World Cup 2018’s Round of 16 is finally over and whew, what a ride it was. We got a couple of multi-goal thrillers, three matches ending in nail-biting penalty shootouts, and really none of the games were too one-sided to be uninteresting.
Living up to the lofty expectations set by the Group Stage, we’ve also been blessed with some absolutely brilliant goals. Here are the 5 most outstanding ones from the Round of 16, in chronological order – and for fellow England fans, I can’t include Harry Kane’s penalty, sorry!
#1: Angel di Maria – Argentina vs. France
Argentina’s effort to get past France in the first game of the Round of 16 looked likely to be unsuccessful for most of the first half. France were getting the better of the play, Antoine Griezmann hit the bar from a free kick and finally gave Les Bleus the lead from the penalty spot following a sloppy challenge from Marcos Rojo on Kylian Mbappe.
Argentina needed a little bit of magic to get them back into it, and surprisingly it didn’t come from the talismanic Lionel Messi, but from the oft-criticised mercurial attacker Angel di Maria. Receiving a cross-field pass from Ever Banega around 30 yards out, the former Manchester United star took one touch before hitting an unstoppable left-footed shot into the top left-hand corner of the goal.
French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was left with no chance, and di Maria had gotten his side back into the tie in the most explosive way possible with his first goal for Argentina in just over a year. It was the perfect way for La Albiceleste to go into the half-time break after a very slow start.
#2: Benjamin Pavard – France vs. Argentina
Despite Argentina taking the lead following a deflected goal from Gabriel Mercado early in the second half of their tie with France, it never really felt like they’d be able to hold onto it. Sure enough, less than ten minutes later they were level with a goal of the greatest quality, and the source was an unexpected one – right-back Benjamin Pavard.
Stuttgart youngster Pavard – who only broke into the France squad in late 2017 after World Cup qualification was already secured – had never scored for Les Bleus before, but this strike more than made up for that.
A cross from Lucas Hernandez on the left side appeared to be floating harmlessly out of the box, but Pavard somehow met it with a swerving strike from the outside of his right boot that flew like a rocket past the despairing dive of Argentina’s goalkeeper Franco Armani and into the right-hand side of the goal.
It was the kind of shot that gave you flashbacks to Roberto Carlos’s legendary free-kick against France a decade ago, and even if Pavard scores plenty more for his country, he’ll probably never top this one.
Two quick-fire goals for Kylian Mbappe followed just ten minutes later, and Argentina were dead and buried.
#3: Edinson Cavani – Uruguay vs. Portugal
Many observers were citing Uruguay as possible dark horses for a World Cup victory this year, and part of that belief comes from the strength of their striking duo. Luis Suarez might get a lot of the plaudits from the UK media in particular, but it was his partner Edinson Cavani who did the damage to Portugal on Saturday with a brace to win Uruguay the tie.
His first goal was brilliant enough – he played a beautiful cross-field pass to Suarez who controlled it expertly before crossing and somehow finding the incoming Cavani, who headed past Rui Patricio to give Uruguay the lead in the first ten minutes – but his second strike was even better.
After Portugal equalised through a Pepe header ten minutes into the second half, Uruguay came forward again. Rodrigo Bentancur collected a stray header from a Portuguese defender and played the ball across the edge of the box to Cavani, who found himself in enough space on the right-hand side of the box to bend a right-footed, first-time shot around Patricio and into the net.
It was a special goal worthy of winning any World Cup tie, and one can only hope that it doesn’t turn out to be Cavani’s last contribution to the tournament, as he was substituted with a knock a little later in the half.