The 2018 World Cup in Russia is set to end on Sunday when France and Croatia battle it out for the international championship title.
Fans across the world have tuned in for weeks to watch nations go head-to-head in the journey for the Cup, a title that only comes around once every four years. Not only does the international tournament give fans a sense of pride and unity, it also creates historic moments that soccer fans hold in their hearts for years to come.
Here are some of the greatest on-field and off-field moments of the 2018 World Cup so far:
Goals That Took Our Breath Away
There are few things more thrilling than a beautiful ball sailing through the air and sinking into the net. This Cup offered fans a number of blood-pumping, seemingly impossible goals.
France’s Benjamin Pavard hit a volley against Argentina in the early knockout stage to equalize the score in the second half of the game. The 22-year-old defender made the goal from 20 yards away, marking his first point for the national team. Kylian Mbappé scored another two goals in the second half, saving France from elimination in the round of 16.
Spain and Portugal, two incredibly fun teams to watch, provided viewers with a seriously entertaining matchup during the group stage. The powerhouse teams kept fans on the edge of their seats as they stayed tied for most of the game.
It seemed for a while that Spain’s Nacho had secured a lead when he rocketed the ball in minute 58. Of course, Portugal’s star player wouldn’t admit defeat just yet.
Cristiano Ronaldo was fouled in the last few minutes by Gerard Piqué, which gave Portugal a chance to tie. Ronaldo’s penalty kick again equalized the match, which eventually ended in a draw.
Belgium would eventually lose in the semifinal against France on Tuesday, but the team offered up a beautiful moment in the round of 16 against Japan. The European team had already impressed viewers once it managed to rally against a two-point deficit in the second half, but then Belgium delivered a speculator ending.
Fans were surely holding their breath after the ball breezed by national star Romelu Lukaku, but there was another Belgian waiting to secure the game. Nacer Chadli managed to tap the ball into the goal past Japan’s goalkeeper in the last few seconds of extra minutes, enabling Belgium to advance.
And of course, there’s nothing quite like a semifinal equalizer. Croatia’s Ivan Perišić completely turned the tide for his team in the game against England on Wednesday. The forward tied the match with a deflection off his boot in the second half.
Some have argued that the “high foot” move should have been considered illegal, but the referee stood with the goal. Perišić’s point gave Croatia a fighting chance to qualify for the final when Mario Mandžukić scored again in extra time.
Saves That Took Years Off Your Life
Fans often hold their breath in the heat of the game, praying hard during the heart-stopping moments that could mean the end of your team’s journey to glory. Goalkeepers are often the scapegoats for a nation when a team loses, but they earn every ounce of credit for the incredible saves that keep a squad alive.
England’s Jordan Pickford became an unanticipated star with a number of saves guaranteed to shave time off the average British life expectancy. The 24-year-old Englishman became a household name during the round of 16 match against Colombia.
The young goalkeeper sailed through the air to save against Colombia’s Mateus Uribe in extra minutes, holding on to England’s lead for just a few more moments before defender Yerry Mina equalized the game.
Of course, Pickford will be permanently etched into World Cup history as the goalie who earned England’s first-ever shootout win.
And with penalty kicks still on the mind, there needs to be some mention of Russia’s defeat of Spain in an incredible shootout.
Spanish forward Iago Aspas needed to make the last of his team’s penalty kicks for the team to have any chance of advancing. And for a split second, it seemed as though Aspas had given Spain another opportunity when Russia’s Igor Akinfeev dove in the wrong direction.
Nope. Akinfeev managed to deflect the ball with his foot by some divine grace and eliminated the 2010 World Cup champion team in the round of 16.
And one of most underrated saves belongs to French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris for this gorgeous denial during the team’s match against Uruguay. Lloris had seconds to stretch himself across the net and block a header by Uruguay’s Martín Cáceres at the end of the first half of the game.
Cáceres’ attempt during the free kick was a close call for France. Uruguay would have equalized the game had Lloris failed to react so quickly, destroying France’s narrow lead.
Internationally Heartwarming Moments
It’s hard to resist the excitement of the World Cup, even for those who aren’t big soccer fans. There’s something about the tournament that creates the most unlikely friendships and offers some truly beautiful moments.
One of the sweetest moments of the tournament was the way Panama fans celebrated getting trounced 6-1 by England in the group phase. Fans went wild when Felipe Baloy scored on England because even though Panama was still down by five, Baloy gave the country its first-ever World Cup goal.
Panama fans reminded us all of the pride that stems from being on the international stage.
The World Cup also embodies the old adage “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
Mexico’s national team delivered a stunning upset when it defeated Germany in the group opening match. It was understandably a great moment for Mexico fans since it had been 33 years since the team last beat Germany. But they celebrated even harder after South Korea eliminated Germany altogether a few days later.
A group of people gathered around the South Korean Embassy in Mexico City and convinced the consul general, Byoung-jin Han, to down tequila shots with them. Byoung-jin Han apparently wore a Mexico jersey while he drank the tequila, a New York Times reporter recounted on Twitter.
What’s more beautiful than that kind of international camaraderie?