Now, as we reach the finale. The final seven games (who cares about a third-fourth play-off) which will help define where this World Cup sits amongst the pantheon. It has already gone down in history as the most controversial. The one where focus has been as much as what’s been happening off the field as on it. But from a football perspective, these seven games could propel it towards one of the best in the modern era.
To reach this point, 24 teams have perished along the way, most notably Spain and Germany, as well as Uruguay, Denmark, Mexico and the USA, with repercussions already being dealt with. Take the Spaniards, for example, they tried to bore Morocco into submission with more than 1,000 passes but with just one shot on target they were ultimately and thankfully dispatched on penalties. Despite the protests from the likes of Rodri, bleating that the North Africans offered absolutely nothing, they returned home and Luis Enrique stepped down.
For the World Cup to be elevated to one of the greats it requires a combination of factors. Everything from shock results to classic games. There needs to be an underdog story. The game's very best individuals are required to step up. New heroes have to be born. Old heroes have to live once more. Cult figures appear out of nowhere. There needs to be an individual v collective argument. There needs to be stunning goals, late drama and shocking moments.
The final moments
So many of those boxes have been ticked. Saudi Arabia beat Argentina. Japan defeated Spain and Germany. Wayne Hennessey turned into Harald Schumacher against Iran. We had Morocco. We have had the finale to both Group C and Group F. Portugal v Ghana, Cameroon v Serbia, South Korea v Ghana, Serbia v Switzerland have all enthralled. Millions and millions have witnessed Cristiano Ronaldo’s career wither away, while the Superman to his Batman emboldens an entire nation.
These final moments are for Kylian Mbappe, Jude Bellingham and Neymar. Luka Modric and Goncalo Ramos. The Netherlands and Morocco. For Lionel Messi. The story lines continue to permeate as these individuals and collectives have another opportunity to cement their place, whether it be as 2022 World Cup heroes or in football eternity.
For the watching public the next 360 minutes (plus bundles of stoppage and maybe extra-time) across two days should be enjoyed and savoured. To see an individual who is part footballer, part-Flash in Mbappe or the best all-round midfielder England has produced in a generation in Bellingham. To savour Modric, for 90 minutes more, against perhaps the biggest test of them all, the dancing Brazilians who wait for Neymar to come to the party. Will Ramos be this tournament’s Toto Schillaci or Oleg Salenko? And it’s the coaches as well. Louis van Gaal is loving life in charge of the Dutch, joined on that wave by Morocco’s Walid Regragui. Ninety more minutes of Messi.
The 64 hours and six minutes will have been worth it.