Let's start with a disclaimer- I have not seen all the World Cups.
Surely, there have been great World Cups before this. Players like Pele, Maradona, Johan Cruyff and Garrincha have dazzled football fans with their skills. There has been big upsets and surprises before too.
However, none of these seems to has had the collective shock and awe factor that the FIFA World Cup 2018 has displayed so far (and none has surely caused an earthquake).
As the World Cup takes a well-needed customary break before the last 8 stage, let's sit down and talk about why we are so impressed with the Russia edition.
While the group stage action of the FIFA World Cup 2018 has ensured its position among the greatest tournaments, the Round of 16 matches have elavated its status even higher.
We’ve seen it all in this World Cup- brilliant play, spectacular goals, exciting skills, last minute drama and big-big surprises.
If I may borrow a famous Bollywood line- "Iss kahani mein drama hai, emotion hai, tragedy hai."
Things could, and might still, go wrong- but they remain on the same trajectory, Russia is on its way to staging the best World Cup ever.
The difference between the good and the bad is not ugly anymore.
One of the best reasons to celebrate this World Cup is the closing of the gap between the so-called weak and big teams.
Teams like Russia, South Korea, Iceland, Iran, Morocco have not only chellenged but also some times knocked down the traditions powerhouses. While big teams have been upset before in World Cups, the frequency of such matches has given rise to an unpredictability where ties are no longer 'done and dusted' even before being contested. This has added significant intrigue to the tournament.
Russia sent back Spain, South Korea knocked out Germany and Japan almost upset Belgium. England, a minnows in their own right when it comes to penalty shootouts, also slayed their demons for a famous win.
We have some surprising names in the last 8. However, each of these newcomers deserves their place and are not riding on dumb luck.
Wait A Minute
This has been an amazing World Cup for late drama. Belgium snatched a famous Round of 16 win against Japan in the injury time. Colombia scored in the 93rd minute on Tuesday to force extra time in their match against England.
There were 16 stoppage-time goals, including late scores that changed the entire look of the knockout-round bracket during group stages.
Iran's stoppage-time penalty kick meant Portugal finished Group B runners-up. Almost at the same time Spain’s Iago Aspas scored to elevate Spain to the top spot. Portugal and Spain would later suffer defeats in the Round of 16 – and they may have had different opponents if not for those late goals.
The fact that 13 percent of the tournament’s goals have been scored in injury time is not only a great trivia but also shows how desperately teams have fought to survive and win.
GOATs Are Gone
This World Cup was touted as another battlefield to settle the GOAT debate. However, both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo ended up leaving the World Cup in a space of some four hours.
While Ronaldo scored four goals for his teams and led them to an incredible comeback against Spain, he was far from his best in the later matches. Messi has even a worse World Cup with only his brilliant goal in a must-win game against Nigeria as something to remember.
Both GOATs missed penalties in the group stage and failed to take their team past the last 16.
You can't write such stuff even in fiction.
The Quality and The Quantity
The quality of the football at FIFA World Cup 2018 has been exciting.
There has not been a dominant or significantly superior team on show, but the overall standard of the football has been outstanding.
Nearly two-thirds of the games played have been decided by one goal. Only one other World Cup was closer, and most haven’t been nearly so competitive.
The services and infrastucture has been good too. There were none of the usual pre-tournament uncertainties relating to stadia and infrastructure construction. While there has been some instances of racism or any other discriminatory acts, the World Cup has mainly been controversy free.
Russian people have been great and they might go down one of the best World Cup hosts ever.
The tournament is not yet over- and it may give us some memorable moments in the final matches. However, my favourite moment of FIFA World Cup 2018 so far has been Baloy's goal for Panama against England.
The goal will have no impact in terms of results and matches. Panama lost to England 6-1 in the most one sided game of the tournament.
However, it certainly defines what the World Cup is all about- the joy of playing football.
The reaction of the players and fans as Baloy drove the ball past keeper Jordan Pickford to score Panama's first World Cup was incredible.
Panama fans in the stadium in Nizhny Novgorod — and back home in Panama — reacted as if they had won the cup. T
The picture of Baloy being hugged by family and fans even after a 6-1 drubbing was all about pure-pure joy.