Hi-tempo World Cup gears up for fitting climax

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A Star is Born: French teenager Kylian Mbappe lit up the World Cup with an electrifying performance that sent Argentina packing in the Round of 16. (Photo: David Vincent/AP)

Since commencing on June 14 with host Russia’s 5-0 thrashing of an Egypt minus Mo Salah, this year’s World Cup has unfolded as a high quality, topsy-turvy, constantly gripping tournament that refuses to stick to any script. As the battle goes on among the best football sides of the world, the climax is now approaching, with just one quarter-final berth left to be decided as DC event to press this week. That we know will be filled by either England or Colombia, who were set to face off in the last fixture of the 2nd Round.

Awaiting the winner will be Sweden, marking a great return to the WC after a 12-year absence. The other six quarterfinalists confirmed earlier are (each paired with their opponents): France and Uruguay, Russia and Croatia, and Brazil and Belgium.

The 1998 champions France confirmed their berth first, eliminating a favourite of the neutrals (and even more of Bangladeshis), and two-time [1978, 1986] champions Argentina -- featuring once again, in his 4th and final chance to gain beatification alongside someone called Diego Armando Maradona, the 5-time winner of the Balon d’ Or, Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi. It was not to be though. As Messi once again fell short of footballing immortality, the world was forced to sit up and take notice of a new star in the horizon.

French striker Kylian Mbappe, born some six months after Les Bleus lifted the World Cup on home soil in 1998, has already attracted a heavy dose of Qatari FDI into the ailing EU economy.  Following his dazzling display in the first Round of 16 fixture between France and Argentina, the EU can bank on him as a safe source of even greater commerce for years and years.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s side Portugal finished their campaign losing to the two-time champions [1930, 1950] Uruguay, whose front partnership of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani are capable of strikng fear into any defence.

The mega football event saw its first tiebreaker the next day in a game with hosts Russia emerging winners against 2010 champions Spain after a tame 1-1 draw in 120 minutes of open play. In tiebreaker, Russia converted four shots while Spain found the net thrice.

The other game of the day between Croatia and Denmark also witnessed a tiebreaker after another 1-1 draw, and a missed penalty by Croatian talisman Luka Modric in the dying minutes. Luckily for him hiss country made it to the quarterfinals converting three while Denmark was eliminated scoring two in penalty.

Five time champions [1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002] Brazil kept control against their rivals bringing change in their playing strategy with enhanced defending.   

In the 2nd Round against Mexico, after the barren first half, Neymar Jr found the net in the 51st while Firmino doubled the winning margin scoring another one in the 88th minute for Brazil’s 2-0 win. 

They now face possibly the strongest Belgium side to have ever appeared in the World Cup, that fancies itself to better the semifinal finish in 1986, where they ran into a rampant Maradona. They snuck through to the quarterfinals eliminating Asian power house Japan 3-2 victory in the round of 16, after having been down 2-0 with just over 20 minutes left.

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