From Germany’s shock exit to Belgium’s dream run, relive some of the greatest moments in the 2018 FIFA World Cup and take a look at who’s got a chance to lift the trophy.
Now in its very final stages with just the semi finals and the finals to go, this FIFA World Cup, happening all over Russia has been hailed as one of the most nail biting World Cup in recent times. With just one group match being goalless, four matches having to go to penalties, and so many favorite nations being knocked out already, there certainly seems to be some truth to this claim. The four European teams that remain; Belgium, France, Croatia and England have had to fight really hard to get where they are today and topple over some truly formidable opponents. Let’s take a look at some of the most memorable moments so far and analyze which of these four have the best chances to lift the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Germany’s premature exit
After losing their first match to Mexico, Joachim Loew’s men lead by the able goalkeeper Manuel Neuer seemed to be suffering the curse of the defending champions. This curse has been observed in the past five World Cups, with 1998 champs France bowing out in the group stages in 2006, 2006 champs Italy crashing out in 2010 and Spain not making it past group stages either in 2014. But after a lackluster first match, Germany sneaked away an extremely close victory over Sweden, courtesy the late free kick from Toni Kroos. Now, to qualify, they just had to beat South Korea, a team that had already been defeated by both Mexico and Sweden, and fans were hopeful that this German team had what it took to break the curse. But struck by complacency and lack for motivation, the Germans faltered yet again, conceding two goals and scripting an end to their mediocre campaign at the 2018 FIFA World Cup whilst continuing the curse of the defending champions.
Japanese etiquette wow everyone
While the Japanese team may have crashed out of the World Cup after their match with Belgium, they have certainly won the hearts of almost everybody with their impeccable culture and manners. It started when footage of the Japanese fans cleaning up after themselves after every match and putting the waste in plastic bags was released. So moved were the other fans by this gesture that even the Senegal supporters and Colombians joined in after their countries’ matches got over. In addition, after their defeat in the round of 16 game, the Japanese team tidied up their dressing room and even left a thank you note for the organizers.
England have definitely surprised everyone by making it so far into this tournament, and one man who has made this possible more than anyone is Harry Kane with his hurricane of goals. He is currently in top contention for the Golden Boot award, with two goals in their initial match against Tunisia, a mind-blowing hat trick against Panama and a penalty against Colombia in the last 16. His cool and calm demeanor as a skipper has certainly affected the rest of the team too, who have currently cruised into the semi-finals.
Belgium stage legendary comeback
While this World Cup has been absolutely saturated with great nail biting matches, few were as dramatic as the round of 16 match between Belgium and Japan, which the Red Devils won 3-2. After no goals being scored in the first half, Japan scored two goals back to back in under five minutes. All seemed lost for Belgium, who had enjoyed an extremely smooth campaign till then, but then something miraculous happened. They took a small break, discussed some words of wisdom, brought in two substitutes and then netted two amazing goals to equalize Japan’s score. Then, at the last minute before extra time, the duo of Kevin De Bruyne and Nacer Chadli took advantage of an opening and fired in the third goal, sealing their victory and a place in history.
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Predictions for the semi-finals
Whoever actually goes on to lift the 2018 FIFA World Cup, each of the four teams that have qualified for the semi-finals will be remembered for a long time, because all of them have come through some serious hurdles to get here. That being said, there are still some teams that are clearly stronger than the others. Let’s look at each team and what their campaign has looked like so far.
After years and years of mediocre performances, this year’s English team seems to have finally pulled up its socks and decided that it won’t repeat history. They’ve enjoyed a great campaign so far this World Cup, having piled up massive victories against teams like Panama and Tunisia and having lost only once to Belgium. They now face Croatia, who have also enjoyed a similarly successful campaign. But let’s also keep in mind that the English players are yet to face a truly strong opposition. After playing infant countries like Tunisia and Panama, they played Sweden and Colombia, both of which aren’t the strongest teams. They also lost to a secondary team of Belgium, so locking horns with Croatia will finally tell us their true mettle.
Croatia is yet another country that was not expected to make it this far. In spite of having mid-fielding stars like Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric, they were still not considered amongst the stronger teams. But they certainly have proven that Croatia has what it takes to be counted amongst the regular favorites to win any tournament, after toppling over teams like Russia, Denmark and even Lionel Messi’s Argentina, whom they humiliated with a 3-0 win. They face England in their semis, and if they keep working as one unit, they can certainly make it to the finals, if not lift the trophy.
The Les Bleus have been one of the strongest teams in this World Cup, having lost none, drew one and won four matches, the second best record for any team this time. Their usual stars Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann have shone, but the definite highlight of the team is 19 year old Kylian Mbappe, having scored three goals in only four appearances for his team. With an extremely strong defense of Raphael Varane, Benjamin Pavard and leading goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, they certainly seem to have what it takes to clinch the title, but they do have the strongest team of this tournament standing in their way.
Nobody expected this to happen, but Belgium have emerged as the strongest team in this tournament so far, having won every single one of their matches and defeating top teams like Brazil and England. They have showcased the sheer talent their players possess, by defeating Tunisia 5-2 and Brazil 2-0 while also showing brilliant resilience under immense pressure, when they bounced back after being down 0-2 to win the game 3-2 against Japan. Unlike England, they have faced tough oppositions and worked together as a team to eliminate any threats. As of now, they are clear favorites to win this World Cup, but they do face resurgent France, who won’t be afraid to give it their all.
If this World Cup has taught us anything, it is that when the twenty two players descend on the field for ninety minutes, unexpected things happen, and all statistics and predictions go out the window. One can only sit back and watch in awe as every single player gives his all in pursuit of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.