For the average or fair-weather fan of the sport, the greatest show on earth is the most engaging event apart from familial weddings at home and abroad. The passion is spilt on the pitch and transcends onto the billions of fans all across the world, both in stadiums and those watching at home.
So, ICE Today indulges into the spirit of the beautiful game and gives you a low-down of surprise packages, the best kits, the most entertaining matches and the teams who defied all odds. Football, bloody hell!
The Shining Stars of Russia 2018
Russia surpassed everyone’s expectation in the world cup and one of their most influential figures on the pitch was 22-year-old Aleksandr Golovin. He had already racked up quite the hype with stellar performances against the likes of Arsenal in the Europa League but it is in the World Cup where he truly shined. Silky smooth on the ball with the capability of scoring from both inside and outside of the box, this kid is one to lookout for in the future.
Eredivise have been treated to the brilliance of Chucky Lozano for a while now but the Mexican really announced himself to the world this summer. Filled with pace and with a keen eye for goal, Lozano ripped the defending world champions to shreds in his World Cup debut and has been delightful to watch since. Lozano has been gaining a lot of attention for his domestic form for PSV last season and his performances in the World Cup just shows that all the hype surrounding him is real.
World Cup is the showcase of some of the best finishers of the world but this one was comprised of some of the most talented shot stoppers as well. While big names like David De Gea failed to perform, newcomers like Cho Hyun-woo rose to the occasion with some heroic displays. Most notably against defending world champions Germany, Woo denied the champions numerous times as they crashed out from the World Cup.
Despite playing as a center back for Stutgart, Pavard started at a fullback for his homeland and simply made the position his. A robust defender who does not mind attacking down the flank when needed, Pavard showed that he’s not only good at stopping goals but scoring them as well when he fired home a piledriver against Argentina to equalise.
Croatia’s not the first name that comes to mind when you think about world champions but don’t be surprised if they go ahead and win it all this time. Taking advantage of their world class midfield up top is the tenacious Ante Rebic. Adept to play as a lone forward, a winger or even a supporting forward, Rebic displayed excellent performances throughout the world cup, most notably taking advantage of Caballero’s mistake to score a thunderous volley against Argentina. Definitely one for the future.
The Top 5 Kits
Nigerians may have arrived in Russia dressed as bosses but it’s their attire on the pitch that looked the best. Their home kit was absolute fire, so much so that they sold out minutes after getting launched. An homage to The Super Eagles’ 1994 kit, Nike’s masterpiece features a black and white wing pattern that extends all the way to the shoulder sleeves. The lime green torso just makes it look more sublime.
Brazil is synonymous to football and there is perhaps no kit as iconic as their canary yellow home shirt. The Brazilians go to every single World Cup expecting to win and they have achieved a lot of success since moving on from their initial blue kit.
The defending champions crashed out of the World Cup at the group stage. However, there were a few silver linings to their disappointing campaign, one of them being Tony Kroos’ goal and the other being their away kit. The green colour and chevron pattern across the torso combined to give this kit a classy look.
The Red Devils mean business this time. Their golden generation of players have all hit their primes and this is perhaps the best opportunity for them to live up to their potential. The Belgians came to Russia with a home kit befitting of all the hype that surrounds them. The argyle pattern oozes nostalgia and is actually an homage to the 1984 Belgium Euro team (their previous golden generation).
France consistently shows up to international tournaments sporting some of the most elegantly designed kits and this time is no different. Their home kit embodies style with wave-esque patterns running across the shoulder as well as substance with its royal blue colour. Their away kit is also pretty unique with blue and red confetti-like patterns but we just had to go with the home kit. It is a jersey that does justice to the strongest team on paper.
The most entertaining matches
Spain vs Portugal
The second match of Group B featured a Spain squad looking for redemption after a horrendous title defence in 2014 versus Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal and boy did the match live up to all its hype. CR7 scoring in the first few minutes, sublime control by Diego Costa, a ridiculous firecracker from Nacho Fernandez and a last minute free kick! We are going to need a second to catch our breathes…again.
Belgium vs Japan
The most recent match that’s on this list (when this article is being written) saw one of the tournament’s favourites, Belgium take on a much less-fancied Japan. And guess what? The underdogs scored not once but twice to take a 2-0 lead. This just showed that there is no such thing as a “small team” this time. Belgium showed a lot of character as they came from behind to score a 92nd minute winner to become the first team in history to recover from a two-goal deficit.
Nigeria vs Argentina
Lionel Messi’s Argentina faced Nigeria in a must-win match for the Albiceleste. Messi kicked things off with a sublime finish but Argentinian hearts stopped beating when Nigeria won a penalty which was successfully converted by Victor Moses. The drama was far from being over as Nigeria had a penalty claim denied and Marcos Rojo scored a last-minute winner. Oh, and don’t forget to Diego Maradona’s antics from the stand was pure entertainment.
Germany vs Sweden
The defending world champions got off to a nightmare start as a Chucky Lozano inspired Mexico ripped them to shred in their opening match. The nightmare was to continue as Sweden drew first blood but the champions bounced back with Marco Reus scoring an equaliser but the show was far from being over. Jimmy Durmaz conceded a last minute free kick and although it was a nearly impossible angle, Tony Kroos brilliantly converted it to give the world champions a hard fought victory.
The Ultimate Underdogs
Viva la Mexico!
The catalyst to turn the entire tournament on its head, the Mexicans possessed the hearts of lions after their shock victory over the defending champions Germany. Deutschland looked like the shadow of their former selves. The North Americans (or Central, however you want to look at it) took it one step further and garnered their second straight victory over South Korea. Who would have actually thought or betted on the notion that Mexico would actually walk out of their group as possible winners? It’s safe to say, after their wonderful performances in the first round of fixtures, they lead the pack of underdogs.
Without their talisman, Zlatan, currently playing for the Los Angeles Galaxy in the MLS, the Swedes snuck passed the group stages, beating Mexico on goals to be the eventual winners. Both squads made for one heck of an argument to become the surprising package of the tournament. However, the key stroke by the Scandinavians was their performances near the end. They simply wanted it more in an already contested group, kicking out South Korea and Germany in the process.
Way of the samurai
The Japanese are surprisingly a very consistent side during past tournaments. They are also the only Asian side to make it alive past the group stages this time around. That’s actually saying a lot, given that all the other Asian and African teams have crashed out with their heads held high. Granted, their group wasn’t as difficult as others in the tournament, their achievement cannot be denied. Their disciplined approach and work ethic took them as far as it was allowed. In fact, their fair play record won them a ticket out of the group, slipping right past Senegal to face one of the tournament juggernauts in Belgium. The run was admirable; however, it just wasn’t enough in the bigger scheme of things. A last minute heartbreak ended the Cinderella run in the World Cup, leaving behind an honourable display that would put everyone else to shame.