Forget Messi, Ronaldo; the World Cup has been the real GOAT

The 21st edition of the World Cup has been spectacular even though most of the tournament favourites have already been eliminated.

Nacer Chadli turned out to be the hero for Belgium after netting the last-gasp winner. The Red Devils made a stunning comeback after being two goals down.   -  (Getty Images)

For most of the game, whenever Romelu Lukaku touched the ball against Japan he wasn't as good as in Belgium's earlier World Cup games. That one moment when the striker did not touch the ball in the dying seconds, he was great. 

His shining moment was the 94th minute, when he sold Japan a dummy and drew away the defender to give Nacer Chadli the space to score a last-gasp winner for Belgium. 

The pulsating clash typified what this World Cup has served up to go along with plenty of shocks. Germany's ouster, and the two fan-anointed GOATs (Greatest of All Time), Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, being shown the exit door on the same day being among the biggest talking points.

Amid the hype, do not forget for a moment that it was South Korea which sent the mighty Germans packing in the group phase. Die Mannschaft did not go out with a bang. It was a whimper, leaving behind Manuel Neuer stranded in the Korean half as a lasting image.

Unfancied teams digging deep, stars being felled and new ones discovered, reputations being forged and rocked, hearts being broken and hearts set aflutter, the World Cup has provided the platform for all of this and more.

FIFA World Cup 2018, Russia, take a bow!

The script is incomplete and will be hardbound on July 15, but what a blockbuster it has been so far! Do not be too quick on the draw to judge the quality of the tournament on the basis of the number of goals.

Judge it on the intangibles — the heart of Iceland and its Viking clap, the improbability of the Benjamin Pavard goal, the searing pace of Kylian Mbappe, the penalty saves of Kasper Schmeichel (and his heartbreak) and Danijel Subasic, how close Iran came to knocking out Portugal, Japan's heartbreak after leading 2-0 in the second half, among others.

If you must, do judge it on the tangibles too. Here are a few. The howlers from custodians David de Gea and Willy Caballero, the free-spirited training ground dance routine of Senegal and the touchline gestures of their coach Aliou Cisse, which incidentally made him a millennial standout. God bless him, he became a meme, an internet hit.

The GOATs are out, but do not forget their contribution. Ronaldo's hat-trick, shining with a peach of a freekick against Spain; and Messi scoring this World Cup's 100th goal with two masterly touches with his famed left foot and the finish with his weaker right against Nigeria.

Mesmerising Maradona

We have read and seen footage of World Cups and the players who brought them to life, but the world's greatest event truly descended on India in 1986, a few years after colour television made its way into the world's second most populous country.

Maradona owned the '86 World Cup, and the sneaky-genius made his home in many a heart. India still warms up to him, especially West Bengal. The latest WhatsApp joke has named him Maradona Mukherjee. He did play his part in this World Cup, too. One night of his over-the-top antics in the gallery earned websites more page views than several match reports put together. 

On a personal note, Maradona is the reason this then impressionable pre-teen got hooked to football and discovered Rossi's feats of '82, Kempes soaring in '78, the magical Cruyff of '74. Thanks to technology, it is possible to go even further back and footage is a click away.

Pele seared the conciousness. Eusebio, the Black Panther, (yes, this existed before the movie that has made a billion-plus bucks) too left an indelible mark. People discovered the never-say-die spirit of Germany.

Tournament of the underdogs

The World Cup has been a permanent fixture of life since '86. Now, the marriage gets rocky once every four years. Thankfully, the much better half has learnt to cope with life as a football widow, so, it is not extraordinarily rocky.

All the World Cups are fabulous, but for sheer drama, the Russian one takes the cake along with the entire bakery. Thanks to social media, the effect is amplified a zillion-fold and lingers on. Many are already calling it the tournament of the underdogs, and justifiably so.

So what if the Messis and Ronaldos, Germany and Spain are out, this World Cup is the real GOAT.

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