From the moment a ball was kicked, we all knew that this World Cup would be special.
But that was not really when we knew was it?
A couple of hours before the World Cup kick-off, Real Madrid had a new Manager.
Spain, one of the favorites to go all the way, lost theirs.
Lopetegui was the culprit and the victim, all in a matter of hours.
It looked like it was straight out of a movie.
Skip a couple of days.
Spain played Portugal for their first game.
Six goal thriller.
There were a lot of question marks about Spain, but Ronaldo gave a 5-star performance.
Argentina could not beat Iceland in their group and Lionel Messi missed a penalty.
The Brazilians also couldn’t beat their Swiss opponents in the first game, Mr Coutinho still provided a world class goal.
The German machine.
Oh the German machine.
Was as broken as it could get during this tournament.
Lost 1-0 to Mexico after giving a very toothless performance.
Beat Sweden 2-1 by scoring with what was probably the last kick of the game.
Then losing 2-0 to South Korea, a team that had nothing to play for, knowing fully well that they had to win to even qualify.
Then Harry Kane managed to score five goals in two games in the group stages.
That stat alone looked like Harry Kane was going to take the World Cup by storm.
Spoiler Alert: He did not.
All the African teams got kicked out after their first three games.
Five nations, fifteen games.
On to the knockout phases.
Pick of the last 16 was Belgium playing Japan at the Rostov Arena.
Most of us were thinking, “Lukaku and co. would eat this Japanese team alive”
Oh how wrong we were.
No goals in the first half.
Seven minutes into the second, Japan was two goals up.
Enter Marouane Fellaini.
The game changer.
We could not even imagine using “Fellaini” and “game changer” side by side.
Vertonghen pulled one back.
The game changer got the equalizer.
Then, in the final minute, Courtois releases the ball, and in less than 30 seconds, the ball is in the back of the Japanese net.
Nacer Chadli with the goal.
The hosts, Russia, played Spain in the last 16 as well.
Koke Ressureccion and Iago Aspas missed.
Against all odds, Russia qualified.
France played Argentina in their own last 16.
Kylian Mbappe scoring twice to push France over the line.
Let’s not forget Pavard’s wonder strike.
If there was no net to stop the ball, it would have spun all the way back to his feet.
That’s our theory anyway.
The pick of the last eight also involved Belgium.
This time, against Brazil.
Brazil dispatched Mexico 2-0 in the last 16.
Brazil started with real fire.
Thiago Silva hitting the post and Paulinho failing to turn in a close range chance.
Guess who turned in his own chance?
In his own goal, straight from a corner.
Minutes later, 2-0.
Kevin de Bruyne releasing a good hit from outside the box.
Brazil huffed and puffed but could only pull one back through Renato Augusto.
Croatia’s shootout with Denmark was super impressive by the way.
Odd thing to say.
Croatia then had to play the hosts, Russia.
They both played all the way to penalties in their previous games.
So we had it in mind that the game may have come too soon and expected a lethargic performance.
We were wrong.
Great goal by Cheryshev and an equalizer by Kramaric shortly after took us to extra-time.
Goals in extra-time for both sides took the game to penalties.
Bear in mind that from the last -16 onwards, everybody else, except us thought “Football was coming home”.
France played Belgium.
With all the star names on ground, the game was mostly cagey.
France was relatively comfortable in defense, Belgium, not so much.
Umtiti with the winner early in the second half and that was the end.
England was tipped to beat Croatia primarily because the Croats had played back-to-back 120 minute games and the penalties.
We were wrong.
How many times now?
England took the lead with a sublime free kick from Trippier, Harry Kane missed chances to score.
And that was it from England.
Croatia took control.
They took full advantage of Walker’s absent mindedness for the first goal.
Guess who was tired then?
Luka Modric and all the -ic’s took control and Mario Mandzukic ensured that we did not get to see a third consecutive shoot out involving Croatia.
That and he also made Croatia get to the finals.
All of a sudden, it dawned on everyone that football was not coming home anymore, she was going someplace else.
Enter the 3rd place game.
Belgium beating England 2-0.
The game got off to a quick start.
Meunièr on the scoresheet after 5 minutes.
England really stepped it up afterwards and could have got a couple of goals.
Then Chelsea’s Eden Hazard put the game beyond doubt.
Then the final at the Luzhniki stadium.
Great crowd, great game.
Croatia tried to assert their authority but ultimately, the talent of France shone through.
4-2 to France it ended.
Young Player Award went to Kylian Mbappe.
Golden Ball Winner went to Luka Modric, deservedly so.
At the end, it was a great World Cup with plenty of shock results, particularly in the group stages.
Kudos to Russia for the massive entertainment.
Till Qatar 2022 then..
By Motunrayo Abiodun