Iniesta la vista and other farewells from the World Cup’s last 16

By Antoinette Muller 1 July 2018

Players of Russia react after winning the FIFA World Cup 2018 round of 16 soccer match between Spain and Russia in Moscow, Russia, 01 July 2018. EPA-EFE/PETER POWELL

Penalty shootouts, retirements and Cristiano Ronaldo pulling up his shorts dramatically. It must be the World Cup knockouts.

Croatia 1-1 Denmark (aet, Croatia win 3-2 on penalties)

When it rains, it pours. And when we go to the knockouts, the rain comes in penalties. Croatia and Denmark lulled everyone into a false sense of an early bedtime after an exhilarating start. Mathias Jørgensen scored the fastest goal of the 2018 World Cup so far inside a minute. Croatia responded just three minutes later… and then almost nothing happened as Denmark shut up shop.

Until extra time.

Jørgensen conceded a penalty in the dying minutes of extra time, which Luka Modric took and Kasper Schmeichel saved. Extra points for doing that while dad Peter was watching on from the stands.

And so to penalties we went once more. What followed is unlikely to go into an instructional video on how to take spot kicks and can be classified as a dangerous weapon in close proximity to English fans. But Croatia somehow won, despite Schmeichel saving twice more in the shootout.

Goal of the match:  Jørgensen’s quickfire goal.

Spain 1-1 Russia (aet, Russia win 4-3 on penalties) 

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. This wasn’t meant to be the first match that went to penalties. A team with over 1000 passes in the match was supposed to win. The team with a solitary shot on target – a penalty, awarded to them in the first half — wasn’t supposed to win.

But nothing at this World Cup has quite gone the way it was supposed to. South Africa can safely keep its record as the worst host nation at the tournament, but this is not about them.

Russia, who weren’t given a chance at the start of the tournament, beat all the odds and are staying put. They were at least honest about what they wanted from the fixture with two-shot-stopper Igor Akinfeev admitting afterwards the team was aiming for penalties.

It wasn’t exactly a classic fixture — it was agony. Spain toyed with the opposition, in the same way you might repetitively stack a Matryoshka doll. They never quite made all the pieces fit, though.

And so, for another team boasting some of the world’s best players, this is where it all ends. But, all things considered, is it really a surprise? La Roja headed into the tournament in turmoil, having fired their coach on the eve of the opening game.

Would things have been much different if Julen Lopetegui had stayed? Maybe. But save for a contentious penalty that, despite a VAR review, wasn’t awarded in Spain’s favour, they have very little other than nifty passing to show for their last 16 exit. Passes matter little if you can’t pass it into the back of the net.

Andrés Iniesta decided he had enough of it all and announced his retirement from international football after the match. [Full report and highlights]

Goal of the match: The first penalty save

It’s more of a non-goal, really, but if you’re going to aim for a penalty shootout, you better make damn sure you know how to stop them.

Uruguay 2-1 Portugal 

Edinson Cavani of Uruguay celebrates scoring the 2-1 during the FIFA World Cup 2018 round of 16 soccer match between Uruguay and Portugal in Sochi, Russia, 30 June 2018.

It was a fixture tailor-made for two pantomime villains to go all out, ideally kicking each other around before being sent off. Instead, we had Edinson’s lightbulb moment, a contender for goal of the tournament.

The most Cristiano Ronaldo could do was pull his shorts up far too dramatically and receive a yellow card for shouting sweary things at the ref.

Luis Suarez, too, was strangely subdued in front of goal but that hardly mattered thanks to Edinson Cavani’s efforts, in which he played an integral part.

There was one touching moment, though. Ronaldo helped an injured Cavani off the pitch after the damage was done. Whether that was to keep Brand Ronaldo in check or a genuine act of sportsmanship, you’ll have to decide for yourself. [Full report and highlights]

Goal of the match: Cavani-Suarez-Cavani

Poetry. Absolute poetry. Note: extended match highlights are available on Fifa’s YouTube channel.

France 4-3 Argentina

Kylian Mbappe of France (L) celebrates with teammate Antoine Griezmann of France scoring the 4-2 goal during the FIFA World Cup 2018 round of 16 soccer match between France and Argentina in Kazan, Russia, 30 June 2018. EPA-EFE/SERGEY DOLZHENKO

A chance for the best headline of the tournament presented itself — and a few sharp sub-editors delivered. “Don’t cry 4-3, Argentina!” some news sites bellowed. Genius.

Not quite as genius as the French team, mind. Defensively they have a few shortcomings but when they are bobbing, weaving and feeding the ball to Kylian Mbappe’s speedy feet, they are a joy.

Les Blues weren’t always convincing during the group stages but if they continue to conjure up the magic from Saturday, the echoes of 1998 might become more audible as the competition goes on.

For the Argentines, the exodus has begun. Javier Mascherano and Lucas Biglia both announced their retirements in the wake of defeat and there are rumours that Lionel Messi, oh wonderful Messi, could soon join them.

He’ll be 35 by the next World Cup in Qatar, but is it really worth all the stress? Messi, prolific for Barcelona but frustratingly inconsistent in country colours, is surely far too nice to excel in a team culture where ego supersedes performance.

This is not new. Argentina might have been runners-up four years ago, but even since the days of Diego Maradona, the side’s not exactly been known for creating a culture where nice guys thrive.

Coach Jorge Sampaoli had a great holiday or, as some call it, fan experience. Travelled with the team, stayed with them and even got to pretend that he’s picking the team.

Ever since the start of the 2018 World Cup there have been rumours of a mutiny led by senior players. It’s hard to see him staying in the hot-seat for much longer, having become Argentina’s third coach of their tumultuous qualifying campaign in 2017.

Yet there he was: huffing, puffing and stomping along the sideline, puffed up and bronzed with his gleaming tattoos — a performance art of territorial pissing that was easily wiped away. [Full report and highlights]

Goal of the match: Mbappe’s pace

Was it ever going to be anyone else? The wonderkid, the first teenager to score two goals in a World Cup match since Pele. He should really have a montage made of his runs. DM


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