Cape Town – Russia 2018 will go down in history as one of, if not the, greatest Soccer World Cup in modern history with the tournament so far filled with high drama and major upsets which have led to shock exits.
The overriding theme of this World Cup has been how the smaller, unfancied nations have made great strides in closing the gap in quality to the traditional powerhouses of world football.
The improvement of teams such as Iran, Iceland and South Korea meant that there truly were no easy games in the group stages – barring a disappointing Panama side.
The narrowing of the gulf in quality between the minnows and giants of international football has resulted in this World Cup being one of the best in providing unprecedented upsets filled with drama.
So far we’ve seen defending champions Germany bundled out of the tournament in the group stage while Iran came within a few inches of qualifying for the last 16.
In addition, a Croatia masterclass brushed aside the much-fancied Argentina – after the South Americans were even more surprisingly held by Iceland – with a total population of only 330 000.
We also witnessed one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history when South Korea defeated Germany to condemn the reigning champions to the bottom of Group F – confirming their worst ever display at a World Cup.
Germany’s sensational exit occurred despite a dramatic 2-1 win over Sweden in their previous fixture, with Toni Kroos striking a clutch free-kick in stoppage time with 20 seconds left on the clock to keep their last 16 hopes alive at that stage – an astonishing effort in one of the moments of the tournament.
Africa were also left devastated as our last hope in the tournament, Senegal, were cruelly dumped out on the FIFA Fair Play rule after a narrow 1-0 defeat to Colombia.
Then as if we weren’t spoiled enough, France and Argentina produced a World Cup classic in the very first Round of 16 clash to take us on a roller-coaster of emotions.
Teenager Kylian Mbappe announced himself on the world stage when he absolutely terrified the Argentine defence in the opening stages – winning the penalty that gave France an early lead.
Argentina managed to level matters with a memorable equaliser by Angel Di Maria before Benjamin Pavard restored France’s lead with an equally brilliant finish.
The 19-year-old Mbappe then wrote his name in the history books – becoming only the second teenager to score two goals in a World Cup knockout stage game since Pele.
Mbappe, who was rightly named the man of the match, equalled the 60-year-old record set by the Brazil legend on his way to breaking the hearts of Lionel Messi’s Argentina.
The drama only looks set to continue with there being no clear favourite to lift the trophy.
An amazing statistic is the last three countries to win the World Cup have all been eliminated, and not a single player left in the tournament has not only never lifted the trophy, but ever played in a previous final!
Opinion Piece was written by Baden Gillion – Sport24
Photo Credit- ARTEM DZYUBA (SUPPLIED)