The 2018 World Cup is on pace to go down as one of the most entertaining and exciting World Cups in quite some time. With just eight matches left in the competition, not a day has gone by without something fun, exciting, or dramatic happening. The Round of 16 was no exception with a plethora of fantastic moments to remember. We did our best to narrow down the five best to get you ready for the quarterfinals. Here they are:
5. Cavani’s class shines through
One of the more interesting Round of 16 match-ups pitted Uruguay and Portugal against each other. Many had low expectations for this match coming in, expecting a defensive slogfest. In reality, we received a surprisingly attractive match featuring two fantastic goals by Edinson Cavani that ultimately saw Uruguay knock Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal out.
Cavani and Luis Suarez combined for the opening goal less than 10 minutes into the match as the Barcelona striker found his attacking partner at the far-post with a perfect cross. Cavani headed in to start the game off on the right foot. Pepe’s header early in the second half tied the match for Portugal, but Uruguay would not be denied.
The moment of the match came at the hour mark. On a counter-attack, a pass found its way to Cavani on the left side of the field, just outside of the penalty area. The PSG man struck a first-time shot that may go down as one of the most clinical finishes of the entire tournament. His curling effort left Rui Patricio with no chance whatsoever as it nestled into the side-netting for a goal worthy of winning any match.
While the majority of this World Cup has featured attractive, attacking displays of soccer, Russia found a way to beat one the favorites while barely mustering any attack. Spain thoroughly dominated the hosts for 120 minutes of play, but were unable to break through their tightly packed defense. Despite La Roja scoring the first goal, Russia took the match to penalties after equalizing via spot kick just before half-time.
The ensuing shootout saw the hosts go perfect while their goalkeeper, Igor Akinfeev, saved two of Spain’s attempts, including a miraculous stop on Iago Aspas in the fifth round to clinch the upset. It won’t go down as a good match, but it will be remembered as the day the massive underdog hosts knocked out one of the best teams in the tournament.
3. England breaks their penalty curse
Every sport has a few moments where a “curse” is broken. Whether it’s the Boston Red Sox coming back from 3-0 down to finally beat the New York Yankees in the playoffs or a Cleveland team finally winning a championship. England losing on penalties in a major tournament was a soccer meme before the word meme was even invented. Just in the World Cup alone, the Three Lions had lost three different times in a shootout. That streak was finally broken against Colombia.
Harry Kane had his side in prime position to advance to the quarterfinals with a second half penalty. However, a last-gasp header by Yerry Mina forced Extra Time and eventually the dreaded penalty shootout. All of England’s past penalty ghosts came rushing back when Jordan Henderson was the first shooter to miss in the third round. Colombia then proceeded to miss in the next two rounds giving Eric Dier a chance to finally end the curse in the final round. His tentative effort squeaked under David Ospina and sent the Three Lions into euphoria and into the next round.
2. Mbappe’s Coronation
France vs. Argentina will go down as an all-time World Cup classic. The pre-match storylines had all you could ask for in regards to a struggling Argentina coming up against a star-studded France side. The match lived up to the hype and then some with Kylian Mbappe stealing the spotlight and announcing himself as a true force to be reckoned with in this tournament. The 19-year-old phenom used his unbelievable pace and technique to earn a penalty in the first half. After Antoine Griezmann converted it, Argentina found an answer before half-time thanks to one of the goals of the tournament by Angel Di Maria.
The South Americans took a surprising lead just minutes into the second half before France seized momentum again. Young fullback Benjamin Pavard equalized with a worldie of his own. Then it was Mbappe’s moment.
For a the last 18 months, the PSG forward has been lauded around the world as the chosen one, the future best player in the world. On this day, he proved why he’s worthy of that title. His superior technique and intelligence was on display on France’s third goal as he eluded several defenders with his first touch and beat Argentina’s goalkeeper with a quick snapshot of his left foot. Minutes later, he raced down the right flank, ran onto an Olivier Giroud pass and slotted in his second goal, the eventual game-winner. Argentina mounted a comeback but it would fall just short.
The World Cup is the stage for players to make a name for themselves. If there’s anyone who didn’t know who Kylian Mbappe was, they surely do after this match.
1. Belgium’s brilliant finish
Words can’t fully express how great the second half of Belgium and Japan’s Round of 16 clash was. Soccer is commonly known as The Beautiful Game and these 45 minutes were the perfect advertisement for that moniker.
After a respectable but scoreless opening half of play, Japan raced out to a 2-0 lead over the heavily-favored Red Devils in the second half. Roberto Martinez’s side looked set to bow out of the competition, but something clicked with just 20 minutes left. Jan Vertonghen and Marouane Fellaini scored in rapid succession to set-up one of the more memorable knockout stage finishes in recent memory.
Deep into second half stoppage time, Keisuke Honda forced a Japan corner with a spectacularly hit free kick attempt. Just as it looked as if they had Belgium on the ropes, a ruthlessly and clinically executed counter-attack dashed Japan’s hopes. In a move eerily reminiscent of Landon Donovan’s winner against Algeria in 2010, second half substitute Nacer Chadli finished off a brilliant counter and won the match with the last attack of the match.