After all of the drama and spectacle there are only two. On July 11, Croatia clinched their first ever entrance into a World Cup final with a thrilling 2-1 extra time victory over England during the FIFA 2018 World Cup. Predicted to not cause any noise in this World Cup, Croatia has shocked the world with their brilliant performance. They have now become the first team in World Cup history to win three straight extra time knockout games. The Eastern European country will now take on heavily-favored France on July 15th in a game which the world will come out in droves to see. France took down Belgium 1-0 in a battle of the golden generations to get into their first final since 1998, when they last won the World Cup. Whereas Croatia might have had the easier road to get to the final, France would still be remiss to doubt the likes of Croatia’s two dominant midfielders, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, and X-factor striker Mario Mandzukic. And, as we have seen continuously this World Cup, anything can happen.
So how did we get to this point? Well, let’s start off by saying that the 2018 World Cup has been one of the best of all time. Germany, 2014 World Cup champions and tournament favorites, failed to even make it out of the group stage due to shocking losses to both South Korea and Mexico. On the other hand, England, a country who have consistently struggled at past World Cups, made it all the way to the semifinals and their play has united a footballing nation.
The biggest upset in knockout stage history took place as European juggernaut Spain was knocked out by underdog World Cup host, Russia, who should be immensely proud of their performance, despite coming up short against Croatia. They surpassed everyone’s expectations and seeing the country light up as they did was beautiful.
As the World Cup played out, it quickly became evident that star power was not enough to get you across the line. Stars such as Argentina’s attacking midfielder Lionel Messi, Portugal’s striker Cristiano Ronaldo and Brazilian winger Neymar Jr. showed glimpses of their excellent prowess, but nevertheless could not finish the job. Messi in particular could have played his last ever tournament for Argentina while never bringing home a trophy in his decade-plus international career.
Where as established stars failed to bring home the gold, a new star has been born in the World Cup spotlight. 19-year old French striker Kylian Mbappe has taken over this tournament with his flair and technical ability. In particular, his starshowing against Argentina will rank as one of the most memorable performances in World Cup history. If France were to finish the job on Sunday, Mbappe will be sure to take home the World Cup Golden Ball for being the tournament’s best player.
As the World Cup winds down, a look back at this tournament shows that “football” is truly the world’s game. There has been storyline after storyline after every game and it has never seemed to stop. A month ago, eyes throughout the world turned towards this tournament and none of those eyes have turned away since. Even though there is significant turmoil in the world today, the World Cup makes us put away our differences and lets us all come together to enjoy the beautiful game.