The round of 16 was yet another unpredictable set of events that kept fans around the world on their feet. It began with a 4-3 French victory over Argentina, knocking Messi and his team out of the tournament. After a brilliant showing against Nigeria and impressive goal by Marcos Rojo, the Argentinians were knocked out on a sharp French offensive. An impressive goal in the 57’ minute by Benjamin Pavard (which I personally classify as goal of the cup) tied the game up at 2-2, causing a large momentum shift and led to two more goals by Kylian Mbappe. Although Argentina did score goal 3 in extra time, they weren’t able to secure another to tie it up, and they went home on a 4-3 loss.
Afterwards, Uruguay had their shot to knock Portugal out of the cup and send the top contender Cristiano Ronaldo home with Messi. And that they did, with a 2-1 victory over the Portuguese courtesy of Edinson Cavani. The first goal scored by him was off his face after a wonderful pass by Luis Suarez, leading to Uruguay leading 1-0. After a tying header by Pepe, the second Uruguay goal was scored by Cavani again after a wonderful passing setup. They were set to play France in the quarter-finals.
Russia and Spain faced off the following match, and Russia’s heavy defense strategy along with Spain’s inability to finish their plays led to a penalty shootout after the teams were tied 1-1. The result was a penalty victory for Russia (4-3). This was the first time the Russian team was advancing to the quarter-finals since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Spain, upset by the home team, fell short and disappointed many around the world. Russia were set to play the winners of Croatia and Denmark, another game which fell to penalty shootouts. Croatia was able to pull through off a 3-2 penalty victory after a 1-1 tie in regular time, allowing them to qualify for their first quarter-final since 1998.
Brazil and Mexico faced off in the Round of 16, and it seems the Mexican team is cursed. After a 2-0 loss with goals from Neymar and Firmino, they have been eliminated at this stage of the World Cup in each of their last seven appearances. Not only that, but this is more than twice of any other nation (side note, anyone think Ochoa looks a lot like Josh Radnor?). With Brazil’s victory, they were set to face the winner of Belgium and Japan. Japan showed strongly in this game, scoring the first two goals in the second half (courtesy of Haraguchi and Inui). Belgium offered a quick response and knocked in two of their own off the kicks of Vertonghen and Fellaini. With Japan holding a corner kick in the final minute of regular time, it seemed they could hold onto position to go into extra time. However, quick thinking and passing by the Belgian team resulted in one of the most clean goals of the tournament, scoring their third and winning goal of the match, knocking Japan out with a 3-2 victory. Fans around the world were distraught by the loss of a potential upset, but Belgium’s team has shown strong this tournament, and this final goal against Japan showed exactly that.
Sweden and Switzerland faced off. It was a quiet game, but Sweden still topped with the only goal at the match coming in at the 66’ minute off the foot of Emil Forsberg. A lucky deflection of the Swiss defender resulted in the 1-0 victory. They were set to play the winners of Colombia and England, yet another game that went into penalties after a 1-1 tie. Harry Kane’s 57’ penalty wasn’t enough to hold off Colombia, as a late 90+3’ goal by Yerry Mina allowed for penalties (and another potential upset) to be set up. Fortunately, England held their own and was set to play Sweden in the quarter-finals.
The quarter-final matches began with a French victory over Uruguay. Due to Cavani not being in the starting lineup, the Uruguay team was not able to hold off the strong French opposition, and a 2-0 loss knocked them out of the tournament. Belgium and Brazil faced off in the following match, and after a 2-1 upset over Brazil, Belgium knocked the last remaining South American team out of the World Cup, and have reached the semi-finals for only the second time. England capped off their victory against Sweden the next day with a quick 2-0 victory thanks to superb goals by Harry Maguire and Dele Alli. The same day, Croatia was able to knock out the home team in penalty shootouts after a 2-2 tie in regular time. They are the second team to win two penalty shootouts in a single World Cup (Argentina was the first in 1990). This is also Croatia’s second qualification to the semi-finals, the first time since 1998.
The semi-finals began with a tense game between France and Belgium; two teams poised to win the World Cup. Although Belgium had more possession, a 51’ goal by Samuel Umtiti of France was deemed the only necessary thing for France to qualify for their third World Cup final, knocking Belgium into the bronze medal match. Croatia also stunned the World by beating England in a 2-1 victory. After a 5’ free kick goal by Kieran Trippier putting England ahead, they fell short in the second half. A flying kick 68’ goal and a 109’ go-ahead goal by Perisic and Mandzukic allowed Croatia to qualify for their first ever World Cup final. Harry Kane did have a chance to score in the 30’ minute for England, but some poor shooting kept the ball out of the net. As a result, Croatia will be the underdogs against France in the finals. I recommend checking out the highlights of this match. As usual, the third place match never meets the expectations that a finals match would, but Belgium still showed up with an easy 2-0 victory over the English team. They were fairly strong throughout the entire game, showing no chance of an England victory.
The finals were set for 11AM EST. An own goal in the Croatian net by Mandzukic in the 18’ minute led France to an early lead. However, just 10 minutes later, Perisic retaliated with a beautiful strike in the bottom right of the net, tying the game 1-1. Unfortunately, a hand ball later in the match resulted in a penalty kick from the French team, thanks to the assistance of the video assistant referee (VAR), setting it up for Griezmann to give France a 2-1 lead going into half time. Into the second half, a strike by Pogba in the 59’ minute gave France the breathing room necessary in a match of this magnitude, giving them a 3-1 lead. Shortly after, Mbappe scored the first goal as a teenager since Pele in the World Cup final, extending their lead to 4-1. Croatia responded quickly with a flub of the French goalie allowing Mandzukic to steal the ball and score a quick second goal for Croatia. Unfortunately, that would be the last goal of the tournament, and the French team earned their title as World Cup champions; a title that was 20 years coming.
All in all, a fantastic tournament full of many upsets and heartbreakers. But 2022 means redemption for any country that is hungry enough for it.