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The Absolute Best and Worst of World Cup 2018

The dizzying highs and depressing lows that defined the 2018 contest in Russia.

Was the 2018 World Cup the best of all time? While it's too early to judge objectively, there's no doubt that Russia 2018 was one for the ages, with seemingly non-stop thrilling matches and a renewed feeling that the World Cup, for all its flaws and for all the controversy that forever (and rightly) swirls around FIFA, remains an utterly special, one-of-a-kind global event. To commemorate, here are some of the best and worst moments to remember from this year's World Cup.

BEST DISPLAY OF GREATNESS: Kylian Mbappe FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images BEST DISPLAY OF GREATNESS: Kylian Mbappe

The 19-year-old French phenom's combination of pace, strength, and technical gifts is formidable. In Russia he took the next step in his rapid ascent to the game's elite, with a number of commanding performances that included becoming the first teenager since Pele to score in a World Cup final.

WORST ACTING: Neymar Jamie Squire - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images WORST ACTING: Neymar

Every World Cup suffers from its share of infuriating gamesmanship (or as the Guardian calls it, "s###housery"), but this time out Brazil's Neymar took the nonsense to a new level. Whether it was writhing around like he'd just been shot against Mexico, or his acrobatic penalty-area flop against Costa Rica (above), the tournament's most-fouled player was also notable for his absurd and ceaseless overacting.

BEST SHOWING BY AN UNDERDOG: Russia Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images BEST SHOWING BY AN UNDERDOG: Russia

The host-nation was widely derided before the tournament as a mediocre squad lucky to have been granted automatic qualification. But with their heroic run all the way to the quarterfinals — which included a fiery knock-out round win over Spain — they provided one of the most inspiring storylines of the Cup, and proved beyond a doubt that they belonged.

WORST VISUAL MOTIF: Sad Messi JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images WORST VISUAL MOTIF: Sad Messi

One would be hard-pressed to find someone who looked like they were having less fun at the 2018 World Cup than Lionel Messi. The Argentine superstar (who carried Argentina for several games, with little help from his teammates) exhibited countless shades of moroseness even before it was clear that his country wasn’t destined for greatness. Cry for him, Argentina

BEST CELEBRATION BY A HEAD OF STATE: Emmanuel Macron ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/AFP/Getty Images BEST CELEBRATION BY A HEAD OF STATE: Emmanuel Macron

Russia had a great run in the tournament, but try finding a photo of President Putin exhibiting unbridled emotion in response. French President Emmanuel Macron, on the other hand, had no such reservations, as he leapt from his seat to pump his fists in joy at France’s World Cup triumph.

WORST PERFORMANCE BY A TOP-FLIGHT TEAM: Germany Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images, WORST PERFORMANCE BY A TOP-FLIGHT TEAM: Germany

The recent record of World Cup winners finding success at the following tournament is not great, so maybe the odds were always against Germany to avoid a similar fate. But no one quite expected this team to struggle so mightily to muster any of the greatness they showed four years ago, and to manage just one goal in three games before being sent home.

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BEST PITCH INVASION, HUMAN: Pussy Riot Ian MacNicol/Getty Images BEST PITCH INVASION, HUMAN: Pussy Riot

Politics always tends to hover just on the edge of the screen at the World Cup, and with the whole world watching on Sunday, it burst onto the field in the form of a protest from the activist group Pussy Riot, who claimed responsibility for the four people who ran onto the pitch with the aim of calling attention to what they contend is Russia’s abysmal human rights record.

WORST PITCH INVASION, NON-HUMAN: The bugs of Volgograd Clive Rose/Getty Images WORST PITCH INVASION, NON-HUMAN: The bugs of Volgograd

England's opening match found them battling both a spirited Tunisian side and a swarm of flying insects which had invaded the confines of the Volgograd arena.

BEST VICTORY CELEBRATION BY A TEAM: Senegal Michael Regan - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images BEST VICTORY CELEBRATION BY A TEAM: Senegal

Following their 2-1 victory over Poland in the group stage, team Senegal did what we all long to do when reaching a moment of jubilation: they danced.

WORST WORLD CUP DEBUT: Mohamed Salah ANTONIN THUILLIER/AFP/Getty Images WORST WORLD CUP DEBUT: Mohamed Salah

The "Egyptian Messi" had an absolute banner year for Liverpool, scoring 32 goals and appearing in a Champions League Final. But Salah's first appearance on the game's biggest stage couldn't have been more forgettable, as an injury kept him from Egypt's opening match, and he had little impact on any aspects the Cup as his country made a swift exit.

BEST COMEBACK: Belgium JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images BEST COMEBACK: Belgium

A category that is spoiled for choice at this World Cup. While a strong case could be made for Croatia’s comeback against England in the quarterfinals, it's hard to top the heartbreaking drama of Japan going up 2-0 on Belgium in the second half, only for the Red Devils to claw their way back and seal the victory on the final kick of the game courtesy of Nacer Chadli (above).

WORST STATEMENT HAIRSTYLE: Neymar Anadolu Agency/Getty Images WORST STATEMENT HAIRSTYLE: Neymar

While Brazil was able to survive the group stage, Neymar's new loose blond pompadour — which was relentlessly mocked for its resemblance to pasta — made it only through the opening match before being pared back to something more sensible.

BEST FASHION STATEMENT: Gareth Southgate's waistcoat FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images BEST FASHION STATEMENT: Gareth Southgate's waistcoat

The England manager restored a sense of hope and pride to English soccer by leading his young team to a heroic semi-final run in Russia. And with his signature navy attire, he may have sparked a similar renaissance in the waistcoat.

WORST GOALKEEPING ERROR: Willy Caballero MB Media/Getty Images WORST GOALKEEPING ERROR: Willy Caballero

There was no shortage of massive goalkeeping blunders at crucial moments this summer. And if France had gone on to lose the final, Hugo Lloris' name would be written above. But Wilfredo "Willy" Caballero takes the cake not only for the ineptitude of his attempt to pass the ball over Croatia's Ante Rebic and the goal it resulted in, but also for how thoroughly it exposed the weakness at the heart of his Argentinian squad.

BEST SIDELINE PRESENCE: Hervé Renard NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images BEST SIDELINE PRESENCE: Hervé Renard

Morocco didn't exactly bring the heat on the field in Russia, finishing last in their group with just one point for their troubles. But on the sidelines was another story, thanks to coach Herve Renard, whose suavity led to such headlines as this one from NYMag: "People Are Horny As Hell for Morocco Coach Hervé Renard."

WORST SHOWING BY A CONTINENT: Africa EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images WORST SHOWING BY A CONTINENT: Africa

As far as continents go, this was Europe’s World Cup to shine, with all four semifinalists hailing from there. On the opposite end was Africa, which saw its nations completely shut out of the last 16 for the first time since 1982.

BEST & WORST PIECE OF TECHNOLOGY: VAR JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images BEST & WORST PIECE OF TECHNOLOGY: VAR

The naysayers who feared it would ruin the game were mostly proven wrong, while its boosters within FIFA were not fully vindicated: Video Assistant Refereeing was a useful, if imperfect, addition to the game. It added clarity more often than it did confusion — with the World Cup final being a glaring exception — and showed there is a (perhaps limited) place for 21st-century technology in soccer.



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