round of 16 encounter between Japan and Belgium. The match broke many hearts of Asian football fans, with Japan on course to register the tournament's biggest upset. The Asian team took an early 2-0 lead and kept it that way till the 70th minute. However, the might of the highly ranked Belgians was too much to handle. An injury-time winner in the 94th minute by Nacer Chadli saw Belgium steal a 3-2 win. Japanese fans won more hearts by cleaning the stadium after themselves, with the national team following suit. They left a "Thank You" note in Russian, along with a clean dressing room.
We cannot write a list of the best matches in international cup football of recent times, without mentioning Iceland – that just wouldn't cut it. Iceland became the smallest country ever to qualify for the World Cup, with a measly population of around 365,000 – less than small towns in India. Their group stage encounter saw them up against footballing giants, Argentina, led by the phenomenal Lionel Messi. Aguero gave the blues and whites an early lead but was leveled within minutes by their valiant opponents. The remaining 65 minutes was reflective of their small stay in the tournament and the Euros preceding it, putting up a lion-hearted performance. They hung on to draw the match at 1-1, with Messi being denied a crucial penalty.
At Number 2, we have a match regarded by many as the best match of the Russian summer – the group stage encounter between Portugal and Spain. We were in for a thrilling ride from the very start, with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring as early as the 4th minute. A scintillating strike from Nacho gave Spain a vital 3-2 lead, but it wasn't going to end just like that. Not with Ronaldo on the pitch. With 2 goals already in his kitty for the match, the Portuguese stepped up to take a magical free-kick to level proceedings in the 88th minute. His hattrick salvaged a 3-3 draw against their European arch-rivals.
Taking Pole Position on our list is the match that ended it all. The electrifying finale to one of the most breath-taking World Cups ever – France v. Croatia. It takes our Number 1 position not solely on the quality of the match but also because of what it meant to the two countries. With horrible outings since the 1998 World Cup semi-final outing of the Croatian dream team, Croatia desperately needed some hope. This time around, they had the right mix of players, with Rakitic and Modric marshaling the midfield with Perisic, Rebic, and Mandzukic handling proceedings up front. Croatian President, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, served as a mascot for the national team, traveling across Russia to support them for the stands. Mbappe's winner in France's 4-2 win gave way to French President, Emmanuel Macron, jumping from his seat onto the table to celebrate right in front of his Croatian counterpart. That moment defines what the World Cup means. France's win was incredibly crucial to a politically-divided French nation - it united people and bought them together to celebrate. On that day, even the President was just like you and me – another football fan.