2018 World Cup: Top 10 moments

2018 World Cup: Top 10 moments

64 games, 169 goals and endless drama. It was a World Cup to remember.

David Comerford

As the stewards sweep up the golden ticker tape which greeted the coronation of the French, it is time to reflect on a wonderful World Cup.

Many have labelled it the best ever and while you are never likely to get definitive agreement in that inherently subjective debate, few would deny that the relentless doses of drama made for a truly special World Cup. 

Russia 2018 began with scepticism and ended with a sense of awe and even gratitude.

Here we pick out ten of the most memorable moments, many of which will be discussed for years to come.

10. England make history

National bias aside, England's long-awaited World Cup penalty shoot-out victory was a momentous occasion.

Fresh heartache was made to seem an inevitability as Yerry Mina headed home a Colombia equaliser in the final moments of stoppage time before Jordan Henderson's tame effort was saved from the spot.

But just as the press prepared themselves to produce a familiar tale, Jordan Pickford brilliantly denied Carlos Bacca, turning the tables.

Deep-lying midfielder Eric Dier did not inspire supporters with confidence as he took the long walk, but the Spurs man made no mistake, coolly slotting home to secure the Three Lions' first knockout-stage victory in 12 years.

Most importantly, the heroics of Pickford and Dier made a nation anticipating the 'same old story' before the tournament spectacularly rally behind Gareth Southgate's men. It was, this time surely, going to come home.

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9. Ruthless Croatians plunge Argentina into crisis

On paper, the clash between Croatia and Argentina in Group D looked one of the most evenly-matched of the group stage, swayed slightly in Argentina's favour by their no.10.

It was supposed to be Lionel Messi's night in Nizhny Novgorod after the ignominy of an unconverted spot-kick in their opener against Iceland, but football's greatest was peripheral at best.

Much of the match saw resolute Croatian defending, shackling Argentina's creative forces, but in the 53rd minute they were gifted the lead by a disastrous Willy Caballero error. The veteran stopper inexplicably looked to chip the ball over Ante Rebic, who proceeded to hammer a volley over his head and into the net.

Argentina, now staring at a potential group stage exit, pursued a leveller, but when Luka Modric side-stepped Nicolas Otamendi and bent in a truly magnificent second from distance, they proceeded to fall apart.

Ivan Rakitic had time to steady himself before a gaping net and calmly tuck home in stoppage time as the disillusioned Argentines threw in the towel. 

Fierce criticism, and sweeping changes, followed. Messi himself led a dressing room coup and seized the command from the under-fire Jorge Sampaoli for the 2014 finalists' decisive group game against Nigeria. 

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8. Filmmaker Halldorsson produces Hollywood twist

As touched on above, Messi's blunder from 12 yards was one of the most stunning moments of the World Cup's first phase.

There seemed only one possible result as the Barcelona megastar stepped-up against the Qarabag stopper who spends nearly as much time behind the camera as he does between the sticks.

But, in a telling precursor for a tournament which consistently defied expectations, Hannes Halldorsson denied Messi - the latest remarkable feat of Iceland's international journey. 

The World Cup is a stage for the greatest to underline their greatness, but it was the Heimir Hallgrimsson's warriors who supporters rose to acclaim at the final whistle.

The famous thunderclap had given the Argentinians paralysing chills.

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7. Mbappe announces himself on the global stage

The end-to-end last 16 game between France and Argentina - a glorious display of attacking talent - was among the best of the tournament.

While Angel di Maria sensationally picked his spot to beat Hugo Lloris from distance and Benjamin Pavard powered home the sweetest strike of the tournament - an outside-of-the-boot half-volley - the game well and truly belonged to Kylian Mbappe, a player redefining the term 'wonderkid'.

First, he galloped past defender after defender in a lung-busting run which showcased his otherworldly pace and earned his side a penalty, with Marcos Rojo hauling him to the turf after conceding an obvious defeat in their efforts to dispossess him.

Then he turned the match-winner, oozing confidence as he fired in an excellent double in the space of five second-half minutes.

Mbappe became the first teenager to score a brace in a World Cup game since Pele in 1958 and in doing so underlined his boundless potential in the presence of the best of the generation.

He had commentators and pundits purring with his performances in his side's knockout matches, and bagged a goal from range in the final to cap off a tournament which has seen his value inflate to truly eye-watering sums and his reputation grow just as much.

He won the Young Player of the Tournament award without any serious competition and missed out on the top prize by a fraction. It was, in some respects, Mbappe's World Cup.

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6. Nacer Chadli breaks 127 million hearts

Belgium's triumph in Group H earned them a monstrously tough route to the final, but progression against the Japanese in the first knockout round seemed virtually assured.

They had found their stride, to devastating effect, against Tunisia in the second game and preserved their best players against England, while Japan had scraped into last 16, edging Senegal on their disciplinary record alone.

But the Belgians oozed complacency, and in four second-half minutes goals from Genki Haraguchi and the outstanding Takashi Inui threatened to cause perhaps the greatest shock of a tournament defined by them.

The quick-fire double served as a proverbial kick up the backside, and Belgium rallied. Jan Vertonghen's bizarre, looping header put them right back in the contest before substitute Marouanne Fellaini, relishing his customary role as the villain of the peace against the Japanese underdogs, levelled things up.

Japan held out for the next 20 minutes, very nearly dragging Roberto Martinez's side into extra time, but the nation's dreams were to be crushed in brutal fashion as Belgium launched a flowing, incisive counter at the death, which Nacer Chadli finished off. There was as much relief as their was euphoria.

While the Japanese were understandably devastated, giving one of the tournament's favourites an almighty scare will ultimately be a source of immense pride for a team many expected to crumble after a tumultuous build-up to the tournament.

5. Magic from Toni after Kroos call for Germany

It is important in reflections like this to take hindsight out of the equation: Toni Kroos' whipped winner against Sweden counted for little in the end (see below) but it was truly extraordinary.

Germany had not got going at all. They had waltzed into their opener expecting to professionally sweep Mexico aside, but they had been undone by fearsome counter-attacking play and by their own tactical blunders.

It was a shock to the system, and yet when Ola Toivonen immaculately lobbed Manuel Neuer on Matchday Two to give Sweden a deserved lead, it seemed as if it had done little to suppress German complacency.

Marco Reus levelled things up shortly after the interval, and so it seemed the Germans would rediscover their verve and dispatch the Swedes. 

But still they laboured, and Jerome Boateng's red card had them staring at an unthinkable group stage exit. 

Someone, surely, had to step up and haul Germany out of this quagmire. Step forward Toni Kroos, who superbly bent the ball beyond Robin Olsen with virtually the last kick of the game. A dinked cross was expected from the dead ball, an inch-perfect finish was produced.

The Germans had, they said, once again found a way. There was a resounding sense of familiarity. Their tournament had truly begun

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4. Unfancied hosts claim memorable scalp

World Cup hosts have a tendency to light up the tournament, but the people of Russia expected nothing from their much-maligned national team. They were the lowest ranked of all the sides and, during the build-up, they were in complete disarray.

But after routing Saudi Arabia and blitzing Egypt, the mood totally changed. Russia cruised into the knockout rounds, and the likes of Aleksandr Golovin, Denis Cheryshev and Artem Dzyuba were emerging as heroes.

They seem destined, though, to bow out and succumb to a significant gulf in class when they came up against Spain in the Round of 16.

The pattern of the game was predictable as Spain relentlessly sought to carve a way through a regimented Russian backline. Eventually, the match was dragged into extra time after Stanislav Cherchesov's men doggedly fought to preserve the 1-1 scoreline.

And when the final whistle blew after the additional 30 minutes, the Russians' chances of progression soared to 50%.

Each and every Russian player found a new level at this tournament, none more so than Igor Akinfeev, who stuck out his left leg to magnificently keep out Iago Aspas' decisive spot-kick, sparking jubilant scenes both on the pitch and in the streets of Moscow.

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3. The champions fall again - in agonising fashion

The only shock greater than Russia's victory against the 2010 champions was Germany's stunning lapse in their final group game against South Korea.

Their World Cup campaign was bookended by debilitating arrogance, with Kroos' winner against the Swedes seemingly taken as confirmation that their place in the knockout rounds was safe. Only South Korea, already out, stood in their way.

The world waited eagerly for Germany to take it up a few gears, but that leap simply did not materialise. They managed to carve out few chances, and when they did craft an opening, they invariably fluffed their lines.

Increasingly, their confidence was eroded and the South Koreans preyed upon their fear, snatching the lead in the 92nd minute.

Desperation took hold as Germany pursued an unlikely turnaround, and Manuel Neuer took his 'sweeper keeper' status to a new level by charging downfield and taking up position midway through the South Korean half.

But Neuer fumbled when he received the ball, and the German ship was sensationally downed as Son Heung-min latched onto a lump forward to roll the ball into a totally unguarded net. Commentators the world over were screaming, fans were speechless.

Germany were the third successive champions to fall at the first hurdle, but the manner of this defeat - an almost earth-shattering expression of vulnerability - was quite remarkable.

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2. Ronaldo completes his hat-trick in style

Spain's thrilling 3-3 draw with Portugal in Sochi on Day Two was the World Cup's real opening ceremony - a high-quality battle between two top sides featuring some fantastic goals.

The pick of the bunch though, was not Diego Costa's clinical solo effort or Nacho's sizzling drive - it was without doubt Cristiano Ronaldo's equalising free-kick.

Ronaldo's free-kick record is actually rather poor, but there seemed no doubt as to the ball's destination as he took his customary stance and calmly exhaled. The headlines were already written.

If the World Cup is indeed a stage for the great to underline their greatness, Ronaldo earned himself a standing ovation and a torrent of roses along with his match ball. 

It would prove to be the pinnacle of Ronaldo's tournament, which rather tailed off after his opener against Iran in the following game, but it might just go down as one of his finest performances, and that is one illustrious list.

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1. France raise the Rimet amid glorious downpour

There was something about the opening of the heavens when the post-match presentation began which made it a perfect conclusion to the tournament.

A storm had been on the horizon for much of the game, with periodic thunder and the occasional flash, but only after the final whistle sounded, just as an atmosphere of tension became one of French ecstasy, did the downpour commence.

The giddy Frenchmen slid across the turf and quite literally sang in the rain, making for some truly stunning images.

The World Cup trophy really is a thing of beauty, and the remaining 31 nations could only have been filled with envy as they watched Les Bleus triumphantly raise it aloft. 

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