I’m starting to run out of superlatives to describe this World Cup. The final 16 was finalized on Thursday of last week and the opening round of knockout games was played on Saturday. As we’ve come to be expect, drama was not in short supply. The two games played on Saturday pitted Uruguay against Portugal and France against Argentina. It was the dream of millions to see both Argentina and Portugal win and set up the most epic of showdowns between Messi and Ronaldo but it wasn’t in the script. Both teams failed to win and were sent home from the tournament.
Two goals from Uruguayan striker Édinson Cavani either side of a goal from Pepe of Portugal sealed the win for the South American side. They defended superbly and neutralized Ronaldo as best as any defense is capable. The attacking duo of Suárez and Cavani was lethal and the defense of Uruguay can still boast that through four WC games they have only allowed one goal.
They will move on and play France who was very impressive offensively against a lackluster Argentina but they still allowed three goals. Antoine Griezmann opened the scoring for France with a penalty after a scintillating solo run from Kylian Mbappé resulted in him being pulled down in the box. Soon after, Ángel Di Maria scored from almost thirty yards out for Argentina and then just after halftime a Messi shot was redirected off of teammate Gabriel Mercado and Argentina took the lead. It only lasted about ten minutes before French defender Benjamin Pavard scored one of the goals of the tournament with a stunning volley that flew into the far top corner. Soon after that, the French wonder kid Kylian Mbappé was at it again as he latched onto a loose ball and made the score 3-2 to France and not long after that, an amazing piece of team play from France that started with the goalkeeper lead to Mbappé scoring his second of the game. The game would end 4-3 after Messi curled a beautiful cross into the box for Sergio Agüero to head home in stoppage time.
This game was special for one big reason. It was the true emergence of 19-year-old Kylian Mbappé on the world stage. The symbolism of him running Lionel Messi’s Argentina into the ground cemented his status as one of the most exciting young players in the world. Reporters, coaches and former players all over are already tipping him to become one of the best players in the world sooner than later. His pace is unmatched, his finishing is lethal and his knowledge of the game is top notch for a player as young as he is. What’s even more, he’s a decent human being. He’s already pledged to donate all of his bonus money from his appearance and goals at the World Cup to Premiers de Cordée, a French charity that helps children with disabilities to get involved with sports. I’m a fan.
In the second day of the round of 16 we saw even more unbelievable drama as Russia took their game with Spain to penalties after a 1-1 draw. They won, knocking out one of the biggest favorites out of the tournament. Players for Spain are scratching their heads the same as the German players right about now. In the game between Denmark and Croatia, both teams scored early and played out a back and forth affair before overtime. In the dying minutes Croatia were awarded a penalty that would have almost certainly sent them to the quarterfinals but Danish keeper Kasper Schmeichel came up huge and saved the spot kick from Luka Modrić, one of the tournament’s outstanding players while legendary keeper father Peter Schmeichel watched proudly from the stands. That sent the game to penalties where Croatia narrowly won and are now headed to the quarterfinals.
Croatia will meet Russia and France will meet Uruguay in the quarterfinals.
It’s been impossible to look away and Monday is not the day to start! Brazil will face Mexico and Japan will line up against Belgium. What a time to be a soccer fan!