Time to give out my awards for the just-completed Men’s World Cup of soccerfootball! This has been the most controversial, most entertaining, and downright weirdest World Cup since I started following men’s soccerfootball World Cups twenty-eight years ago, so giving out awards should be extra fun this time.
Today, I’ll review the tournament, and the USA’s performance in it, and give out some team and individual awards. With video links to some match highlights and some key moments in the matches! Wednesday, I’ll review some of the moments that made this World Cup a classic.
On to the awards!
Best team: Argentina, who won the World Cup final in a penalty kick shootout against defending champions France. The final was the most exciting game of soccerfootball I remember. See below for more about that.
Worst team: The host country, Qatar. The country hosting the World Cup automatically qualifies for the tournament, even if they wouldn’t have qualified otherwise and have no business being there. Qatar played bravely and didn’t embarrass themselves, but they were obviously outclassed and became the first country ever to lose all three of their group stage games, scoring just one goal and giving up seven.
Most disappointing team: Sigh, my Sainted Spouse‘s homeland of Belgium. The “Red Devils” crashed out of the first round after scoring only one goal against last-placed Canada. Germany and Mexico also disappointed by falling out in the first round, but at least they scored multiple goals along the way.
Most entertaining team: Morocco, who became the first African country ever to make the World Cup semifinals. Their second-round game against their former colonial overlords Spain was the best display of defense I have ever seen. The game ended 0-0 after overtime, and Spain’s weaksauce penalty shots helped Moroccan goalkeeper Bono (yes, his nickname really is Bono) save all three. Morocco won 0(3) to 0(0). Watch the highlights of that game below under “Best Game That Wasn’t the Final”:
Morocco then repeated the solid defensive performance, but scored a goal too, as they beat Portugal 1-0 in the quarterfinals. Amazingly, up to that point they had gone five full games, 330+ minutes, without allowing a single opposition goal (the one goal they gave up to Canada was an own goal). And then it took one of the best goals of the tournament, by France’s Theo Hernandez, to break the drought (that link, sadly still available only in the USA, goes directly to Hernandez’s goal. Morocco lost that game 2-0, and then went on to lose the third place game 2-1 to Croatia. The real World Cup championship was the friends they made along the way (including me, I was cheering wildly for Morocco all through the France game).
Best game: The final. Argentina led 2-0 at halftime after dominating the first half so much that I posted this dead horse meme with labeled the horse “France.” Hahahahaha that seemed like a good idea at the time.
But then France came back in the second half, culminating with Kylian Mbappé scoring two goals within a one-minute span in the last 10 minutes. Argentina scored in overtime, but then then Mbappé added a penalty kick goal for France to make it 3-3 at the end of overtime.
A tied game after overtime meant penalty kicks to decide the World Cup. France missed one and had one saved by Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez, and Argentina made all theirs. Argentina won by the final score (the second number is successful penalties) of Argentina 3(4) France 3(2).
If you haven’t watched highlights of the final, watch them right now in the video below. Unfortunately, this video, and all the other videos I have embedded or linked to here in this post, are available only to computers in the United States. But here are links to highlights of the final that you can watch from Belgium, the United Kingdom, and Australia. (I’ll go back and add equivalent links to other highlights as time permits. If you would like a link for your country, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re not a soccerfootball fan, you will be after you see this game.
Worst game: Uruguay and South Korea, two teams with successful recent histories in the World Cup, somehow combine for only one shot on target in a spectacularly boring 0-0 in the first match in Group H. I’m not linking to highlights of this one, because why would anyone want to see that?
Craziest game: Saudi Arabia 2 Argentina 1, maybe the craziest game and biggest upset in World Cup history. After an early penalty gave Argentina a 1-0 lead, the Argentines had three first-half apparent goals called back due to offside. Saudi Arabia had two goals early in the second half off of shots that were objectively unwise, but with some luck and skill made it into the back of the net. In particular, the second goal, scored by Salem Al-Dasawri, was beautiful. And that’s it, those were the Saudis’ only shots on goal for the game, and both went in. The Saudis then held on to the win thanks to two amazing saves from goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais.
It was a stunning upset at the time, and even more shocking now that we know that Argentina went on to win the World Cup.
Best game that wasn’t the final: As mentioned above under Most Entertaining Team, the second round game between Morocco and Spain, which ended on penalty kicks with the final score Morocco 0(3) Spain 0(0). Watch the highlights below.
“Best” Clemsoning: Brazil was the pre-tournament favorite, and dominated all their group stage matches (even including their final 1-0 loss to Cameroon by essentially their B team, after they had already guaranteed qualification to the second round). Then, back to their full-strength starting 11, they dominated South Korea 4-1 in a game that was not even as close as the score indicated. In the quarterfinals, after a scoreless regulation, they led Croatia 1-0 – and gave up a soft goal to Bruno Petković with just five minutes left to send the game to a penalty shootout.
That’s definitely some serious attempted Clemsoning right there, but they’re still in it… and they’re still Brazil, right? Then this happens (the embed is to the Clemson moment, make sure you play this video with the sound on, the doink off the post is epic):
With that doink by Marquinhos, Croatia won 1(4) to 1(2) and advanced to the semifinals.
Golden Boot when you don’t count penalties, which are bullshit: Still Kylian Mbappé, with six.
Best player, I’m cheating by picking two: Lionel Messi (Argentina) and Kylian Mbappé (France). They were the two leading scorers of the tournament, by far. Mpabbé scored eight goals, including three in the final. Messi scored seven, including two in the final, and dominated possession, creating plenty of scoring chances throughout the tournament. Seventy-nine minutes into the final, I was convinced that I was giving the award to Messi.
Then Mbappé scored on a penalty kick in the 80th minute, then tied the score with this beauty (link goes directly to the goal). OK, maybe Mbappé is tournament MVP?
Then Messi scores with 12 minutes left in overtime. OK, the best player comes up big in the biggest moments, so Messi gets the nod.
Then Argentina gets a penalty called for a handball in the box with just four minutes left, leading to Mbappé setting up for the highest-pressure moment any player could ever face. He calmly converts, making the score 3-3 and sending the game to decisive penalty kicks. Mbappé converts the first penalty kick of the shootout, and Messi the second. Everything from that point was not, and could not, involve them.
So no matter who went on to win the final (belated spoiler: it was Argentina), both players played well enough that I’m giving them both a co-award.
It’s not that I couldn’t decide, it’s that both of them were so equally good that I have to give the award to both.
Best “Hi Mom, I’m Playing in the World Cup”: Brazil’s third-string goalkeeper Weverton, from Brazilian Wyoming (the state of Acre), came on in the 80th minute against South Korea, and did not face a single shot. It was Weverton’s first minutes in the World Cup, and at age 34 likely his last. He touched the ball twice – but he made his contribution, and he’ll always get to say he played for Brazil in the World Cup.
American Exceptionalism Awards for American Americans in America
How did the United States Men’s National Team do?: About as expected. The USMNT dominated possession in the first game against Wales and led 1-0 after a goal by Tim Weah, but Walker Zimmerman gave up a dumb penalty that Gareth Bale converted for disappointing a 1-1 tie that . They then played an even game with former colonial overlord England, ending in a moderately entertaining 0-0 tie. That left the USMNT needing a win in the final group stage game against Iran. Late in the first half, star forward Christian Pulisic scored while getting kneed in the abdomen – watch the replay below!
Like I said, it’s about where the USA was expected – and deserved – to finish. We are definitely one of the 16 best men’s national teams in the world, and definitely not one of the top 8.
USAMVP: Defender Sergiño Dest, who created the most chances all tournament, including an assist on Pulisic’s decisive goal against Iran.