The beauty of World Cup moments, and really of soccer moments as a genre, is their scarcity.
Soccer is a game of physical and tactical struggle, often misinterpreted as monotony. A game of slow builds, often coming undone, engraved into history as slow teases. And then … BOOM. The moment arrives, its orgasmic release unique, its instant excitement unrivaled. The slow teases – the scarcity – have made it so.
Toni Kroos’ free kick, for example, was so incredible, so intoxicating, because at least nine times out of 10 it doesn’t find the back of the net. Same goes for Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcos Rojo. At least nine times out of 10, their teams’ attacking forays had fizzled out. And decades of soccer watching had told us the most likely scenario was that they would keep fizzling out, until a shrill whistle mercifully screamed no more.
That’s why the 2018 World Cup has been so special. Moments have been unusually plentiful. Put up against history, though, each has been no less exhilarating; no less memorable.
Belgium’s counterattacking brilliance stunned Japan and completed the best comeback of the 2018 World Cup. (Getty)
That’s why we’ve expanded what was originally supposed to be a top 10 into a top 18 moments of the 2018 World Cup. Let’s have at it …
18. Iceland stymies Messi
This was less a moment, more a collection of them. But if there were one, it was the penalty.
Messi’s penalty is SAVED!
Halldorsson comes up big to keep Iceland level with 25 minutes left. pic.twitter.com/OpLTEgyoRA
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 16, 2018
It might as well have come straight from Hollywood. Here was Lionel Messi, the greatest to ever play the game, threatening to ruin the fairytale. Standing in his way was a film director who just so happened to be Iceland’s World Cup goalkeeper. Hannes Thor Halldorson sprung to his right, produced a moment his country will never forget, and helped it hold on for a famous result.
17. Benjamin Pavard’s beaut
The best individual goal of the tournament needs a place on the list. The honor goes to French defender Benjamin Pavard, both for technique, circumstance and backstory.
Pavard to Di Maria: Anything you can do I can do better! pic.twitter.com/ugnBrIyp0i
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 30, 2018
France was facing elimination, stunned by an out-of-nowhere Argentine double either side of halftime. It needed magic. Pavard whipped out his magic wand, in the form of his right foot, and sliced – in a good way – a picturesque half-volley into the top corner. It was the tide-changing and highlight-reel goal of a bonkers match.
Eighteen months earlier, Pavard had been a complete unknown, a promising but unproven 20-year-old center back in the German second division. Now he’s a revelation, and a quintessential example of the star-making power of the World Cup.
16. Panama’s first World Cup goal
For some, Panama’s World Cup performance was laughable. For Panamanians, it was one small part of a two-week-long reverie that few thought they’d ever experience. Their nation’s first World Cup goal set off wild celebrations:
What a moment for Panama!
Panama fans around the world celebrated with all their hearts after their first EVER FIFA World Cup goal. pic.twitter.com/iwjD9kGwmL
— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) June 24, 2018
It’s difficult for many of us to comprehend those celebrations. But they’re a good reminder that the World Cup means so many different things to so many different people. Panama is as much part of its charm as Brazil.
15. Late Danish drama
Croatia and Denmark punctuated a mostly forgettable Round of 16 marathon with topsy-turvy drama. In the 114th minute of a 1-1 tie, Luka Modric split Denmark’s defense with a contender for pass of the tournament. Ante Rebic rounded Kasper Schmeichel, one simple side-foot finish away from sending Croatia through. Then came one of the most controversial and accidentally ingenious plays of the tournament. And then this:
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