I have watched, nearly start to finish, six World Cups in my lifetime, starting with 1998. While I was 10 when the ‘94 World Cup happened, my family wasn’t into soccer at the time before my brother and I started playing. So unfortunately I have zero recollection of the U.S.-hosted tournament other than the logo.
I can unequivocally say that I think this is the most exciting World Cup I have ever seen. While many of us are soured from the fact the Americans did not make it into the tournament, it shouldn't distract any of us from how amazing these past few weeks have been. Between upsets, goal-fests, penalty shootouts, and historical events, this World Cup has nearly had it all.
So, before the third-place match on Saturday and the final on Sunday, I thought we should look back at some of the best and worst moments so far.
Best: Senegal’s Warmup
One of the best things about the World Cup is the converging of cultures and seeing the wonderful differences of each team. The Senegalese had this wonderful dance warmup that I thoroughly enjoyed, showing that sometimes this is still just a game and fun at heart.
Worst: FIFA Fair Play Points
Tiebreakers are always the worst. There is no way anyone can feel good about not progressing over technicalities. I understand at some point these are necessary, but FIFA decided to pull out one of the worst: having yellow and red cards determine FIFA Fair Play Points (FFP) in case all other on-field tiebreakers (goal differential, goals for, goals against) were also tied.
While this would have normally come down to a coin flip, having such a subjective metric like yellow cards doesn't sit well with me. Hopefully FIFA finds a better mechanism for future situations.
Best: Nigeria Gear
The Super Eagles and Nike would have won this World Cup if it was only about brand heat and sales. The collection, including three million kits, sold out in its first day. The rest of the collection continued a meteoric rise in sales so good luck finding much out there today.
As someone in the industry and a fan, I've been harsh on brands with their cookie cutter designs that are utilized over all of a brand’s partnerships. Nike finally bucked this trend in the best way possible, showing that taking a risk with a more dynamic graphic treatment can work again. Here’s hoping some of this trickles into the future MLS designs as the league sorely needs some refreshing.
Worst: Neymar’s Antics
When soccer fans try to get casual fans involved, it doesn't take long for someone to bring up the fact that soccer players dive. Most of us respond by saying that we know they do and agree that it’s one of the worst parts of the game. “It’s there, it’s a part of the game and we all wish it wasn’t.”
On the biggest stage, we unfortunately saw one of the world’s best, Neymar, take that to a whole new level at times. It’s hard enough to defend the sheer amount of diving, but when the diving is coming from one of the sport’s top five players it just magnifies exponentially. I’m not going to show how bad his dives were. Instead, I’m going to show you the viral effect of such a player’s antics with this horrible — albeit funny — video.
Best: Belgium’s Comeback Counter
Belgium’s golden generation was on the brink of losing early to Japan in the first round of the knockout stage when it fell behind 2-0. Tied 2-2 in the last minute of stoppage time, the Belgians somehow pulled off one of the greatest moments in World Cup history with a perfect counter.
To start, Thibaut Courtois does an excellent job at claiming the cross and immediately sprinting past the players in the box to find an open Kevin DeBruyne, who drives about 60 yards. Romelu Lukaku’s movement off the ball is damn near textbook as he weaves in and out, dragging defenders with him to create the space needed for Nacer Chadli’s goal. The pass to the dummy to the finish was picture perfect. This counter took nine seconds and it was absolutely phenomenal at every stage. I’ve probably watched this video or ones like it over 100 times at this point and I get chills each time.
Best: Benjamin Pavard’s Goal vs. Argentina
My vote for goal of the tournament (barring something this weekend) came from match 50, France vs. Argentina, in the knockout round. France was down 2-1 after successive goals by the Argentinians and were looking for a breakthrough to get back into the match.
Right back Benjamin Pavard came to the rescue in the form of a full-volley, spinning shot that I’ve seen more often on a ping pong table than the pitch. The ability to hit that shot, with that amount of counter spin is astounding. World class, Monsieur Pavard.
Worst: This Terrible Throw-In Attempt
Working a flip or other acrobatic stunts into a throw-in can spice up one of the more routine parts of the game, while also building momentum to throw the ball further. That was probably Iranian defender Milad Mohammadi’s intent when his team was trailing 1-0 in stoppage time, but his attempt was far from spectacular and Iran ended up losing.
Best: Goals, Goals, Goals
This tournament was filled with goals. Out of 62 matches played, there has only been one — one — game that featured a 0-0 result and that was France vs. Denmark in the group stage. Even the snooze-fest that was Belgium vs. England with both teams already advancing featured the ball finding its way into the back of the net.
A few stats so far:
- 23 goals have been scored in the 90th minute and second-half stoppage time (most ever).
- 68 of the 157 goals have come from set pieces (record).
- England tied the record for most set piece goals (eight) that has been held since 1966.
While the tournament won’t hit the record for most goals ever in a tournament (171; France 98’ and Brazil ‘14), the amount of goals scored in the final minutes has added to the incredible drama so far and it’s why I’ve never stopped watching a second this go-around.
Finally, in this category, one of the best moments by far was Panama’s first-ever World Cup goal.
It’s one of those things about the World Cup. Don’t win a match, down 6-0 and all of that is washed away by this historic moment. This encapsulates what I love about this tournament.
All right, so there’s my list. Join the conversation and tell me some of your best and worst moments. There have been so many that I couldn't have possibly listed them all. Enjoy the weekend and hopefully there are still some great moments to come!