World Cup highs and lows: From Mbappe to Lopetegui and everything in between

The 2018 World Cup came to an end on Sunday as France beat Croatia 4-2 at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

We take a look back at some of the highlights of the tournament.

Best game: France 4 Argentina 3 (Last 16)

Les Bleus showed what they could be capable of when coming through a thrilling last-16 clash against Argentina in Kazan. Angel Di Maria and Benjamin Pavard had both scored special goals for each side before the impressive Kylian Mbappe netted twice in four minutes to put France into the quarter-finals.

Top of the flops: Germany

The holders mounted an unexpectedly dismal defence of the title they won so impressively four years ago in Brazil. After losing their opener to Mexico, a last-gasp defeat of Sweden offered hope of progress – but Joachim Low’s men went home after an insipid display against South Korea, losing 2-0 in Kazan with both goals coming during stoppage time.

Best goal: Benjamin Pavard (France)

There were plenty of fine long-range strikes, while Belgium’s last-minute breakaway goal to beat Japan in the last 16 was a superb team effort. However, the manner in which defender Pavard opened his international account for France against Argentina with a brilliant angled half-volley into the top corner was the highlight.

Worst game: France 0 Denmark 0 (Group C)

Nineteen days before playing in the final at the Luzhniki Stadium, Les Bleus were involved in the only goalless draw of the World Cup. A much-changed France team, already qualified from Group C, and Denmark, who needed a point to join them in the last 16, went through the motions in Moscow.

Best fans: Senegal

The host cities of Russia were awash with the colour and vibrancy of all nations but, for sheer joie de vivre, Senegal took some beating – and that is without mentioning the fact they picked up their litter on their way out of the ground. Special mention to Japan’s supporters, who also cleaned up after themselves.

Hits: Kylian Mbappe & Harry Kane

England captain Harry Kane collected the Golden Boot after his six goals helped Gareth Southgate’s men reach the semi-finals. However, it was French teenager Mbappe who came of age in Russia. The 19-year-old announced his arrival on the biggest stage of all with a string of electric displays and fittingly scored France’s fourth goal in the final.

Misses: Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo & Julen Lopetegui

They may be regarded as the best two players on the planet, but Argentina’s talisman Lionel Messi and Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo were on planes home before the quarter-finals as the next generation stepped up. They did, though, at least get the chance to feature at Russia 2018 – Spain sacked manager Julen Lopetegui two days before their first game due to Real Madrid’s announcement they had hired him.

VAR: The star or a step too far?

Match referee Nestor Pitana took a long look at the VAR monitors during the World Cup final at the Luzhniki Stadium.
Match referee Nestor Pitana took a long look at the VAR monitors during the World Cup final at the Luzhniki Stadium (Aaron Chown/PA)

France’s controversial penalty against Australia in their opening Group C match was the first time the Video Assistant Referee system led to a changed decision at the World Cup – and the review system again found itself on centre stage for the final. While Argentinian referee Nestor Pitana needed more than a few replays to decide for himself it had been an intentional handball by Ivan Perisic which allowed France to regain the lead from the penalty spot, all in all there were arguably more right decisions than wrong helped out by VAR in Russia. Well, maybe. Let’s just take another look.

Best free-kick: Kieran Trippier

Kieran Trippier curled in a superb free-kick to give England a dream start to their World Cup semi-final against Croatia.
Kieran Trippier curled in a superb free-kick to give England a dream start to their World Cup semi-final against Croatia (Tim Goode/PA)

England defender Trippier lived up to his billing as the ‘Bury Beckham’ with a sweet dead-ball strike in the opening minutes of the semi-final against Croatia – which for a while looked to have set the Three Lions up for another memorable World Cup performance.

Battle of the pundits

The depth and quality of TV analysis has probably never been so high, with both main domestic broadcasters backing up their reliable experts with some smart new signings. Alan Shearer continued to talk common sense on the BBC, who also benefited from the insight of Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard and Alex Scott. There was plenty of friendly banter over in the ITV studio – not least between Ian Wright and Roy Keane. Ratings also soared as England progressed, with a peak audience of 26.6 million for the Three Lions’ semi-final on ITV and 19.64 million viewers for BBC’s coverage of the quarter-final win against Sweden.

Howlers: Taxi for Hugo

France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was on the end of one of the most embarrassing moments of the World Cup - which happened in the final.
France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was on the end of one of the most embarrassing moments of the World Cup – which happened in the final (Aaron Chown/PA)

France captain Hugo Lloris waited until the final to make sure of a star billing on the 2018 World Cup bloopers reel when his poor attempted clearance cannoned in off Mario Mandzukic. The keeper, though, was later the man to lift the trophy. All in a day’s work.

Best save: Danijel Subasic

Croatia goalkeeper Danijel Subasic produced a fine reaction save to prevent England going 2-0 up in the semi-final.
Croatia goalkeeper Danijel Subasic produced a fine reaction prevent to deny England going 2-0 up in the semi-final (Aaron Chown/PA)

Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois collected the Golden Glove, while England’s number one Jordan Pickford produced some memorable saves – and not only in a penalty shootout win over Colombia. However, it was the slightest of touches from the boot of Croatia keeper Subasic to push Kane’s goalbound effort onto a post – seconds after pushing away a low effort from the England captain – which proved perhaps the most telling stop of the World Cup, without which the semi-final could have seen a very different outcome.

Social shares

Germany’s Mats Hummels summed up his country’s sorrow after their elimination with a simple word – sorry.

England captain Kane, meanwhile, echoed the sentiments of a nation when he reflected on a determination to come back stronger after more semi-final heartache – which was liked over 191,000 times.

The tournament in numbers

169 – total goals scored across 64 matches

20 – Croatia’s position in the FIFA world rankings, the lowest-ranked nation to reach a World Cup final

6 – goals for England striker Kane, who won the Golden Boot

29 – penalties awarded, which set a new record

2 – the number of times France have now won the World Cup

Team of the tournament:

Courtois (Belgium); Varane (France), Maguire (England), Vertonghen (Belgium); Trippier (England), Kante (France), Hazard (Belgium), Modric (Croatia), Golovin (Russia); Mbappe (France), Kane (England).

Football Paradise Staff Reporter

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