The 2018 FIFA World Cup continues to surprise and the Pre-Quarterfinal Stage was nothing different. It all started with classic France-Argentina clash and then every game became more thrilling, more exciting and at times more surprising. With the World Cup showing its doors to the two best footballers of this generation and with the surprise exit of 2010 FIFA World Cup Champions, this round of World Cup had everything that made it better, more competitive and more enthralling than the first round.
The Pendulum Fate
If you wanted a clash of two big football nations to start the Round of 16, the France-Argentina clash was the best that could have been asked for. It was icing on the cake as this match literally lived up to the expectations. The fate of each team in this encounter shifter back and forth and finally settled in France’s favour. There are very few defenders in this world who can cope up with the pace of Kylian Mbappe and Argentine defence had no answer to it. The French forward was at his best in the all important match and with his pace devised the first penalty of the match. Antoine Griezmann kept his calm to get the first breakthrough for France. Angel Di Maria had an answer to it, and what answer it was as he scored the longest range goal of this tournament, it was transmundane. Messi’s hit was deflected to the nets in what was a lucky goal but who cared as Argentina took the lead. France levelled again and then two more strikes from Mbappe saw Messi’s team out of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Edinson Cavani’s show
It was Uruguay Vs Portugal, It was Suarez Vs Ronaldo, but the man who sealed the show in this captivating contest was Edinson Cavani. The combination of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani was always thought to be a fearsome one but it proved out to be breath-taking when they both combined to put Uruguay on the lead. Portugal won the previous 5 matches in which Pepe scored; he scored again giving some hope to the Portuguese fans. But the hopes didn’t last long as Cavani worked an angle to find a way to goal and pave a way for Uruguay to the Quarterfinals.
Neymar finds form
If there were any questions regarding what magic Neymar can produce, they all vanished as the Brazilian striker found his form just at the right time to guide Brazil past Mexico to the next round. Mexico hoped that Lozano would turn in some magic, but it was Brazil’s night because it was Neymar’s night. He scored one and assisted another in a performance that made Brazil the strongest contender for this World Cup.
The heartbreaking thriller
Before it kicked on, it was thought to be the most one-sided match of this round; but when it turned out, it turned out to me the most thrilling match of this round. The match had everything, hopes, drama, final minute’s goal and everything that kept the fans on the edge of their seats, but in the end it was heartbreak for Japan. In most of the occasions teams would not lose when they score the opening two goals of the match and keep the two-nil lead with just over twenty minutes of play left, but the only Asian team left in the tournament before the match; left the tournament after the match.
Hosts show no mercy
The modern Russian football generation put up a valiant show in front of their crazed public to record the biggest moment in their footballing history. In just the opening minutes the crowd was stunned to silence by Russian own-goal. In the 40th minute the handball resulted in a penalty to Russia and Dzyuba scored a goal which 144 million Russian people celebrated. From there on it was all defense from Russia, they defended with passion, they defended with heart and they defended with a bit of luck as well but they held Spain back and took the game to penalties. Akinfeev saved two penalties to give Russia a night that would be remembered for ages.
Croatian celebration, Danish despair
Another game that proved a thriller as Croatia-Denmark encounter was also decided on penalties. Both teams started superbly and got early breakthroughs, but after that both teams failed to find the back of nets. Kasper Schmeichel saved two penalties in the shootouts and one in the extra time but still it wasn’t enough to guide his team through to the Quarterfinals.
Sweden’s astonishing run continues as they walk past much fancied Switzerland in the Round of 16 clash. It took a little deflection from Swiss defender for the first and ultimately the only goal of the match. Sweden qualified for the Quarterfinals of World Cup for the first time since 1994 and they might still fancy themselves against the red hot English side. They played their best football for a while and deserved the result and their defence was particularly impressive but how will they cope up with Harry Kane and company is yet to be seen.
Kane’s Golden Boot
The only person who can challenge Harry Kane for the quest of Golden Boot in Romelu Lukaku; but Belgium might well be knocked out by Brazil in the Quarterfinals, whereas England and Kane have a clear path ahead at least till the Final. It was Harry Kane again who was held back and fouled in the penalty area and resultantly got a penalty against Colombia. It was Kane again to net the penalty and get England to a lead. Colombia scored in the injury time and the match went on to the shootouts where England won. In Harry Kane, England has found a gem and by looking to the path ahead till the final, England has found the luck. They both combined have taken England to the Quarterfinals of 2018 FIFA World Cup, and who knows where beyond there?
Every contest in this Round of 16 went to the wire, every contest was exceptionally close and every contest was hard fought. With 8 teams and just 7 matches left now, more drama is anticipated. Brazil have come to life; Belgium continue, albeit escaping marginally, their unbeaten run; England has got a golden luck; and the presence of Russia, Croatia and Sweden promise of more surprises to come. With 8 best teams left, the competition will be more competitive and the drama of Round of 16 might just be the glimpse of what the Quarterfinals hold.