On Sunday night, one of the most memorable World Cup editions in the history of football came to a close in a style that befitted the tournament’s status. France won its second ever World Cup, defeating the fairytale team of the tournament, Croatia. The 4-2 scoreline was appropriate, given how exciting this last month has been. This was the first time since 1966 that a World Cup final saw 6 goals. Two of France’s goals were results of controversial decisions by the referee, an Argentinian actor named Nestor Pitana. But in the end, it was hard to deny the all-rounder type quality of the young French team – a team that is expected to dominate football like Germany and Spain did before them.
More than anything, however, this World Cup was spectacular for its moments. These were not always on the football field, but these made for images that will forever remain imprinted into the minds of millions of viewers who tuned in from across the globe.
Here are five such moments
1. THE FALL OF TITE
After Brazil disappointingly drew its first World Cup group stage game against Switzerland, it sputtered further against Costa Rica in the second game. After 90 minutes, the score was still 0-0. As the game entered 6 minutes of injury time, Brazil’s fate hung precariously in the balance. Two draws would be disastrous. But then Philippe Coutinho scored a goal in the 91st minute that many thought would be the winner (Neymar was to add one minute later). This prompted coach Tite, nicknamed “Professor,” to celebrate madly on the touchlines. He sprinted along the side, finally tripping and tumbling into the field. This was a sight for sore Brazilian eyes – the amusing image of their passionate coach actually pulling a muscle while celebrating an important moment in their ultimately doomed journey.
2. THE MARADONA SALUTE
In a must-win group game against Nigeria, Lionel Messi scored one of the goals of the tournament – a brilliant three-touch effort that sent the fans into a frenzy. One of them was a certain Diego Maradona, who threatened to climb the glass railing of his private box till his friends held him back, and channeling divine intervention in a “Wakanda Forever” style pose. He stole the headlines while Argentina limped through into the knockouts – his wild antics even made him land up under medical supervision minutes after the exciting game.
3. MADE IN JAPAN
Japan fell to Belgium in the knockouts in the most exciting game of the tournament. They went 2-0 ahead in the second half, only to be denied by a marauding Belgian attack that scored 3 in the last 20 minutes to win the crucial game in the dying seconds. This broke the hearts of not just Japanese fans but Asian fans all over the world. The spirited team had to go back empty-handed, despite a fearless performance that almost had them pull off the upset of the World Cup. Yet, their stadium fans found in them the grace to continue cleaning up the stands behind them – a beautiful gesture by both Japanese and Senegalese fans in Russia. Through tears, they left the stadium clean. And the team went one up, leaving their dressing room spotless, with a note saying “Thank You” in Russian. Only if all the guests reacted this way.
4. WHEN MEXICO BECAME SOUTH KOREAN
With Mexico losing 3-0 to an inspired Sweden in their last group game, suddenly their progress to the knockouts seem threatened despite winning the first two games. All Germany had to do was play to form and defeat South Korea in the parallel game. But South Korea not only held Germany till the final ten minutes, they went ahead and scored one – which meant Germany had to score two in quick succession to win. Low’s men however never found the net, and South Korea added an injury-time goal to pull off a stunning 2-0 upset over the World Champions. In response, Mexican fans could afford to be unperturbed by the 3-0 loss to Sweden and responded by cheerfully embracing and holding aloft every South Korean fan they saw across Russia for that night. Commentators mused upon the possibility of the South Korean players receiving honorary Mexican citizenship after they did the country such a big favor.
5. THE LEADERS JUMPED
Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, a mum of two, followed her gritty team across Russia to cheer for them and be their official ambassador. The most enduring image will be of her gleefully cheering her team’s nail-biting penalty-shootout victory against hosts Russia, in a Russian stadium, in the official box seated next to glum Russian leaders. The team that broke Russian hearts couldn’t conquer the nation, but they elicited some of the most human reactions from diplomatic leaders. Ditto for French President Emmanuel Macron, who leaped from his seat and jumped on the table in front of his Croatian counterpart to demonstrate just what France’s performance meant to a divided nation. On Sunday, he was just another fan looking for hope in his football team.