By Prarthana Mitra
The FIFA World Cup this year is well on its way to becoming one of the most historic and dramatic tournaments in football history. It has been a week of incredible stories that go beyond the Russian battlefields and way back to the days when an Uruguay-Croatia face off in the final was likely.
Among the group matches that stood out, Belgium defeated England to finish top of their table with nine goals this World Cup. However, they are wary about facing Japan, an unlikely contender that managed to proceed to the quarter-final. The Asian team advanced on the basis of FIFA’s fair play rule, having received fewer yellow cards than Senegal, who had the same match points on the table.
Brazil defeated Serbia to top their group, and will face Mexico in their first elimination match.
A year of the underdogs and goalkeepers
With defending champions Germany bowing out of the competition following a harrowing defeat against South Korea earlier last week, favourites like Portugal, Argentina and Spain too staged a return home. Their games kicked off the knock out stage with some spectacular football pageantry by some of the world’s greatest, conceding defeat to unlikely champions.
This World Cup is something else. pic.twitter.com/EnkRXkv6VA
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) July 1, 2018
Argentina who secured a place in the knockout stage by defeating Nigeria, resulted in great hope for the Messi-heads and Argentine fans all around the world. Plus, the world also got a glimpse of Diego Maradona’s catatonic reactions.
However, all hopes were dashed when the team failed to perform in the second half of their knock out match against France, who were effervescent from the very start. Kylian Mbappe, with brilliant assistance from Griezmann, Pavard and the rest of the French team led the Blues to a stupendous victory.
— Times of India (@timesofindia) July 2, 2018
Another Paris Saint Germain player Edinson Cavini took over in Uruguay’s match against Portugal, and managed to keep the pressure on Cristiano Ronaldo’s band of players. Together, with commendable help from Suarez, they managed to clinch their spot in the quarters where they will face France, thus sending two of the greatest footballers playing their last World Cup, home on the same day.
— Oh My Goal (@OhMyGoal_US) July 1, 2018
The next day had the same in store for Spain’s Andres Iniesta, as it is turning out to be quite the world cup for underdogs. Unfancied Russia and resolute Croatia advanced to the quarter-final, vanquishing penultimate world champion Spain and formidable Denmark, on the second night of knock-outs.
Russia, the lowest-ranked team this World Cup, beat heavyweight Spain which dominated in terms of possession and defense. The European soccer giants lost in a penalty shootout, after Russia countered all their moves and soldiered on through extra time, in one of the season’s most unsettling defeats.
5 – Host nations have now won each of their last five penalty shootouts at the World Cup – France in 1998, South Korea in 2002, Germany in 2006, Brazil in 2014 and Russia this year. Heroes.#ESPRUS #RUS #WorldCup pic.twitter.com/Rpjt98USwK
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) July 1, 2018
It is also a world cup for the goalkeepers, as both games extended to penalty shootouts, with the world rooting for Kasper Schmeichel, son of Danish goalkeeping legend and former Manchester United player Peter Schmeichel. Mathias Jorgensen gave Denmark the lead within a minute of the game and the Croats scored in an equaliser just after 4 minutes.
But it came down to Croatian goalkeeper Subasic, and strikers Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, who delivered their team to an astounding victory in the penalties, which will pit them against hosts Russia in the quarter-final.
Alert | FIFA World Cup 2018: Croatia beat Denmark 3-2 on penalties to enter the quarter-finals. Match was tied at 1-1 after extra time.
Croatian keeper Danijel Subasic made a record three saves. #FifaWorldCup18 pic.twitter.com/7SQKBcB712
— The Quint (@TheQuint) July 1, 2018
In other news, Swiss players Shaquiri and Xhaka were fined, not suspended by FIFA for political celebratory gestures after their match against Serbia, and will face Switzerland in the knockout this week. As for the other fringe teams and the real underdogs who returned home before the knockout stage, their achievements have stirred the most-far flung corners of the globe. Panama, Tunisia, Senegal, Iceland, Nigeria, and Poland may not have qualified to the more competitive leg of the tournament, but the resilience with which they have played it out at football’s most prestigious event, wearing their countries on their sleeve, is commendable, to say the least.
This World Cup, Qrius will bring you a weekly roundup of the most important and interesting news about your favourite teams battling it out on the fields of Russia, and place them into the context of parallelly running socio-political currents.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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