Andy Dawson: My Top Ten World Cup Moments from Russia

The World Cup has been and gone, it's four long years til the next one, what moments from Russia can we cling to as we chalk off the days to Qater 2022...

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It’s over then… or is it? Loads of the World Cup is still available on catch-up TV so there’s no harm in watching as much of it as you can one or two more times before it’s all deleted and consigned to our fading brains.

To accompany our reliving of it all, here’s my top ten countdown of highlights of what I’m choosing to call The Greatest Month Of My Entire Life.

10 – BATSHUAYI KICKING HIMSELF IN THE FACE

So good was this World Cup that it gave us something we’ve craved but didn’t even know we’d been craving. Namely, the sight of a player rifling the ball into the net for a second time after it had already gone in and come out again… and get humiliated into the process.

That man was Michy Batshuayi, and, after Adnan Januzaz scored against England, the Chelsea man tried to get a piece of the action by blamming the ball in again, only for it to come hurtling back in his direction and hit him square in the face. Visual poetry.

TOPSHOT – Spain’s defender Nacho Fernandez (top R) scores a goal during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group B football match between Portugal and Spain at the Fisht Stadium in Sochi on June 15, 2018. (Photo by Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE – NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS (Photo credit should read JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)

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9 – PAVARD v NACHO

Two full-backs, each with a world-class goal hit from outside the area. Debate has raged on ever since about whose was the better goal, mainly because they were so similar and scored by players in similar positions.

It doesn’t matter which was best – they were both the kind of goal that has you drooling and making involuntary sex noises and you’re allowed to love them both equally!
(Oh, and it was Pavard. Pavard’s goal was the best one.)

8 – THE JAPANESE TIDY-UP

Admit it, the Japanese team stole our hearts, and there was a collective sad sigh when the Belgian machine knocked them out in the dying seconds of their round-of-16 match. Mind you, it’s fair to say that if England had topped group G and come up against them next, the national hysteria might well have ended a lot sooner.

The sighing grew stronger when we saw pics of the Japanese fans tidying up the stadium before they left along with the team’s pristine dressing room and a ‘thank you’ note written in Russian for their hosts.

I think I’ve got something in my eye here…

7 – JORDAN PICKFORD

I might be biased because I watched him bloom from my vantage point at the Stadium of Light, but Sunderland’s Pickford (currently on loan to Everton, obviously) is destined to be England’s number one for the next decade.

A move to one of the top clubs in the world is surely on the cards at some point (a loan move, obviously).

Best of all, he’s a keeper who isn’t afraid to tell anyone who strays into his personal space to f*** off in no uncertain terms. An absolute joy.

6 – THE LADY PUNDITS

Even though it was the first appearance for both of them at a major tournament, Alex Scott (BBC) and Eni Aluko (ITV) absolutely bossed things, more than matching their male equivalents and on one occasion, even forcing Patrice Evra to expose himself as a patronising fool.

Sadly, they faded from view the further the tournament progressed – hopefully their input won’t be written off as a one-off experiment.

TOPSHOT – Portugal’s forward Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring his third goal during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group B football match between Portugal and Spain at the Fisht Stadium in Sochi on June 15, 2018. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE – NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

5 – PORTUGAL 3-3 SPAIN

It felt like a match which neither side would want to lose but we got arguably the greatest match of a phenomenal tournament on its first full day – the Iberian derby swung one way and then another with Cristiano Ronaldo hauling leaky Portugal to a precious point with his stunning hat trick.

You could easily get some cans in and wallow in every last second of this one all over again.

4 – AUF WIEDERSEHEN, GERMANY!

Look, this has got nothing to do with ‘two world wars and one world cup’ and all that crap, but it was fantastically satisfying to see the world champions undone by the brilliant energy of Mexico and the diligence of South Korea.

The desperation that led to Neuer going walkabout and Germany conceding the second goal that put them on the early plane home was equally bizarre and hilarious.

3 – ENGLAND V COLOMBIA

Not just for England’s banishing of the World Cup penalty shootout hoodoo but for the spectacular acts of s***housery from the Colombians from start to finish, both on the pitch as well as off.

Violence, psychological warfare, kicks, shoves, bullying, grabbing, threats and insults made for a stunning display of the artform. They’ve probably been seething since they won the Fair Play Award in 2014…

2 – FRANCE WINNING IT EFFORTLESSLY

They had the best players with the best chemistry and they did exactly what was required to lift the golden sex-trophy. Could they have done more? Hell yes, but the fact that they never really got into top gear proves how magnificent they were.

TOPSHOT – France’s coach Didier Deschamps (up C) celebrates with his team players at the end of the Russia 2018 World Cup final football match between France and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 15, 2018. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE – NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

The cherry on the cake was the performances of Kylian Mbappe – his two goals in the 4-3 win over Messi’s Argentina felt like a mantle was being passed from the peak of one generation to another.

France – winning the top trophy in world football, and doing it with a Gallic shrug.

1 – DIEGO ARMANDO MARADONA

Russia 2018 felt like a clean, smooth, slightly sanitised World Cup, but the thorn in its side, the devil on its shoulder didn’t let us down. Appearing in the bizarre role as a FIFA ambassador, the greatest player of all time took full advantage of the free hospitality, and might well have brought along some ‘special refreshments’ of his own to liven things up.

As he flipped the bird to the Nigerian contingent before being led away for emergency medical treatment, some people called his antics a disgrace and a terrible example to youngsters, but those people need to wind their necks in – Maradona is life.

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