Lest We Forget: Memorable moments from World Cup

“World Cup is a special time of the year. I just get almost depressed. I’m like, Oh, only two more matches, then one more. What is going to happen to my life after that? I don’t know what I’m going to do for a couple of months. I’m going to be a little bit low.”

Serena Williams perfectly articulated the feelings of millions around the world, who are experiencing a low following the culmination of FIFA 2018, the month-long football extravaganza. For sure there will be league matches to look forward to in August, where Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will revert to their formidable avatar on the pitch, and we would also get to watch erstwhile rivals playing in tandem for the same club; an assurance of quality football that leaves not much room for luck.

Still, the World Cup has a special charm like that of Olympics; it’s all about the four year long wait that culminates in several high-octane matches, that too in a span of one month, rendering a euphoric high that could eventually give withdrawal symptoms.   

The 2018 World Cup was all about surprises. Giants like Italy and Holland failed to qualify, while former champions Germany and Spain were shown the door early. On the flip side, it also witnessed the rise of Croatia, and established the stronghold of Belgium, not to mention the rise of teenage star Kylian Mbappe, who became the youngest player since Pele to score in the final.

England’s surge wasn’t enough to bring the cup home, while Messi and Ronaldo once again failed to kiss the coveted trophy. The winning team France’s line-up was lauded by many for featuring diversity, and Adidas too did their share to spice up the GOAT debate by displaying goats on the digital sideboards.

Looking back, the World Cup 2018 has offered us many memories to cherish, laced with mirth, tears,  anger and frustration. It’s been only a week since France won the title, and we have 52 more months to go till Qatar 2022. To ease that bitter reality, here are some memorable moments from Russia. (Image credit: Getty)

I’m the King: Every time the World Cup is round the corner, the GOAT debate heats up. This time, the hype was accounted for the fact that it could probably be Messi and Ronaldo’s last appearance. When Messi missed the penalty on his first appearance, Ronaldo totally aced it by scoring a hat-trick against Spain, that included a spectacular free kick. The way the Portuguese star celebrated it, was all about asserting his superiority. The goal and his expression, both were priceless!
Messi facepalm: It was beyond belief to watch despondent La Pulga leaving the pitch, once again failing to live up to the expectations when it comes to representing Argentina. Being part of an inanimate team that was running helter-skelter with the ball, something diametrically opposite to how FC Barcelona plays, Messi’s skills failed to get utilised by Jorge Sampaoli’s team. In 2014, it was a slip between the cup and the lip, but this time, Messi was yards away from it.
Good Samaritan or not: Uruguay humiliated Portugal in the round of 16 with their fiery striker Edinson Cavani netting the ball twice. But that happiness was cut short when he picked up an injury to his leg and was forced to pull out. Ronaldo lend a hand to limping Cavani and walked him off the pitch, a gesture that was interpreted in positive and negative way; some praised the Real Madrid star for his compassion, while others said he was just frustrated that Cavani was wasting the time.

José Giménez’s tears: Uruguay’s stronghold was their two defenders — Diego Godín and José Giménez. Critics hailed the impregnable wall created by the Atletico Madrid defenders, and they were expected to give a tough time to rivals. Unfortunately, with Cavani’s injury, Uruguay couldn’t put pressure on the French squad who scored two goals. With France lining up for a free-kick at the 88th minute, Giménez couldn’t bear the pain of an impending loss, and was seen crying while Antoine Griezmann was preparing to take the shot.

Hugo Lloris blindsided : French goalie Hugo Lloris made a huge blunder in the second half during the final against Croatia, which was capitalised by their striker Mario Mandzukic. After securing a convenient lead of 4-1, Lloris let his guard down a bit, and he made a gaffe which led to an easy goal for Croatia. Super Mario atoned for his own goal with that cheeky second goal, but his team’s fate was already determined by then. Lloris was mocked, but he can live with that mistake as he captained his team to a second World Cup victory.
First own goal in the final: This World Cup saw a record 12 own goals, including one in the final, which was also the first in the tournament’s history. Croatia’s Mario Mandzukic paid a huge prize when he deflected the ball towards his own net while trying to prevent Antoine Griezmann’s free kick. Mandzukic had been instrumental in taking his team to the finals, but unfortunately, he also became responsible for changing the rhythm of the match by handing Les Bleus an initial momentum, despite they weren’t on par with the Croatians in possession and passing.
Neymar’s theatrics: You would expect a lot from the most expensive player in the world, that too when backed by a strong team. But Brazil’s Neymar Jr. had other plans; he wanted to steal the thunder with simulations, to the extend of being obnoxious. He dived more than he scored, spending 14 minutes altogether on the pitch rolling around faking agony. There is no big surprise when it comes to dives in football, but the 26-year-old took acting to another level, popularising the hashtag #Neymarchallenge on social media.
Casual witness: Senegal, the underdogs who humbled France and advanced to the quarterfinals in 2002 WC, qualified after a long wait of 16 years this time. They failed to emulate the success story of the past, but made news by becoming the first team to be eliminated based on FIFA’s new fair play rule. Interestingly, during their group stage final match against Colombia, midfielder Idrissa Gueye striked an unusual pose by leaning on the goal post, gazing nonchalantly when Yerry Mina scored, as if it was no business of his to make any attempt to deflect the ball . In no time, Gueye’s posture became a meme.
Germany’s shocking exit: “Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win”, goes Gary Lineker’s famous quote. But in Russia, the former champions suffered a shameful exit by finishing at the bottom of their group, for the first time in 40 years. Die Mannschaft followed suit France, Italy and Spain, falling prey to the World Cup curse. A loss of that magnitude wasn’t easy for Joachim Löw and his boys, or even the fans to palpable.

England’s resurrection: The penalty jinx was finally broken for England in Russia as they defeated Colombia in the round of 16 in shootout. Under Gareth Southgate, England reached the semi final for the first time in 28 years, sending ripples of excitement across his country.England impressed critics with their excellence in set play, and the team captained by Harry Kane managed to pull off what England couldn’t when their line-up boasted of star players from EPL in the last two decades.

The unlikely superstar: Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović stole everybody’s heart with her sheer enthusiasm and charisma. The youngest president and also the first ever woman to hold that position in Croatia, travelled to Russia to watch her countrymen perform in an economy class, and appeared on the stands for all their matches, cheering for them in a red-and-white checkered jersey, like any other fan. Kolinda was equally expressive when she consoled and congratulated her team while presenting them the medals setting new goals for leaders around the world.
Putin’s umbrella: The Luzhniki Stadium witnessed a downpour during the trophy presentation ceremony.While Russian President Vladimir Putin was provided an umbrella in no time, the same courtesy wasn’t extended to French President Emmanuel Macron or Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic. Both of them, along with the FIFA President Gianni Infantino, didn’t let the rain spoil their mood, as they stood their drenched, congratulating the players.