Ben MacKenzie: I expect that I may have to start a “swear jar” style donation system everytime I bring him up…but…Morteza Pouraliganji of Iran was a lockdown defender against both Diego Costa and Cristiano Ronaldo. I apologize in advance for the surplus of takes after the Loons cede a goal when I say, “This wouldn’t have happened if we had Pouraliganji!”
Eric Ely: I don’t know if he’ll become a favorite, but, as someone who doesn’t follow England or the EPL, I liked seeing Kieran Trippier motor up and down the right touchline for England.
Kaleb Olson: I don’t know if any player became a new favorite, so I’m going to go with a coach. Aliou Cissé of Senegal was not only the most gif-able coach at the World Cup, but he was really good at his job. I might be a little biased because I had Senegal as my dark horse before the World Cup, but Senegal played fast attacking soccer that was fun to watch, and they were just a couple yellow cards away from qualifying to the knockout round and definitely beating Belgium.
Chris Boyd: Danijel Subašić had a HECK of a tournament. Getting injured at the end of regulation, playing through extra time and PKs, and then doing the whole thing again in the next match?
Ben MacKenzie: Belgium vs. Japan in the Round of 16, from humdrum to humdinger in a single half. Tremendous play, tension, twists and that final dummy was a beauty to behold.
Eric Ely: The best game was Belgium vs. Japan, but I remember being glued to the final group stage game between Spain and Morocco.
Kaleb Olson: It got a little lost in the shuffle since it came so early, but Spain vs. Portugal, I mean Spain vs. Cristiano Ronaldo. This game was exciting for the whole 90 minutes and had everything; a penalty, a howler by a goalkeeper, a screamer from a defender, and a late free-kick equalizer. Honorable mention to Switzerland beating Serbia late.
Chris Boyd: Despite the heartbreak ending, it had to be Belgium vs. Japan. Watching Japan go up despite not-great play and then Belgium clawing its way back to a victory… and that final goal was just a perfect counter. Beautiful, though quite painful.
Ben MacKenzie: Maybe it’s because we share the same name, but Benjamin Pavard’s half-volley laser beam to break down a surging Argentina is the one that I still get the tingles for.
Eric Ely: Yeah, it was against Saudi Arabia, but Denis Cheryshev’s goal with the outside of his left foot was a thing of beauty.
Kaleb Olson: I know that Pavard’s goal has already been said, but I’ll give a shout to Nacho’s similar goal against Portugal. Similar spot to Pavard’s, just driven low and the ball knocks off of both(!) posts.
Chris Boyd: Pavard’s was brilliant, but I can’t stop watching Kevin de Bruyne’s counterattack goal against Brazil. He hit that thing perfectly. The slow motion gif should be played at my funeral.
Ben MacKenzie: Nigeria nearly getting into the second round with 19-year-old Francis Uzoho between the sticks. (I mean, I get that Mbappé deserved to win the best young player…but being 19 and facing all that pressure is remarkable.)
Eric Ely: Perhaps I’ve been trained to expect tight tactical encounters in the final of major tournaments. This final was anything but, but it provided talking points throughout (Griezmann’s dive, Mandžukić’s own goal, Lloris getting caught on the ball) and was highly entertaining.
Maybe not too surprising but, despite all the criticism Roberto Martínez received before the tournament, he got his tactics spot on against Brazil.
Kaleb Olson: The knockout games were exciting. There’s a tendency, in these big tournaments, for teams to bunker down in the knockout stages to avoid making a costly mistake and yet some of the best games took place after there were only 16 teams left. Oh, and Germany not making it to the knockout rounds. A lot of people had them winning the whole thing, and they were one Toni Kroos goal away from leaving Russia winless.
Chris Boyd: Honestly, Bobby Martinez doing as well as he did surprised me. I fully expected Belgium to not play very well, and I was very wrong and very happy to be so.
Eric Ely: Off the field, I echo Ben’s thoughts regarding the numerous instances of blatant sexism. On the field, while watching the tire fire that was Argentina was gratifying, their lack of sportsmanship was appalling.
Kaleb Olson: Going into the tournament, Neymar was arguably the third best player in the world behind Messi and Ronaldo. Instead of dominating the tournament and leading Brazil to glory, he became a meme and wasn’t even the best player on his team (Coutinho). Kylian Mbappé is officially the third best player in the world. You heard it here first.
Chris Boyd: France played incredibly well, but I would have loved to see them let the attack loose more. Would they have still won? Probably not, but it would have been fun to watch.
Ben MacKenzie: Here’s three: 1. France qualifies for the knockout stage confounding the new “champions lose” narrative; 2. We get our first Southeast Asian nation to qualify (likely Thailand but maybe Vietnam); 3. Senegal is the first African nation to reach the semifinals.
Eric Ely: We will see a repeat of the 2018 edition, in which every semifinal participant will be a European country.
Kaleb Olson: I also have three: 1. Timothy Weah wins the Golden Boot; 2. Argentina will not qualify; 3. England will beat Germany on penalties at some point in the knockout stage.
Chris Boyd: I was going to say Senegal makes the semifinals, but Ben beat me to it. I’ll guess that the final is not played between two European teams, and there are only two Euro teams in the semifinals.
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