As the group stage drew to a close, the path was simple, those who win their group are paired with a runner-up from another group in the round of 16, some had it easy but others had to face giants like Brazil, France, and Portugal. To reach that stage in such a big event itself is an achievement. Teams like Morocco, Japan, and South Korea have defied all odds and reached the level that even high-profile teams like Germany, Uruguay, and Denmark couldn't reach.
The Belgian team who had finished fourth just four years ago had an early exit from the World Cup. They were considered one of the favourites to win this tournament. Germany who had failed to defend the title after winning in 2014 suffered yet another group-stage exit and Uruguay in spite of winning against Ghana also tasted the bitterness of the group-stage exit.
King of the Round of 16.
Argentina who was paired with Australia breezed passed easily with Messi playing his 1000th game and scoring within 35 minutes of the game. The Netherlands squad cruised past the USA team with the help of their forward Memphis Depay. England beat Senegal and later clashed against the French in the Quarter Finals, and the reigning champions meant business when they beat Poland to ease into the quarter-finals. After this, the French team became the first defending champions after Brazil to survive the group stage exit.
Japan, who had become a sudden fan favourite with their passion and dedication to carry their team in the unlikely advancement to the round of 16, crashed out of the World Cup as they failed to score against the Croatian goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic in the penalty shootout after the stale 1-1 draw. Mighty Brazil won both their opening games of the World Cup and took no time to score against Son's South Korea who they defeated 4-1 in the round of 16.
Morocco, a very interesting addition to the round of 16 dumped the Spanish team who had only one shot on target (their lowest ever in a World Cup game). They failed to stop 3 back to back penalties in the penalty shootout. It was a perfect night for Portugal as the round of 16 came to a close. The Portuguese team played without their key player Cristiano Ronaldo who cheered them on as they were crushed Switzerland with six goals.
The Prestigious Golden Trophy
This title is the most prestigious title in the world, and to have the whole football world call you the champion of the world is a feeling every player dreams of tasting.
Eleven World Cup trophies are among the teams that competed in the round of 16. Brazil owns a whopping five World Cup titles with Pele, the Brazilian legend having three of those on his resume. Argentina and France come next with two titles each in their names and Spain owns one World Cup trophy. Despite being three times finalist Netherlands has never won the World Cup trophy.
Other teams like Germany who are no longer a part of this World Cup season have been eight-time finalists having won only four. Itlay has been named World champions four times as well but they failed to even qualify in this term.
The World Cup title has gone to only two continents in it's history. Five times to a European country and three times to a south American country. I guess that is why it's so special to see Asian and African countries relatively do so well this year.
The Quarter Shocker
A roller coaster of emotions. Both teams in tears. One with joy and one with sheer disappointment. Now after four years of wait and 60 games played, only four teams remain tol clash with one another to reach the final destination where the fight of the champions will begin.
As Neymar equaled Pele's record, Brazil crashed out of the World Cup in a heartbreaking loss against Croatia. It was a perfect scenario for Brazil with one nil lead as the game headed to extra time but Croatia, who hadn't a single spot on target throughout clapped back with an equalizer which sent the game into penalties and eventually ended in Croatia's favour. And just like that, the number one team crashed out of the World Cup with a disappointing defeat crashing millions of hearts who were waiting in anticipation for a positive turnout.
Neymar wrote on Instagram: “I'm psychologically destroyed. This was certainly the defeat that hurt me the most, which made me paralyzed for 10 minutes, and right after I fell into non-stop crying. It's gonna hurt for a loooong time, unfortunately. We fought until the end. That's why I'm proud of my teammates because there was no lack of commitment and dedication.”
Argentina vs. Netherlands saw the results tied after 90 mins of football. A thrilling, mind-blowing free kick deep into the extra time by the Netherlands, the smartest we have all seen in a while took the game into extended time (I still get goosebumps when I recall it).
No goals in the extra time meant both teams had to line up for penalties. which the Netherlands eventually lost as they were denied the first two penalties by the Argentinian hero and goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.
“We didn’t want extra time or penalties. We suffered too much because of how everything happened, but it is the quarter-finals of a World Cup. We knew how to suffer when it was our turn, but we got through to the semi-finals.
“It’s beautiful, something impressive,” said Messi.
"We have been practicing penalties all year and despite everything, we failed. It’s a shame,” said Louis van Gaal.
For the first time in the history of the World Cup, an African team has reached the semifinals. A huge moment for African nations and also for the Arab world to witness a Muslim nation do so well on their land. This story will be written down in the history books as the team that defeated Belgium, Spain, and now Portugal.
As we head into the final stages of the World Cup, Morocco pulled off another brilliant win from their magic hat. A header by Youssef En-Nesyri was the only goal Morocco needed to eliminate Portugal. Cries of joy and tears of happiness erupted in the stadium as the final whistle blew. Cristiano Ronaldo returns empty-handed in his last-ever World Cup. Ending his search for the golden trophy, a chance missed for the player known as someone who has won it all.
The last game of the Quarter Finals saw the defending champions lock horns with the English. Even after having 18 shots and two penalties, England couldn't stop France from reaching one step closer to the golden trophy. It was a huge chance missed by England, they had a decent game with more possession and shots on target they could have saved themselves from yet another exit.
After a wild Quarter Finals, we have four teams standing. Argentina will play Croatia and the defending champions France will clash against Morocco on the 14th and 15th of December respectively.
This World Cup has been very unpredictable, with Morocco reaching the semi-finals, Brazil losing on penalties & Portugal crashing out of the World Cup. It has been an emotional journey for the teams and the fans. The beauty of football is such; it gives us memories of a lifetime.
Who are you rooting for? Will Morocco win against the French? Or will Messi finally get his hands on the World Cup trophy?